Why many agile transformations fail, and how yours will succeed

To stay relevant in tomorrow’s increasingly demanding marketplace, today’s businesses will need to work faster and deliver more value. Agile transformation promises exactly that. But while it has become the go-to strategy for many organizations, few achieve success. Here’s how to avoid their mistakes.
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In this series of articles, we will detail the steps required to bring greater agility throughout the organization. We dive deeper into the barriers to change in this first article and we set the overall roadmap to realize change and tackle these barriers. 

In the following three articles, we will uncover each step with detailed activities, good practices and lessons learned from our experiences.

Who doesn’t want to work faster and deliver more value in this day and age?

Agile has a lot going for it. It will decrease your time-to-market, increase your efficiency and improve overall quality. You’ll see return on investment faster and your customers will be happier, if for no other reason than the fact that you’re using their own input and feedback to boost your added value. In fact, agile organizations have 16 percent long-term EBITDA growth compared with a mere six percent for non-agile organizations. With benefits like these, it makes perfect sense that so many companies are pursuing agile transformation. After all, who doesn’t want to work faster and deliver more value in this day and age?

But there’s a catch. You’ll only reap those rewards if your transformation is successful. And sadly, many transformations fail. In some cases, businesses take an overly mechanical approach to applying popular agile methodologies. They go through the motions without trying to understand why those methods work in the first place, which prevents them from achieving the outcomes they desire. In other cases, they ignore or overlook the fact that agile transformations require clear and consistent commitment from every level of the organization to be successful.

The definitive handbook for agile transformations

Fortunately, you don’t have to repeat their mistakes. We’ve put together the definitive handbook on agile transformation. Our years of experience guiding and supporting these processes have helped us identify the three essential stages:

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Depending on where you stand in your own transformation process, you can zoom in on a specific stage to discover which challenges await you or pull back for a more comprehensive reading. Either way, the insights provided here will go a long way to ensuring your success.

One of the hardest things you’ll ever do – and the most worthwhile

Talking about agile transformation, people love to toss around companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Spotify. Why? Because they make it look easy. Here are these inspiring high-tech juggernauts, building the user experiences of the future on the razor’s edge of continuous delivery. And they even manage to make it look like a foregone conclusion. Almost like a walk in the park.

But the reality is that it’s hard. That’s something you should be aware of going in. For most companies, it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. And there are clear reasons for that, too.

How to succeed with agile transformation - Woman doing a handstand - by Accenture

Your current culture might not be prepared for it

Constant change is part and parcel of any true agile transformation. To complete the process, your organization will have to make small changes on a regular basis. On a human level, that’s not always easy. Change can be painful and intimidating, even when it’s relatively minor. Paradoxically, businesses often feel more comfortable with grand, sweeping changes than consistent, incremental change over time. After all, a Big Bang only has to happen once. But getting into that constant groove is crucial.

Your organizational structure may resist agile transformation

Going agile means tearing down traditional silos and reorganizing your business into a value-oriented enterprise. But that won’t happen overnight, and those siloes will resist your efforts to demolish them. You will be working against your old organizational structure in some way or another throughout the entire transformation process, or at least until you’ve embraced agile methodologies to such a degree that you can leverage them in subsequent aspects of the change process.

Your existing IT landscape can hinder your efforts

For many companies, the specter of technical debt is all too real. Legacy IT systems and byzantine infrastructure can stand in the way of change, especially when the decision-making process is divided among many different stakeholders within the organization. Of course, it’s important to proceed with caution when changes – even necessary ones – affect many different domains throughout your business. But this will inevitably slow you down, limiting the pace of your agile transformation.

3 steps to success: the universal stages of agile transformation

If you want to successfully transform your business into an agile organization, you’ll need to take a comprehensive approach. Agile transformation is a company-wide endeavor. Everybody needs to be involved, from talent to leadership. And every aspect of the business needs to be reimagined, reworked and re-inspired along agile lines.

But you can’t just change everything everywhere at once. You need to take a systematic approach, especially when it comes to changes that are as fundamental and far-reaching as these. And taking a systematic approach means knowing where to begin. 

Agile organizations have 16 percent long-term EBITDA growth compared with six percent for non-agile organizations.

These are the universal stages of agile transformation, presented in order of priority. As you progress through each, you’ll encounter fundamental challenges that you will need to tackle conclusively. We provide clear solutions for each, along with an overview of all the beats you can’t afford miss.

Stage 1: Agile transformation in teams

In the most basic sense, your teams are the bedrock on which your entire agile transformation is built. They’re your foundation. If that foundation is weak or incomplete, your chances of success will drop precipitously. But if it’s strong, your teams will become the engine that powers the rest of the process.

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Stage 2: Agile transformation within in your departments

Getting your teams involved in your transformation is an important first step. But even when they’ve truly adopted an agile way of working, their speed will still be limited by the environment in which they operate: the IT department. Traditionally speaking, IT departments are split into development and operations. In this stage, teams will become less reliant on these external structures. An increasing sense of ownership will reduce the need for oversight, accelerating your workflows in the process. What's more, 73 percent of organizations have adopted DevOps, or will do so shortly, to speed up the overall process.

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Stage 3: Agile transformation at the organizational scale

Once you’ve solved the challenges inherent in agile transformation at the team and department level, you’ll be ready to move forward to the final stage. Here, you will have to orient your entire organization toward clear goals. Every aspect of your business must be refocused on the products and services you deliver. This will allow you to make the right decisions regarding your added value, while also helping you increase the speed at which you deliver it.

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Sharing new insights into agile transformation

We’re committed to providing your business with the resources and support you need to navigate your agile transformation successfully. This handbook is part of that commitment. The current overview is only the beginning. Over the coming months, we will be adding in-depth insights regarding each of the three stages of agile transformation. Once complete, the article will provide an exhaustive overview of the crucial aspects of the transformation process.

That said, no two businesses are the same. Many of the challenges you face will be unique to your company. If you need advice, guidance or expert assistance beyond the contents of the handbook, please reach out to our thought leaders. We will gladly assist you wherever we can.

Authors: Luuk Bolijn Nikoo Delgoshaie