Advice for leading an Agile Transformation

Nathanial Willis posted this on LinkedIn recently:

I asked Steve Denning for advice on how to successfully lead an agile transformation and here’s what he said:

  1. Get a bullet-proof vest and hockey mask because you’re going to get beaten and be shot at! (As he laughed)
  2. Stop communicating over email – do it face-to-face; preferably in a bar. (No seriously)
  3. Discover your executive leader’s problem. Find a story of how another company solved that problem and share it.
  4. 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

  1. Determine WHY you are transforming. Make sure it’s compelling, thoughtful, and focused on your historical challenges.
  2. Get (outside) expert help. Being in the culture, on the inside, it’s too hard to see the path for and guide the change.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Building on the last point, don’t be focused on the “squeaky wheels”. They’ll always be squeaking!
  6. Do NOT start your transformation focusing on tools or frameworks. Focus on the people.
  7. Invite everyone to the transformation. Don’t tell them to transform/change.
  8. Look to your HR and Organization Development folks to help guide / lead the change initiative. (I.e. get change expertise on your transformation team.)
  9. Words mean little. As in: “I understand and support agile fully”. What matters is actions and outcomes – so pay attention to and measure behavior.
  10. 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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