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Aberrations of the Agile Transformation

Not everything that has transformation in neon letters on its cover actually is a transformation. It all starts with the erroneous assumption that agility can boost employee performance just like some sort of concentrated feed. Misguided by this promise of greater efficiency, an agile transformation is then ordered from the top and proven blueprints (Spotify and Co.) are evaluated and rolled out. This ultimately leads to an “agilization” of the existing encrusted structures and processes without rigorously questioning them. In the end there is hardly any transformation left but only agile label fraud: Same same but different.

Agile Concentrated Feed

Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.

Albert Einstein

An agile transformation often has a significant birth defect. A common misconception is that agility serves as some sort of concentrated feed to increase employee performance. Book titles like “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland (a book worth reading and helpful by the way) quickly seduce the avid manager to this fallacy and devalue the agile transformation from the outset by focusing unilaterally on efficiency.

Employees are not dairy cows and agile methods are not concentrated feed. Agility does not optimize the performance of individuals, but the performance and the value stream of the whole system in which these people do their work.

Agility is primarily aimed at effectiveness, not efficiency. It is about doing the right thing in an unpredictable and complex environment rather than working through well-known and planned tasks more efficiently. The focus of agility is on delivering customer value quickly. On the one hand, of course, to create value quickly and constantly increase it. On the other hand, however, also to gain empirically supported insights for the further development from customer interaction.

Transform Yourself!

As tempting as blueprints and their large-scale implementation may look, it is precisely this that leads the agile transformation into a dead end.

Marcus Raitner

The leadership task in agile transformation is not to select the best model of an agile organization from the variety of blueprints or to design one of its own and then roll it out. This traditionally centralistic top-down approach violates the core agile principle of self-organization. It degrades people and teams to passively affected object, although the goal of the transformation must be autonomous, self-responsible subjects actively shaping the change.

Those who want to prevent their agile transformation from getting stuck in this dead end must leave behind their former role as chess masters and lead like gardeners. The actual task is to create a setting in which such an organizational model gradually emerges from the cooperation of self-organizing teams. This is a process of joint learning that cannot be accelerated with blueprints. If you try it anyway, you just introduce a new organizational model and conduct a transformation, but agile will be neither one.

Same same but different!

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Abraham Maslow

A swallow doesn’t make a summer and a few agile projects in hip rooms with beanbags and Kanban boards don’t make an agile organization. Agile projects do not lead to agile organizations if they are embedded in encrusted structures, from the approval of the project to the obligatory steering committees. And it is also not enough to impose the shiny new agile methods on these structures and processes and somehow “agilize” them: Same same but different.

To succumb to the Law of the Instrument – after its inventor Abraham Maslow also called “Maslow’s Hammer” – and thus to celebrate all kinds of cargo cult is not the solution. Instead, the maxim is “Don’t scale agile – descale your organization!” This means that structures and processes must not simply be given an agile coating, but must be consistently questioned and rethought in terms of customer orientation and the value stream.

New: The Book on the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership

On the occasion of the first anniversary I published a detailed version of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership on Leanpub. I am looking forward to feedback and impulses on the one hand and, of course, to broad dissemination on the other. Please spread the word!

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Filed under: Agile

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Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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