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How to Manage Agile Business Transformation – the 4 Do’s and the 4 Don’ts

The Big Bang theory is dead. Many companies which started with big plans for ambitious agile business transformation projects, have painfully learned that the speed with which the world around us is changing, is so high that they cannot sustain these ultra sophisticated project plans. McKinsey concluded that organisations complete only 27 percent of their change initiatives successfully. So, why do 73 percent of transformation projects fail?

 

Too Much Attention to Detail, Not Enough Agility in Implementation

Simply put, many companies get on the wrong track when it comes to planning details and neglect the critical success factor, namely, agility in implementation. More and more organisations undertaking software development are beginning to turn their backs on the sequential working method of “plan first, implement second.” 94 percent of development teams explore agile approaches such as Scrum, hybrid concepts from Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP), Scrumban, Kanban or other hybrid models. The Waterfall model, which has established itself as the premier approach in software development since the early 1970s, could have soon completed its service. But how can agile methods be applied beyond software development – for the business as a whole? What are the success factors in agile business transformation projects and which mistakes should you avoid?

 

Success Factor No. 1: Focus on Outcome, Not the Master Plan

Organisations that focus on taking action, rather than getting bogged down in planning tasks, have a three times higher success rate than others. The more active you are in implementing your project; the more likely you are to succeed with your change initiatives. Transformation projects are hard work, which means that any progress, however limited, is a success in itself. Forget the idea of the great master plan and just enjoy making progress.

 

Success Factor No. 2: Communication 24-7-365

Celebrate success and let your entire organisation join the party. Managers who allow employees to participate in successes and failures in an open and honest manner create genuine commitment. Hold up your agile business transformation story and talk openly about the challenges and obstacles that you need to overcome together. This creates credibility and ensures that you, as a business leader, receive the respect and recognition you urgently need for complex change initiatives.

 

Success Factor No. 3: Take the Lead, But Do Not Manage

Agile management is anything but top down management. You will only be successful if you enable and empower your employees and teams to implement your transformation project in a largely independent manner. It’s not without reason that organisations making use of agile methods such as Scrum are to a large extent self-sustaining. Provide clarity about the goals of and roles in your organisation and trust your teams to implement them independently.

 

Success Factor No. 4: Every Day Is Day One

We will discuss the theory of learning from failure later, but be assured that if you want to ultimately avoid stagnation, you need to enshrine a culture of continuous improvement deep into your organisation. The world around us is waiting with new challenges every day. Your business will only be successful if you create mechanisms for continuous improvement and customisation. A typical day should begin by evaluating the results of the day before, and working out what you can do better as a team. Learn together!

 

Mistake No. 1: “Failure Is Not an Option”

Let’s continue with the theory of learning from failure. Organisations which follow the popular phrase “Failure is not an option”, tend to paralyse teams and employees instead of exploring learning opportunities to become better. Agile working means allowing for mistakes, learning quickly, and sustainably improving. As Steve Jobs said: “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.”

 

Mistake No. 2: Managers That Lose Touch

Managers have a tendency to be too positive about their agile business transformation initiatives and quickly lose sight of the fact that not all employees immediately recognise the value of change for themselves. It’s perfectly normal that not all employees are equally satisfied with every project. However, be honest and clarify the results of your transformation projects before your employees develop their own theories.

 

Mistake No. 3: Getting Lost in Over-planning

Do not get bogged down in overly detailed project plans, but focus on your goal instead. What do you want to achieve with your transformation project? Define targets and provide your employees with a rough roadmap that outlines how you will reach them. Visualize where the journey will take you, but do not include micro-plans that are likely to be obsolete one day later. If in doubt, remember that the world around you is developing faster than any project plan could portray.

 

Mistake No. 4: Resting on Laurels

As soon as transformation projects are successfully completed, managers, teams and employees tend to celebrate the achievements and then sit back and relax. Do not forget, however, that the world around you does not stop turning. Stay on the ball, motivate your organisation to uncover and realise new optimisation potential. Standing still in not an option and improvement is always possible. That is ultimately the basis of agile thinking.

 

Are you interested in agile business transformation, but haven’t yet found the right platform to make your organisation more agile? Then you should certainly take a look at swarmOS, the new cloud solution for agile companies. We will be presenting swarmOS at the Atlassian Summit in San Jose from the 12th to 14th September 2017. Download our new white paper and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook!