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  • Tom Bellinson

Agile Transformation is Wrong

Agile transformations are all the rage these days. The whole idea of a transformation is the wrong concept. Let’s think about other well-known transformations. My favorite is the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation.

The caterpillar eats a lot to build the energy to create a cocoon around itself that protects it from the surrounding elements—at the same time, using the remainder of its stored energy to metamorphize into a butterfly. The last step is to emerge from the cocoon into the world, fulfilling its purpose.

If we apply this metaphor to an Agile transformation, the caterpillar food consumption can be related to the upfront planning and organizing that goes into an Agile transformation. Next, the cocoon provides a protective shield placed around those chosen to be part of the Agile transformation. We wouldn’t want the non-transforming part of the organization to interfere with the process.

Just as the butterfly is expected to emerge from the cocoon in a fixed amount of time using a fixed energy budget, Agile transformations are expected to yield results in a predetermined amount of time and cost. This is effectively an Agile anti-pattern.

It is well-known that most Agile transformations fail to deliver the expected return on investment. Failure is an interesting term because it implies that the effort has ended without the desired results. The caterpillar emerges as a caterpillar.

I prefer the Agile Journey metaphor. While journeys have a destination, they don’t end until you arrive. Cervantes pointed out that “the road is always better than the inn.” He was onto something there. Agile Journeys are about achieving a perfect state that is unobtainable. The journey never ends. It doesn’t matter because, along the path, organizations enjoy many positive experiences.

Agile Journeys are incremental. We take them one step at a time. We don’t need a protective shield because we live in the whole environment, so any changes we make must find harmony in that environment. To the extent necessary, teams on the journey must bring others around them along for the ride.

Agile Journeys are organic. They are not forced, so there’s no need to manage the chaos of a transformation. The organization’s legs dictate the stride. Fast or slow -- it doesn’t matter. The organization absorbs the change it can handle. It can speed up or slow down as conditions change. Because it never ends, great things can happen without the stress of a fixed timeline.

Agile Journeys are like boiling the proverbial frog. The temperature of change rises so gradually that nobody jumps. Then, one day, the frog legs are ready for consumption. The investment is paying off. The organization is Agile, and people are still trying to figure out exactly how they got there.

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