Do we need agile transformation projects?

First let me be very clear about this it’s the three words used together that bother me “Agile Transformation Project”. Admittedly mainly the last word.

If we look at some of the Agile frameworks that are used at the coal face it is clear that they rely on incremental improvement. This improvement usually has a heartbeat, it’s fairly rhythmic and coincides with the completion of some unit of work. Although there is nothing stopping improvement happening continually teams usually want some level of stability or trail period to test out improvements and gain experience. We do after all need to understand if our experiments are improvements or not. These frameworks build this time to reflect, plan and adapt in. You may occasionally go down some dead-ends but that’s fine, you very shortly get to try something else having learnt from your mistakes.

There appears to be a trend at the organisational level for big bang agile transformation projects. Projects taking the organisation to agile nirvana in the shortest time possible. I can see why this would be highly desirable. These projects don’t seem to include this change heartbeat but more clinically set out how people should behave,act and think. Skipping the trial and learning phases. Reducing or removing the phases where experience can be built up by people and teams seeing what works for them. We see analogies of climbing mountains, presumably Agile is at the top waiting with a flag and a medal. Dropping off a cliff when things go wrong, what ever happened to failing and learning from your mistakes? Or learning to fly before we hit the ground, how fatalistic is that?

Every time I hear about dropping off cliffs I can’t help think of these guys.

These all makes it sound insurmountably difficult and perhaps, if you expect to get this mindset into your organisation with-in a fixed period of time, it is. I’m sure this is where good coaches and scrum masters step in and try and calm things down. Build in that time to learn. Attempt to cultivate the green stems and steer people away from the bad practices. Nudge people onto the right path or suggest things they could try. Reset the picture to one of continual improvement rather than a rush to a fixed end point.

So my suggestion is this, lets never put the word “project” on the end of the words “agile transformation”. It gives people the idea that there is a start and end, that you can reach your goal and stop. Lets transform our insurmountable mountains into steps on a path. There maybe many steps and you may take the wrong path but we’ve got correction built in so don’t panic. There are also a lot of fantastic guides, communities and people to help you out.

If your project, product or organisation is about to drop off that cliff edge or heading towards a gravity driven kiss with the ground then I’m not convinced telling people to think of act differently by date x is going to help. Get Riggs involved and hope someone has inflated a crash matt.