Success factors for agile transformations


Agile transformation and agile leadership – what makes them successful? Impressions from Manage Agile conference 2018

There were encouraging three days in October 2018 on the Berlin ’Manage Agile’ conference where agile minds from all over Germany intensively exchanged thoughts on agile transformations. We want to share with you the following key insights from this conference:

the trend“: The „agility virus“ has finally reached Germany and is slowly spreading out from small IT companies to middle- and large-size IT and non-IT organizations. We met lots of new-to-market consulting-companies which have been founded to provide overall coaching and support on agile journeys. We met lots of people who have accomplished certifications as Agile coaches, Scrum Masters or Product Owners. We met recruiters who were actively looking for external agile experts on behalf of their clients. We met managers who were deeply interested in this topic and already had agile success stories to share. All signs show that Germany is ready for agile era!

the trigger: We were especially interested in the question how does the agile transformation normally starts in a German company and who usually triggers it. “It starts top-down or bottom-up at the same time” were the answers. An impulse from the top management (to improve quality and deliver faster) along with a dedicated team on the operations level make it work. An agile transformation cannot be performed neither without a strong management commitment nor without employees who enthusiastically accept this impulse and drive it forward in the organization.

the challenge“: We learned that there is no a single company which managed to be agile without impediments and struggles. In many cases the transformation started with a small team of 3-5 people who were familiar with scrum or learned it on the go. It took several years until the transformation has „borne fruits“ and got widely recognized within the organization. One typical challenge was a coordination of the work between the agile team and non-agile departments due to their different work rhythms and different communication routines. Another big challenge was a missing by-in for agility on all management levels with the biggest gap on the middle-management level as the advantages of the change were not obvious to everyone. And the last but not least a big challenge was the scaling of a small agile success to a bigger one with many more people involved.

the solution“: Some companies overcame the challenges by being tolerant with employees who do not support agile as long as they deliver good results, and at the same time by supporting and promoting those who live and drive the agile values forward. Agile teams have been growing and spreading organically over a period of several years convincing with outstanding achievements comparing to their outcomes before the agile transformation and the outcomes of non-agile teams. Such metrics as „number of releases for a time frame“,  „total number of defects and re-works per product/increment“ were considered as helpful to promote agility within the organization. Some other companies have chosen a tougher „getting the right people in and the wrong people out“ approach.

the leadership keynote“: A transformation to agile is not accomplished as long as management at all levels have not adopted the agile mindset and behavior and moved from ‘command&control’ , ‘top-down-decision making’, ‘bottom-up status reporting’, ‘search for the guilty’ , ‘promotion for loyalty’ to ‘EMPOWERING AND SUPPORTING’, ‘DECISION DELEGATING’, ‘TRUST AND GO-SEE PRINCIPLE’, ‘PROMOTION FOR VALUE DELIVERED’. This can be achieved by (1) getting familiar with agile values and principles (2) identifying the gap in the current behavior and defining an action plan to close the gap (2) implementing the action plan, prioritizing the agile behaviors, making it the winning strategy for everyone by adjusting KPIs and incentives (3) getting and staying involved in agile team ceremonies (4) making agile transformation visible and accountable.

the win“: Despite the challenges all companies have reported a positive impact from agile transformations. The internal and external communication has improved. Teams became faster in providing a product or an increment to an internal or external customer with less rework and less defect follow-up. The flexibility to adapt to customer needs has increased and so has the customer satisfaction.

[Author: Agilon GmbH,]