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What is agile transformation?

By Casey Pechan
Updated January 14, 2022
7 minute read

The benefits of agility in the workplace aren’t limited to software development companies. But you can’t become an agile organization overnight: You need to implement an agile transformation to change how your company operates and reacts to evolving business circumstances.

Agile principles encourage continuous improvement and develop teams that can work across silos to produce higher quality goods and services for your clients. When your company embraces agile work and operations, you can better nurture a high-performing company capable of withstanding change.

Here’s how to implement an agile transformation at your organization.

Agile Adoption vs. Agile Transformation

Agile adoption takes place on the surface. Companies adopting agile practices might update their processes or tools, but these actions rarely transform the organization. Agile adoption may be haphazard rather than governed by a defined strategy. Companies adopt agile for quick wins in the short term, but that may not lead to long-term success.

On the other hand, agile transformation changes how you make decisions, who is involved in business processes, and even what direction a business needs to take. Agile transformation is more comprehensive than agile adoption and requires more strategy, commitment, and patience to execute. Agile transformation is a long-term strategy, and you shouldn’t rush it to achieve short-term gains at the expense of big-picture goals. 

4 Pillars of Agile Transformation

Before beginning your company’s agile transformation, you need to build a solid foundation. Here are the four pillars of a successful agile transformation.

Strategy

You need a clear, well-developed business strategy to execute. It should map out your goals at each stage of the transformation. Break each goal down into objectives and key results (OKRs) to measure progress. Gaining strategic agility through OKRs allows you to remain flexible and revisit the strategy as needed. 

People

From senior executives to front-line employees, your people will power your agile transformation. But you need to provide a clear framework for optimizing their contributions. For your workforce to execute your strategy, spell out clear roles and responsibilities for each person. Change is tricky, so working through an agile transformation isn’t easy. Be empathetic and lean toward over-communicating with employees rather than not communicating enough.

Processes

As the business strategy evolves to support an agile transformation, your processes will need to be revised or rewritten to support agility. To manage the process changes that go along with agile transformation, key business stakeholders (HR, finance, and operations) should collaborate with project managers to re-evaluate existing processes and determine the resources available for optimizing them.

Tools and Technology

Technology shouldn’t drive your agile transformation, but it should play an essential supporting role. As you develop your strategy and set OKRs for your agile transformation, evaluate your software resources while determining how you can optimize them to support the transition. Effective goal alignment software, for example, keeps the transformation on track and allows critical players to visualize its progress. 

Agile Transformation Road Map

Conducting an agile transformation is a process that requires a clear plan. Here are the steps you need to take to drive an agile transformation at your organization.

Understand Where Your Organization is Today

Assess your company’s pillars of agile transformation: strategy, people, processes, tools, and technology. As they stand now, how functional and responsive are they as business needs evolve? 

Look at your strategy and consider how it may need to change in response to new circumstances. For example, if COVID-19 continues to spike and we go into another shutdown, would you be able to pivot your strategy to meet those challenges? Are your processes flexible enough to adapt to new circumstances?

This exploratory process provides the basis for your end goal. Use scenario planning exercises to question each pillar of agile transformation, determine weaknesses, and create a road map for improvement.

Establish the End Goal

Visualize the results you’d like to achieve from your transformation. Collect input from employees at all levels of the company to define what “agile” means to your workforce in a universally functional way. For example, does “agile” mean the same thing to your leadership team that it does to your developers or salespeople?

Once you’ve heard from employee representatives at all levels, begin sketching out your vision for the agile transformation. With the end goal in mind, lay out smaller goals and milestones needed to make it happen.

Understand Roles and Responsibilities

Lay out clear roles and priorities for each person involved in the process. As you define these roles, spell out why each role is essential and the impact it will have on achieving the end goal. Make sure that employees in those roles understand the value they’re contributing to the company’s bottom line.

Create cross-functional, agile teams to cut through silos and ease the transition to an agile organization. These teams are vital to closing gaps along the way, although they can get muddled easily. Make sure that the roles and responsibilities on cross-functional teams are evident.

A lack of clarity can result in poor performance, especially during times of change and stress. But implementing performance improvement plans along the way can refine roles and responsibilities, as well as give employees a chance to reach their potential.

Align Technology to Business Capabilities

As you take the first steps toward agile transformation, you’ll gain a better understanding of your business’s capabilities and needs, allowing you to determine where you can optimize technology use to have the most significant impact.

Your company might need more dynamic performance management software, for instance, to help employees on global or hybrid teams collect constructive feedback from managers while in the flow of work. 

As you hone in on the capabilities you want to build, revisit your existing tech stack to determine how it can best serve your needs. Consider bringing in a consultant to help you optimize the technology you already have rather than investing entirely in new software.

Start Agile Coaching

Coaching is an essential driver of agile transformation. Real-time feedback and learning in the moment can help employees become more reactive and nimble as circumstances change. Upgrading your performance management is critical for enterprise agility, and implementing coaching is an integral part of that upgrade. 

Train managers at all levels to coach their reports rather than micromanage them. As employees adapt to a continuous coaching model, they’ll begin to feel more engaged with the work and with their managers. Engagement with an investment in their work empowers employees to embrace agility in their everyday tasks.

Start With a Pilot Transformation In One Area of the Organization

A pilot program in one team or department provides an opportunity to learn how effective your transformation process is before you enact a widespread rollout. Select one team — ideally one that’s representative of the larger organization — to pilot agile transformation.

As you go through the steps of the transformation on a small scale, be alert to what seems to be successful and what isn’t. Gather employee input at each step along the way, too. Employees provide perspective and help to determine your plan’s ultimate success or failure.

Create a Good Communication Strategy 

Agile transformation is impossible without clear and effective communication. To get your workforce through a change of this scale, you need to be transparent. Help employees understand why you’re going through an agile transformation and what you expect your end results to be.

As you develop your transformation strategy, give special attention to communication policies, habits, and channels. Be clear about when employees should escalate concerns, for example, or which channels to use for that purpose. Host events where employees can ask questions, whether in a town hall setting or through anonymous feedback channels.

Identify Business and Technology Leaders

The leaders you need to execute your transformation strategy may not have official titles. Talk to people on your business and IT teams to identify the influencers. These are the people who team members turn to when they need help. They’re alert to what their colleagues need and can speak for the rest of the team. 

The influencers in your company serve an important role as ambassadors of your vision for agile transformation. Getting in with the influencers will help you communicate more effectively with the entire group.

3 Common Challenges in Agile Transformation

The biggest challenge you’re likely to face during an agile transformation is resistance from stakeholders. It’s essential to start by listening to employees — especially those on the frontlines — to develop a transformation strategy that serves their needs, not just those of the leadership team. Your communication and influencers are key components of your plan that will help you overcome this challenge.

Another challenge you’ll encounter is simply making the wrong decisions, which will likely happen several times before you get it right. But don’t be discouraged: one of the mantras of agility is to fail fast to succeed fast. What’s most important is learning from your decision, identifying why it was a mistake, and using that knowledge to make better decisions in the future.

Becoming stagnant or too fixed on an idea is a common challenge of agile transformation. You might have excellent ideas, but they may not be functional for your specific workforce. Be willing to revisit and revise your original ideas, and keep your strategy updated to reflect necessary changes.

Metrics for Measuring Agile Transformation Success

As you develop your transformation strategy, develop clear OKRs. The OKR model forces you to be more thoughtful and intentional about your goals and what signals their completion. As you format your agile transformation goals within an OKR framework, you will have to identify key results, or metrics for measuring your progress.

Develop governance for monitoring the metrics. Assign specific individuals to make sure that the transformation is going in the direction it needs to go. Work with project managers to keep tasks on track and to help get back on track if you begin to slip. As your plan evolves (and it will), keep your metrics updated to create a realistic picture of the current situation.

How to Ensure a Successful Agile Transformation

Each pillar of your transformation must be sturdy enough to support your plan as it develops. Your agile transformation will only be as successful as your strategy, people, processes, tools, and technology. Revisit each of these pillars frequently throughout the transformation to ensure that everything is moving in the right direction.

Consider your timeline, too: Set realistic goals with feasible deadlines for each step along the way. And remember, don’t rush it, since a successful transformation can take years to get right. But if you try to move too quickly, your transformation plan can implode.

Making your organization into a powerhouse through agile transformation will prepare you to face the future with confidence. When you’re ready to react to anything, nothing can stop you.

The new world of work requires agile alignment. Learn more in this webinar.

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