Agile Leadership & Culture

On the failure of agile transformations

Even 20 years after the introduction of the agile manifest and many proven implementations, agile transformations still fail. Lets have a look at the reasons while reflecting on an article by Jeff Sutherland.

I recently read an article by Jeff Sutherland: “Why agile transformations fail“. Jeff references various reports that highlight one important insight: Time-to-decision is the most important factors to improve the odds of an agile transformation. He details that out in the slides to his talk. Now that we seem to know the reason: Can we avoid failure?

I have read many articles on why agile transformations fail. I witnessed some failed attempts myself. In my observations the challenge begins when they tried to apply only the method – without neither the culture, nor the leadership. Without even understanding how real customer centrism and outcome orientation works.

Executive Participation

Now agile success is boiled down to an organizations’ capability to decide quickly. This requires 2 prerequisites:

  • High decision autonomy in the teams and in product ownership. Decisions should be taken quickly. This requires minor dependencies between development teams, too. And it requires an extensive empowerment of the role of the product owner.
  • Escalation path executives need to participate in the daily work of the teams. They need to be available quickly, so that quick decision making in a governed organization is ensured.

I observe that approaches with a high level of uncertainty usually apply councils or boards. A board gives the feeling of control. Because many eyes are watching and evaluating what is going on. This ensures – so they believe – that the right decisions are made. They don’t seem to know about decision types (early, assumption-driven and last responsible moment decisions) and the established boards generally add up to the problem. The cadence of these boards are slow, decisions are often not made since lots of opinions are added to the facts.

There is another problem: People taking decisions are often made responsible for these decisions, too (and not always in a positive way). To take over responsibility in times of uncertainty needs special kinds of leaders and a special kind of culture.

Culture as the problem

So this leads me back to my own findings. Fast decision making is mentioned as a prerequisite for successful transformations in Jeff’s article. However, fast decision making requires a culture of autonomy, trust and the willingness to take ownership.

To enable fast decision making, you will need to bring the right culture and trust into place. Then decisions will be made at the right places and in time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *