Agile Transformation: It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

There is a misconception that “going agile” (whatever that means) will result in an instant boost to productivity, happiness and organisational health. While that would be awesome, the reality is that’s not really how it works.

There is good news though, you can eventually improve productivity, happiness and organisational health, and reap many other benefits too. The key word here is eventually. Its not going to happen over night, and you will probably see a concerning drop in those value propositions before you see an increase.

Lets take a look at how the Virginia Satir J-Curve applies to organisational change.

You can see above a pretty average productivity baseline, sometime around the green X someone got sold on an agile transformation, maybe they read about it in HBR, maybe a fellow C-Suiter mentioned it on the golf course, whatever it was three things happened here:

  1. The Organisation made the decision to change.
  2. Management had hight expectations of instant improvement.
  3. Reality struck and productivity took a dive.

At this point the water cooler is probably blowing up and management are starting to ask questions like:

  • “Was this thing a mistake?”
  • “Maybe its just not a good fit for our organisation?”
  • “Should we pull the plug?”

Staff are hearing rumblings and are starting to divide into two camps:

  • Those who see the potential from the frontline and want to continue.
  • Those who think they are siding with management or never wanted to change in the first place want to go back to the “old way” of doing things.

What happens next is critical, because its not just the Agile transformation thats at stake….

As you can see above, if the change process is abandoned during the productivity hit that takes place when an organisational change is implemented. The point at which it is abandoned becomes the new productivity baseline. That is, productivity does not instantly spike back up to where it was, it simply flatlines where it is. Not good.

However, if management is committed to the change process and that directive is reiterated from the top down. The frontline and implementation staff will respond in kind by unifying under a common unwavering strategic plan. As a result the productivity dip will level out and as the organization embraces the change it will make a turn.

What follows is a rapid increase in productivity as the organisation starts to make pace. They will soon get back to the old baseline, followed by hitting managements initial expectations and ultimately reaching a new level of increased productivity.

You will notice that “Time” in the above chart is not defined. So how long does it actually take? Unfortunately the answer to that question is an unsatisfying “it depends”.

All organisations are different and there are many factors that can affect how long this part of the process takes. In a highly committed and focused organization with roles dedicated to agile success, the dip could be 6 months, in a larger organisation, or where other factors like resistance to change or siloed departments exist it could be a year or more.

Ultimately, the most important take aways from the J-Curve in relation to Agile transformation are:

  • Be sure that Agile is right for you.
  • Once you decide to implement it, make the commitment to get it right.
  • It can work so long as its given the appropriate commitment, resources and support.
  • The organisational risks of a haphazard implementation are too great to start before you are ready and to end before you succeed.

So stick it out, its going to get worse before it gets better, but it will get better !

Originally published at