Agile Organization SAFe

From Curse To Opportunity – How To Generate Real Value From Your Agile Transformation And Avoid Agile Theatre

In many companies, the term "change" - especially in combination with "agile" - has been burned because far too often change projects have failed, gone wrong or ended disastrously. There are many reasons for this: too big, too fast and too complex, without a clear purpose and goal, too little support and knowledge in the organisation, often a lack of communication - and many more. In most cases, the last attempt was not long ago or has even been reversed. Does this sound familiar?

Failed change projects, regardless of the context, leave behind disappointed, disillusioned, frustrated and even change-traumatised people. As consultants, we hear statements from these people such as "Leave me alone with that agile nonsense", "It's all just a short-term trend", "Agile is all about the sticky notes, right? We've already got that.", or "If we duck out long enough it will go away.” It's a pity that well-intentioned changes generate so much resistance.

Another phenomenon we observe in failed agile transformations is what we call "agile theatre". Here, agile tools are used superficially, but agile mindsets are not sufficiently embedded. For example, daily standup meetings with fancy new titles take place, but are nothing more than the old status meetings. This costs a lot of time and brings no real added value. Or in retrospectives an ideal world is presented ("Everything is going great here!"), but real problems are not addressed. Internal coaching roles are staffed externally or only half-heartedly (e.g. one Scrum Master who is responsible for many teams). By taking a look at the leaders, we see that they are caught between the new and the old world. They are supposed to lead in an agile way, but are still measured and evaluated according to old standards.

But don't worry, there are also highlights. As consultants, we experience many successful transformations, happily contributing to this success. That is our motivation: to improve the working environment of our clients, to make people's lives a little easier despite difficult requirements and, above all, to bring added value to the client organisations. Often our clients - and sometimes we ourselves as well - wish that we could "make everything right" quickly with a success formula, best practices and checklists, as if with a magic wand. But unfortunately it is not that simple. Agile transformations are complex projects in complex social systems. It would be naïve to believe that one can proceed with templates and blueprints and brush over the organisation in an agile manner in a given (short) time.

What is it that makes agile transformations so complex?

Not only does a transformation have to look different in every organisation and be designed individually. Working methods, decision-making premises, processes, priorities, hierarchies and power relations, communication channels, roles and functions, organisational structures, workspaces, tools and even corporate culture will change as a result of an agile transformation. It is too easy to get lost in this complexity.

For every single employee and every manager, the transformation means acting differently, learning new things or even unlearning the familiar. This can only happen individually: At one's own pace, through one's own experiences and approaches. And that in turn means greater complexity.

And because we are dealing with social systems, we cannot predict which measures will have which effects. If it were possible to control organisations in a targeted and predictable way, then with enough knowledge and planning, all organisations and all transformations would have to be successful and achieve their goals. So we are left to move forward in small steps, to dare to experiment, to listen to the signs and alarm signals and to create framework conditions that allow for quick adjustments.

So where do we start?

Thinking in systems is the only way to approach this complexity in a meaningful way and find suitable answers to the transformation challenges. Those are considered holistically, from different perspectives and their mutual influence. In this way, new solutions can emerge from the client's system, which, unlike so-called fail-safe solutions, can then really be implemented and are sustainable.

Asking questions and (active) listening is a fundamental prerequisite. We listen carefully, analyse the actual situation and derive clear strategies for action from the current situation. We are guided by a deeply curious mindset, but without ready-made solutions or recipes for success in our heads.

We as consultants are the experts for agile transformation. You, the leaders and employees, are the experts for your organisation. Only together can we find suitable ways for a successful transformation, from describing the meaning and purpose of the change to designing concrete measures. The external consultants act as "tour guides" through the process.

The transformation team: Not just passengers, but active participants

However, all successful transformations have one important element in common: an internal transformation team. People who drive the change in the organisation from within, support the change and always have an ear in and on the system. A transformation cannot be ordered or implemented from the outside. This responsibility lies with the organisation itself and cannot be delegated. To ensure that the transformation team is well equipped, builds up the appropriate competencies and can exchange ideas with experts, we accompany these teams in our work with training, sparring, coaching and consulting - depending on what they need at the time.

But it is not only the transformation team that needs new competencies; the leaders also need to be trained and coached accordingly. In leadership development, we emphasise practical and targeted competence building. In our trainings, we let people experience a lot and try things out for themselves, so that everyone is encouraged to move forward experimentally and grow in implementation. We start with the mindset - expressed in behaviour - and offer new perspectives and approaches for leadership work. For example, we don't give clichés about what constitutes good leadership, but work this out together with each leadership round and derive concrete next steps for action.

Curse or opportunity? You should not have to ask yourself this question.

An agile transformation is not a sprint or a short-term trend that you should jump on if you are not ready for it. Because otherwise it becomes a curse. Agile transformation means getting involved and changing as little as possible, but as much as necessary. And above all, it means giving the system and the people involved time to change.

Recognise the opportunity: Agile working methods equip your company for future challenges and allow you to react more flexibly and quickly to changing environments. Because "nothing is as constant as change." With our professional transformation coaching, we want to show starting points, bring clarity to the process, introduce ideas and uncover blind spots in the company in order to successfully guide the change.

Are you interested in transformation coaching? Then we look forward to hearing from you.

By the way: As experts for Scaled Agility, we often work in the context of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). We align the supporting steps with the SAFe roadmap, and enable coordinated action on all activities around your SAFe transformation.

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