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Agile Harder

The agile manifesto imageAre we done transforming and when can we get back to work? 

Transformation has been the buzzword for quite a while, and like so many buzzwords before it, it’s lost all meaning. Businesses have begun to recognize that “transformation” has become a mechanism for lining the pockets of procedural consultancies and unaccountable internal departments. Let’s look at some contributing factors:

1. Behavior Change Is Hard 

Because of the way human minds work, we’re good at repeating skills we’ve done before. But changing what we do is very, very difficult. As you’re considering a transformation, ask yourself: “How many people need to change their behavior for this to work?” If the answer you get is “everyone” or “a lot,” you should expect your transformation to later be deemed a failure. You’ll be in good company though: nearly 90% of all transformations fail to meet their stated objectives. One client I worked with was on their fifth Agile transformation. How many more do you think they’ll need before they get it right?

2. There’s no One True Way™

Many transformations (Agile, SAFe, Six Sigma, Digital, Product, …) have as a subtext that they are the best way to solve your problems. Think about that: is there one way to run a sales organization that’s better than all others? How about finance? Of course not. Human beings came up with different ways to solve problems because different problems require different solutions. Your skill as a leader is your ability to develop the right way for your team, which itself is a moving target. 

3. How do the experts know, anyway?

We’ve all heard the saying, “when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” We used to summarize this thinking as, “Agile Harder.” Meaning if you bring your problem to an Agile Coach, the recommendation will often boil down to, “you’re not Agiling hard enough; you just need to Agile harder.” Most problems you come across as a leader aren’t procedural in nature: they’re dealing with messy emotions and organizational politics. Knowing the limitations of the procedure you’re trying to adopt (or deliver).

What should we do, then?

At the end of the day, humans are better at adapting than they are at transforming. Encourage teams to evolve their own process to meet their needs, and hold them accountable to the kinds of outcomes you were looking for from your transformation. Listen to them as they report their internal roadblocks and work across departments to work to fix them. It’s not easy: companies are designed to find the right way to do things and then optimize it, and any effort as change is viewed as undermining that design. 

How do I get help?

I’m so glad you asked. If you’re considering transforming the way you do work, let’s have a conversation. I specialize in helping companies manage their unique challenges through bespoke advisory and coaching services. Contact me today and tell me what you’re up against; I’m happy to share some techniques that other organizations like yours have in similar situations.