I asked Steve Denning for advice on how to successfully lead an agile transformation and here’s what he said:
- Get a bullet-proof vest and hockey mask because you’re going to get beaten and be shot at! (As he laughed)
- Stop communicating over email – do it face-to-face; preferably in a bar. (No seriously)
- Discover your executive leader’s problem. Find a story of how another company solved that problem and share it.
- Focus on the 20% that want to change. Forget about the folks that don’t.
I like the four points that Steve makes. While some might appear to be simplistic or tongue in cheek, I think they’re all quite reasonable.
To that end, I thought I’d provide some of my own.
How to successfully lead an agile transformation
- Determine WHY you are transforming. Make sure it’s compelling, thoughtful, and focused on your historical challenges.
- Get (outside) expert help. Being in the culture, on the inside, it’s too hard to see the path for and guide the change.
- The real challenges are not what the leadership team thinks they are. They are much lower within the teams. You must mine the teams for the real impediments to change.
- Amplifying Steve’s point #4, I think of the Pareto Principle (80:20) rule. 20% of the people represent the essence of your company. Find them, understand them, and help them transform.
- Building on the last point, don’t be focused on the “squeaky wheels”. They’ll always be squeaking!
- Do NOT start your transformation focusing on tools or frameworks. Focus on the people.
- Invite everyone to the transformation. Don’t tell them to transform/change.
- Look to your HR and Organization Development folks to help guide / lead the change initiative. (I.e. get change expertise on your transformation team.)
- Words mean little. As in: “I understand and support agile fully”. What matters is actions and outcomes – so pay attention to and measure behavior.
- Alignment (across leaders, teams, practices, organizations, across principles) is incredibly important and at the same time hard to determine and measure. Keep a light shining towards alignment.
Since Steve was so succinct, I had to limit myself to ten items.
While I don’t think they’re in any particular order, I do think they’re all incredibly important considerations.
To amplify Steve’s #1 point, I do think agile transformation is a very dangerous game, with physical protection being required. That, and getting yourself some experienced help, might be the key to your success.
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