Is scaling agile a one size fits all solution?

The pressure for change has never been greater, and the future has never been more unpredictable. This requires organizations to be more agile and quickly adapt to an everchanging business landscape and to meet higher customer expectations. To gain a deeper understanding, how different organizations perceive their agile transformation, Centigo have conducted around 20 interviews with organizations in different industries and stages of the transformation. We have summarized our observations and findings in this blog post.

Transforming into an agile organizational model exposes old hierarchical structures to major change. Guidance is often greatly needed. Organizations acknowledge that establishing an agile Center of Excellence and utilizing agile coaches support the change significantly. Also, working methods should be tested and evaluated before implementing major changes, to avoid implementations that work against optimal governance and value creation.

"Structured analysis to identify values streams, teams and trains needs to be performed, and the ownership of the customer experience defined"

Converting departments, processes, units, platforms etc. into value streams will impact existing structures of mandate and responsibility. Therefore, structured analysis to identify values streams, teams and potentially trains needs to be performed, and the ownership of the customer experience defined, before implementing changes to existing structures. This creates the foundation for the overall portfolio to be managed on a higher level and ensure that the value streams are aligned and that the resources are being utilized in the most efficient way to deliver value to customers.

For most organizations, the journey of adapting governance and portfolio management to the agile way of working is still just beginning. Organizations are aware that business planning and portfolio management need to be included to scale and create a full positive effect of the agile transformation. Combining traditional governance with agile ways of working creates friction, and organizations do not know how to adapt old models. The question we ask ourselves is whether they are truly willing to take the leap and completely convert to an agile governance model.

"Many organizations have not yet managed to set up measurements"

In order to know if any positive effects have been achieved by implementing agile, organizations need to establish measurements. However, what has been seen is that many organizations have not yet managed to set up measurements to follow-up on the effects the agile way of working creates. The perception is that many positive effects have been achieved. We have found that the lack of a clear plan for measuring the effects of the transformation from outset often causes difficulties finding accurate measurements later on, when new structures are already in place. Therefore, a vital part of being successful in scaling the agile way of working is to know what organizations want to achieve with the transformation and anchor it with management before starting.

"Management commitment is vital - System thinking needs to be applied to see connection between team activities and management priorities"

Top management commitment is vital to connect strategic goals to product objectives and team activities. System thinking needs to be applied for teams to see a clear connection between their activities and management priorities. Management should continuously participate in planning of development cycles to enable concretization and prioritization of capabilities needed to realize strategic goals and break them down using goal steering methods. They thereby enable teams to identify and commit to activities required to achieve strategic goals.

It is clear that in order to successfully transform into an agile way of working leadership through committed managers, becomes one of the most important aspects to consider. Without leaders who act as culture bearers and understand the new way of working, there will be no buy-in within the organization, which creates unengaged employees. It is therefore of utmost importance to prioritize education and to find the right profiles to drive the change. Change agents, together with leaders that understand agile leadership, can form a winning team. Many times, the change to agile ways of working is driven by employees while leaders oppose the change. It is therefore important to get the leaders onboard as soon as possible as it may otherwise be harder to spread the transformation across the organization. To fully commit to the culture change required by agile, organizations can not only implement models that change structure and governance they also need to change values and behaviours all the way from employees to top management.

"Is scaling agile here to stay? Yes"

So, based on these findings and observations – is scaling agile here to stay? Will we find solutions to the challenges created by the transformation to enable organizations to take a leap and fully engage in scaling agile?

We believe the answer to these questions is yes.

Agile principles are here to stay and will be relevant to apply in all kinds of organizations and industries. However, the different “buzz-frameworks” of scaling the agile way of working will likely change over time to adapt to fit different types of organizations’ specific needs and circumstances. A lesson learned is nevertheless that it’s easier to get going with a transformation to agile when you have a framework to take your starting point from. This gives the organization a common method and the ability to educate employees.

"Many organizations tend to become too influenced by new, innovative and disruptive players"

A trap many organizations tend to end up in is to become too influenced by new, innovative and disruptive players since many organizations believe they will achieve the same success by using the exact same approach. They tend to forget that large and established organizations compared to new, smaller players have different prerequisites for change. One of the biggest differences in these prerequisites is legacy, for example IT and culture. New start-up organizations have the advantage to succeed in establishing agile as they can choose to hire people who promote this way of working and thereby become natural culture bearers. While large, established organizations have a built-in and inherited complexity that new organizations do not have to take into consideration to an equal extent.

While it is a good thing to be influenced by start-ups and unicorns, organizations should prepare for the risk that the change will not happen overnight. With that said larger organizations should not be deterred from completing the transformation as the reward when succeeding is major.

"The keys to successful transformations are not found in the frameworks"

It’s important to keep in mind that the keys to successful transformations are not found in the frameworks, but in the bigger questions, which need to be dealt with by organizations in their own individual way. Clearly, some of the biggest challenges lie within leadership and culture, where leaders have the most trouble with adapting to the new ways of working. In most organizations, top management doesn’t know what they’re signing up for as organizations haven’t established what agile means for them and why they start the transformation.

Generally, the change is driven bottom-up by employees. Therefore, its key to get leaders on board from the beginning and anchor the change across the entire organization. Other important aspects to consider in order to succeed include setting the governance structure, as it has an impact on many dimensions of the organization, as well as finding ways how to measure results of the agile transformation.

To cross the finish line, organizations need to be persistent and continue with the work to transform their business because in the end, it is all about finding the organization’s own take on the applied model.

One simply needs to be agile in the agile transformation.

We would gladly share our insights on agile transformation.

Contact Elisabet Håkansson

Contact Therése Eriksson