Agile transformation: a long and multifaceted acculturation

Mon 30 May 2022

Taking people into account is a key success factor in agile transformation, which cannot be decreed or improvised.

Deploying agile methods at scale does not make a company agile. Agile transformation is based on the integration of new values that profoundly change the role and work habits of individuals, teams, managers and decision makers. Its success is based on people. It relies on diversified approaches and sustained support adapted to different populations.

Many companies think that it is enough to put Scrum or Kanban in a project or to talk about "sprints" and "squads" to be agile. This is a reductive view. An agile transformation at scale relies on the embodiment of new values and the integration of unusual behaviors at various levels of the company. Distinguishing between the four forms of agility to be developed allows us to adapt the acculturation methods.

Strategic Agility

An agile transformation starts at the top of the company. The commitment of the decision makers is the number one prerequisite. The members of the Executive Committee must take the measure of the changes brought about by agility, convince themselves of the merits of the transformation and formalize the ambitions of the approach by asking themselves about the "why" rather than the "what." This reflection leads them to define a raison d'être that specifies the objectives that the company seeks to achieve collectively to serve its strategy and create value. It will be an opportunity to rethink the business model, the value chains and the strategic themes of the company.

Organizational Agility

Deploying agility at scale requires the prior definition and implementation of an adaptive governance with means: a dynamic and self-regulating organization that fosters collective intelligence. Organizational agility means defining "circles," "communities," multi-disciplinary or expert teams that allow to break free from organizational silos. Within the teams, each person has a role, a mission, and well-defined responsibilities to serve not his or her manager, but the company's raison d'être. The structuring of this organization represents an important and continuous effort, at all levels, with an initialization and a follow-up, facilitated by the support of an agile coach.

Project Agility

It is at the level of IT development projects that the various agile methods come into play: scrum, SAFe, or agile trains to synchronize several projects nested within a large program. These methods induce major changes in the work habits of employees and stimulate cooperation. For example, they lead development and operations teams to work together on integration, within "squads," which enables them to better manage the divergent interests of their two professions. The squads federate multidisciplinary teams of 10/12 participants where each person represents his or her field of activity and plays a role. This individual responsibility, if well managed, contributes to the personal satisfaction of the employees as well as to the commitment of the team.

Agile methods are also used for other types of projects than IT projects: design thinking, kanban, co-development, learning expedition, and appreciative inquiry, etc. They promote a dynamic of collective intelligence on themes of creativity, innovation and collaboration and accelerate the creation of value.

Individual Agility

Becoming an agile collaborator requires a real work of introspection and self-intelligence. Human beings are naturally resistant to change. Everyone reacts according to their personality and history. The loss of reference points is much more important for an employee who has been working in a V-cycle for 20 years than for a young recruit from generation Y.

It is therefore up to the manager — playing the role of coach — to take care of and accompany each employee individually, respecting his or her rhythm. Helping him or her, with behavioral methods, to analyze his or her reaction to change, to get to know himself or herself better, to manage his or her emotions and interactions with the other members of the team. The aim is to help each employee to find solutions adapted to his or her own personality, while helping him or her to evolve towards behaviors and communications that will promote both personal fulfillment and the team's overall effectiveness.

Many Other Levers for Success

Taking people into account is a key success factor in agile transformation, which cannot be decreed or improvised. Change management requires a lot of training and support from agility professionals over several years, with continuous adjustment of the systems according to the company's maturity. Other levers play a major role:

  • Giving meaning, with a vision: an essential phase of co-construction of the common principles of agility and its implementation in the company will help employees in search of meaning to take ownership of the strategy.
  • Have an inclusive and non-segregating approach to get the whole company on board. Give everyone the chance to participate in an agile project, even outside of IT development, by drawing on the best practices of agility: collective intelligence methods, working in a circle of experts, etc.
  • Accompany decision-makers and managers whose posture changes radically to help them instill a culture of agility and innovation, focused on the customer and on the autonomy of multidisciplinary teams empowered on their value chain.
  • Start with easy projects. Make them a success and communicate to make everyone want to do it.
  • Rely on innovation promoters. Find support points, relays, and ambassadors to spread this agility.
  • Use agile project sponsors.
  • Ensure the proper use of very rigorous methodologies by integrating agile talents; well applied agile methods bring a lot of efficiency and satisfaction to teams. If they are not used properly, they can quickly harm a project and degrade the climate within the team.
  • Instill a culture of test and learn, of the right to experiment and to make mistakes at all levels — leaders too have the right to make mistakes — by introducing shorter feedback loops.
  • Encourage the "one roof" concept. Occasionally move employees to work more efficiently as a team "under the same roof," taking care not to cut them off from their original entity.

Davy Letailleur

Deputy General Manager; Managing Director of IT & Network Business Unit