Grit – The Secret Ingredient to a Successful Agile Transformation

Frequently we at the Vaco Agile team get asked, what enables a successful organizational Agile Transformation? The answer may seem obvious, but in our collective experience is not at all apparent. 

Traditional views would indicate a well-formed implementation of training followed by coaching, and top-line organizational support are the keys to winning in the game of achieving organizational Agility. While all of that is correct, our observation is that the skills of scrappiness and Grit are vital to Agile success. A transformational move to Agile is typically not smooth – it is tough work! 

In the opening several weeks of an agile rollout, there is excitement, support, and momentum that build up. In a word, everyone is passionate about this new endeavor and the seemingly endless amount of positive organizational change about to occur. The leadership is excited about this new and fantastic vehicle to deliver new products on or ahead of time and at a reduced cost. The teams and team members are feeling great about their training, and the new levels of empowerment headed their way. What could go wrong? 

I observed an example of some difficulty happening at a former client. This client wanted Agile to be the path to future greatness and organizational harmony. They announced the transformation as the new and better way of working. After a few weeks, the Agile coaches raised several potential impediments to success in team and leadership behaviors. 

After delivering this message to the leadership, they pushed back. “This list of observations and recommended improvements is going to be too disruptive” they asserted. They did not want to make these severe changes; the people doing the work would push back because it would be too difficult. We described to them that a move to true Agility was not going to come as quickly has just “having some daily meetings,” there was going to be a need for “grit and determination.” In a nutshell, it was clear that the leaders themselves wanted little to do with personal transformation. We discussed they would have to grind through the changes or face the reality that they would likely fail.  The good news, in this instance, after a few more candid discussions, the leaders and teams embraced the changes they needed to make. Additionally, as a result of those conversations, they decided that Grit was a vital ingredient they needed to adapt to be successful and started having open conversations about this characteristic. They knew just knowing the Agile vocabulary and approach would not be enough, to turn the ship.

We talk about the discipline required to be successful in Agile. It looks so easy, but it can be so hard! In my experience, it takes long term energy, determination, and a willingness to break through new barriers to achieve the goals for Agile. The success of this change does not occur overnight – it often takes several months to see gains that become genuinely groundbreaking. Countless organizations have tried and failed because they were unwilling to stick through the time and energy commitment needed to make the changes stick. 

Once the halo effect of the first few weeks of Agile transformation wear off, organizations who through dogged determination continue fighting the good fight find themselves rewarded. Passing through the stages of forming and storming to get to norming and maybe even the world of performing requires a characteristic of “Grit.” Our definition of Grit is “courage, perseverance, and resilience.” In short, “People with Grit don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition” – Angela Lee Duckworth. Angela further asserts nearly every change, no matter the difficulty can be made to work. If your organization has “Grit” as a chief characteristic, studies show you are well aligned to achieve success in your Agile Transformation initiative.

Want to hear some more on the impact, importance and predictive value of “Grit”?  Click on the link below to hear from Grit observational expert Angela Lee Duckworth:


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