Agile Transformation not showing good results? Eat your own dog food!

by Gert van der Walt


There are a few reasons why businesses would want to implement Agile, but these are two popular reasons:

  • Faster time to market
  • Improved product quality 

From my own experience, team morale and empowerment improve dramatically early on in the transformation journey. This is positive, but on its own, does not deliver what Agile promises, like faster time to market or improved product quality. In The State of Agile in South Africa 2019, an annual publication by IQBusiness, 25% of the respondents reported no improvement in faster time to market. 26% reported no improvement in product quality. 


Thus although there are some companies that did see improvements in those areas, I think it is safe to assume that overall most were underwhelmed by these statistics. The founders of Agile would be horrified by those statistics. In many ways, as Agile consultants, you could argue that we have failed business, in leading them to become Agile. We failed them to reach a higher “state of agility”. We failed them by not delivering on the things that Agile promises.

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It is easy to blame other people for not delivering on the Agile promises. There are many good excuses in the industry and I’ll admit to using some of these in the past:

  • “The command and control culture”

  • “No senior management buy-in”

  • “Resistance to change”

  • “The impatience of business”

But to quote John Wooden, “You can make mistakes, but you aren’t a failure until you start blaming others for those mistakes.” As coaches we have to do some inspection and find our part in the reasons why some Agile transformations failed. Learning from our mistakes is a necessary part of the Agile evolution. Only by admitting and working through the mistakes, we can improve; can we change the approach we take to transform businesses. As described by the Scrum framework, let’s focus on inspection, adaption and transparency, find improvements, one at a time, and start doing it better.

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When inspecting your approach, identifying the problems can be difficult. Try breaking it down into smaller parts to really get to the root cause. Mike Cottmeyer, CEO and founder of LeadingAgile, talks about 3 systems that you must have in place to become Agile and stay Agile.

  • A system of Transformation (the ecosystem to enable Agility)
  • A system of Delivery (systems like Scrum, Kanban, SAFe)

  • A system of Sustainability (system to continually evolve and improve to realize the full benefits) 

As Cottmeyer describes it, the system of delivery is well understood. But the system of transformation thus far has been undefined and unpredictable, and that is never good for repeatable successful transformations. I believe Agile consultants should now focus strongly on ways to define the system of transformation and make it more predictable. It is not just about implementing a delivery framework like Scrum, but implementing an ecosystem that will enable and support Agile. For the full benefit of Agile, transformation will have to include a culture change from the top to the bottom. It is not enough to just transform your IT department; all areas of the business should constantly evolve and improve. 

As an Agile consultant and coach, you’re part of the transformation team. Yes, we made mistakes, but we have not failed. And we will certainly not give up.

1.   Inspect and analyse by breaking it down in smaller areas and describe the problems and opportunities to improve.

2.   Facilitate a root cause analysis using problem solving techniques like the “5 why’s”.

3.   Adapt your approach and try something new and different.

4.   Evaluate and measure to see if it is better.

And lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Constant improvement implies constant learning, something that we do best when we make mistakes. Make your next transformation better than the one before.