There are countless articles on the reasons why digital and agile transformations fail, but here’s the problem no one is talking about — we live in an instant-gratification world that seeks to buy and implement our way to success.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, transformation success is an anomaly. Up to 84% of companies fail at digital transformation, according to Forbes. According to an Everest Group study, 73% of digital transformation efforts failed to provide any value whatsoever.
If your transformation is struggling, could it be that you’re trying to buy and implement transformation rather than cultivate it?
Organizations want what they want and they want it now. This insatiable appetite to buy instant change has spawned service offerings that promise to implement digital and agile transformation.
Teams of consultants are hired, all promising to get you to the promised land. Yet, after years of changes, what you’re left with isn’t quite what you envisioned.
Here’s the rude awakening — transformations cannot be bought and installed. Transformations take time. They need to be cultivated. Transformation requires changes in ways many aren’t willing to endure.
According to an article in CIOinsight, “Transformation is about modifying core beliefs and long-term behaviors — sometimes in profound ways — to achieve the desired results…deliberate, planned transformation often redefines what success looks like and how you get there.”
This is not something you can implement. You must cultivate it.
A true transformation is a shift in mindset and approach, backed by a strong why. It’s being deliberate with outcomes-based return on investment at the center of each decision.
No one gets it overnight. But with the right approach, you can get there.
- Understand your starting point
- Start smart
- Measure and pursue the next right thing
Understand Your Starting Point
Every transformation starts with understanding your current reality.
In my book, Pursuing Timeless Agility: the Path to Lasting Agile Transformation, I help the reader understand the problems of agile transformation and where they currently are in the spectrum of the good, the bad, and the ugly. An honest assessment of your current situation is crucial to how you move forward.
Being in an organization that is far down the wrong path isn’t necessarily harder to transform than one that is new to the journey. It’s all about readiness for the change. Regardless, pushing forward poorly is still better than not going there at all.
Start with a self-assessment.
Old-school mindsets are entrenched. Corporate culture is deeply engrained. Processes are restrictive. Staff competencies vary. Opinions abound regarding the right way forward — folks are moving in varying directions.
According to Forbes, transformations are blocked by traditional hierarchies of authority with an internal efficiency-driven mindset.
Identify who has the mindset and understanding you want to propagate. Leading your teams from a position of misunderstanding will only perpetuate misapplication.
“Agile people gather into agile teams. If your people aren’t agile, nothing else will be. Ever.” — Andy Hunt, co-author, Agile Manifesto
Digital and agile transformation go hand-in-hand. According to Forbes, “True digital transformation can only be accomplished in an agile framework…”
Effective transformation starts with understanding and accepting the centrality of an empirical approach — the process of doing something small, experiencing the results, learning from it, and adjusting. This means learning what doesn’t work just as much as what does, and the willingness to learn that early and often.
If the people within your organization cannot buy into the value of an empirical approach, then whatever you end up doing is not really aligned with Agile and your digital transformation will fail.
Understand the answers to questions like, “Why does the organization want Agile or digital transformation?” This is very revealing and will set you up for how to proceed.
The why will likely be different depending upon whom you ask. Understand what you’re working with. Recruit those who understand the intent and benefits to help transform.
Transformation requires an organizational mindset shift, not just some new practices or technologies a development team employs to output results.
Transformation will happen faster and be more successful if the entire organization is committed to and actively pursues education and experience with these new concepts. In other words, uncoachable managers are a non-starter. A learning culture is a must.
You must come to terms with the fact it won’t happen overnight, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and it will be messy. One thing is for sure, your transformation will be unique to your organization — do not compare yourself to others.
With so much to change, where do you start? Start where you can make a noticeable impact with the least trouble.
Transformations always come with resistance. In my experience, large, sweeping changes are met with the most pushback. I recommend all change initiatives come in small bites.
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” — John Wooden
What are your biggest problems right now? Which of those big problems seems easiest to solve? Do that first.
First make it work, then make it work better.
Trying to change everything all at once is rarely effective. Broad changes dilute focus and incite rebellion on multiple fronts. Too much can go wrong in too many places.
You can’t hurry the harvest by flooding the fields.
Similar to Big Bang, long-term software projects that rarely deploy as planned, if at all, transformation will not work that way either. Patience is required, picking the right battle at the right times is paramount, and continuously building upon your successes is the step-by-step process to pursue.
Repetition is key. “What problem are we trying to solve?” becomes the mantra. Find something to change, use the empirical approach to do, experience, learn, and adjust, and focus on making good changes stick before refocusing on something else. This builds trust and confidence.
Small bites and repetition.
It’s like boiling a frog. I know this is a cruel analogy, forgive me, but it makes the point. If you put a frog into boiling water, it will strongly resist. If you put the frog in room-temperature water and slowly heat it, it will adjust to each change without fighting back. Same goes for organizational change.
Measure and Pursue the Next Right Thing
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results” — Sir Winston Churchill
Everything you do should have an outcome in mind that you’re trying to impact. Transformations are no different.
Why are you doing what you’re doing? How will you know when you’re successful? What will inform the next right thing?
Before you advance with any change, declare your intent and how you’ll measure success. Not every idea will achieve your intent or desired results. That’s ok. By measuring and validating, you’ll have the information you need to know whether you should double down or shift direction.
The goal is always to do the next right thing. You can only inform that decision with validated measurement.
Transformation is not easy, is not fast, and likely won’t end up as you envision. Implementing new practices and tools is easy compared to changing and aligning mindsets. But change and align you must do.
You are where you are, so that’s your starting point. Don’t sugar-coat it. Do an honest assessment of your organization and build a team of folks that embody the right mindset and approaches needed to fuel your transformation.
Start with a win. Build confidence. Focus on small bites and make it work. This builds the momentum you need to propagate transformation.
Measure, measure, measure. You can’t know what the next right thing is unless you know what’s working, or not, and why.
You can’t buy and implement a transformation. Transformation is about modifying core beliefs and long-term behaviors. It’s a journey, not a project.
To learn more about the path to lasting Agile transformation, check out Pursuing Timeless Agility.