And finally, and most importantly, structure the organization into a dynamic network of small cross-functional teams. At the heart of any successful sustainable agile transformation are the teams. Set up the teams in line with agile principles and values, create a supportive environment, give them challenges, and let them self-organize to deliver business benefit.
How can organizations sustain change long-term?
A lot of this is covered in our previous answer, but in our experience the key to long-term sustainability is to build your own core competency by setting up empowered communities of practice. Take empowerment outside the boundaries of people’s immediate cross-functional teams and extend it to the whole organization and the whole way of working.
Encourage knowledge-sharing via a practice/knowledge hub in order to make it easy for people to share their experiences and get help from one another.
In addition, continuously set new challenges or teams to improve. Don’t become complacent or declare victory too early. There are always better ways of working, so keep asking teams to improve in ways that will directly benefit the business.
Lastly, establish some common ground for the organization. A true learning organization must start to talk the same language. One mechanism is to use the ideas in the Essence Kernel to bring teams and practices together in a sustainable fashion. This is key to allow the free flow of knowledge and experience between the teams, and to ensuring there are equal rights for all the practices regardless of their source and heritage.
What are some of the biggest challenges organizations face during an agile transformation, and how can they avoid them?
There are many challenges that organizations face in their journey to becoming a truly lean and agile learning organization. Some of the most common include:
- Lack of discipline: Agile practices require discipline. Although simple to comprehend, many agile practices are hard for people to maintain as they lose sight of the values and principles that underpin their way of working. For many teams adopting agile practices, the discipline is the first thing to go as has been seen with many Scrum teams who quickly give up on daily standups, demos and retrospectives, and revert to their old practices with a thin veneer of the new terminology.
- Coaching becoming an end in itself: Teams new to agile need coaching to help them apply the new way of working in a way that will benefit them. Unfortunately, too many of the coaches seem to think that they are more important than the team and try to create permanent positions of power for themselves within the team. The coaches then become permanent team members whose advice is ignored once, if ever, they leave the team. The need for coaching never goes away, but it should be a natural part of everyone’s work rather than the provenance of a self-elected elite.
- Lack of tangible business results: As mentioned above, too many transformations fail to track the benefits they are generating for the business, and in many cases seem to leave the organization no better off than they were before.
- Impatience: Creating an agile organization is not something that happens overnight. Agility is no silver bullet and not every agile team, or project, will be successful. Patience is needed to see the transformation through and reap the full benefits of agility. In our experience, the biggest benefits are achieved in the second year as agility becomes business as usual, and the effects of agile working ripple through the value chain. This can be tough for many organizations with yearly planning cycles and management reshuffles, leading them to change horses too often and never create a sustainable agile organization.
The best way to avoid these is to take an incremental approach to adoption with clear definitions of “done” and simple aspirational measures, not just for the software but for coaching as well. Making sure that the change initiative shows business benefits frequently, celebrating success and actively removing impediments.
There are many other traps organizations can easily fall into as they struggle to become more agile, such as:
- Gold-plating the method
- Not really empowering the teams
- Not preparing a proper foundation
- Ignoring governance
- Alienating important resources by making agility a crusade
Hopefully these are all self-explanatory, and our advice is just don’t do them.