Agile transformation: Small leaps, high impact

To make a company more agile, you don’t have to go all out. How to drive change step-by-step and achieve rapid results.

Agility promises great advantages, especially in areas where innovation and fast processes are required. The basic principles can be roughly simplified as follows: Speed trumps perfection. Different disciplines work closely together and exchange ideas frequently in order to quickly reach a result in many rounds of optimization. In an IT company, for example, this could be a single new software feature that makes life easier for the end customer and thus binds them to the provider.

Many companies have set out to become more agile, and not just in IT or product development. But what is the right way to approach such a change, which in principle can affect all areas of the organization? And when do you reach your destination? There are no blanket answers here, because the textbook agile company doesn’t exist. The transformation can be more or less wide-ranging, i.e. it can affect only selected areas or the entire company. And it virtually never reaches a stage where it is fully accomplished: employees may become more routine in agile methods and the associated mindset may be solidified, but there will always be routines and processes that can be improved. Companies should see this as freedom and use it to find their own way. The following steps are helpful:

Transformation Story illustrates the advantages

Explain how agile working, agile values and principles support your core business. What competitive advantage does the transformation bring to your company? Simple example: Agility improves internal IT services and ultimately shortens your company’s service and delivery times.

All beginnings are good

An agile organization is best developed step by step. This often begins in IT development – it is then, in a sense, the nucleus of agile collaboration in the company. However, other departments are also eligible. Find a suitable pilot area that can gather initial experience and provide impetus for further transformation.

Stakeholder involvement and networking

Determine which employee groups are affected by the change. Direct stakeholders themselves work in an area that is implementing agile principles. Indirect stakeholders support this change, for example IT users from a business unit: Among other things, they have to adjust to the fact that they will see interim results and that IT will need feedback from them more frequently. Support all stakeholders with targeted measures. Those directly involved can, for example, network in so-called communities of practice, a community of employees who face similar tasks and regularly share their experiences. Conceivable, for example, are weekly meetings on changing topics, such as useful tricks for working with a test tool.

Indirect stakeholders are best engaged and motivated by colleagues from within the organization. This can be done by multipliers who mediate between the transformation team and the business units involved. The multipliers also form a network and invite other colleagues to participate, for example in an upcoming review, i.e. the evaluation of an interim result.

Trainings for beginners and professionals

Agile principles have been around for a few years, so some of your staff should already have experience. When planning training, it is therefore advisable to conduct a change impact analysis under the guiding question: For which stakeholders is the topic new, and for which is it not? This way, you ensure that the training courses do not over- or under-challenge anyone.

Use snowball effects

Ideally, agile principles already rub off on adjacent areas during piloting. Suppose IT is using agile methods to develop an improved CRM system for sales. In this way, the indirect stakeholders get to know this principle from the customer’s point of view. Multipliers from the business unit can build on this and encourage the adoption of selected agile tools in sales. For example, is a backlog or kanban board a good way to structure tasks and keep track of progress? Agile and classic methods are not mutually exclusive – there are many ways to combine the models. However, it is important that employees consciously live the agile values and principles.

Expert group accompanies the change

Agile methodological knowledge alone is not enough. Employees have to be willing to rethink, to let go of old roles, to share more and to live with provisional, imperfect results. This new way of thinking cannot be prescribed, but has to develop in an appropriate way depending on the working environment.

Support your employees in this process, for example, with a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE), an internal expert group that advises stakeholders and keeps interested colleagues up to date on the current status of the agile transformation. In order to determine how agile collaboration is developing, it is also a good idea to conduct regular surveys: How do employees rate the communication on the topic? How satisfied are they with the current situation? What challenges are they facing?

Progress without end

It’s both a blessing and a challenge: Agile transformation has no end goal that can be communicated from the start. This gives the teams a lot of freedom, but is also unfamiliar to the employees and can have a demotivating effect. Therefore, focus on intermediate successes – these should be appropriately acknowledged and celebrated.

March 22nd, 2021, Grosse-Hornke

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