What do you need for a successful enterprise agile transformation? According to some texts, you need commitment from the CxO suite and buy in from the guys doing the work.
But, I’ve never seen that work. To go one step further, the bigger the enterprise, the more likely a transformation is to fail. The reason? In a word, the ABOMM.
As you might suspect, the ABOMM is a mnemonic. It stands for the Amorphous Blob of Middle Management. But, the mnemonic is not intended as a pejorative. I’m not casting aspersions on middle-managers here. Far from it.
The ABOMM is a tuned, self-correcting, self-repairing, cash generating machine. It exists to protect the organisation it serves and maintain the status quo. It has processes and bureaucracy in place to reinforce the protection it affords. Attempts to attack the machine are either rebuffed or dissipated.
An agile transformation will appear as an attack on the organisation. This is because it changes existing ways of working. It attempts to pervert in-place processes and bureaucracy. It tries to change things designed to protect the organisation. As a result, defence mechanisms kick in.
Given the nature of the attack, the form of defence used is usually dissipation. The ABOMM pays lip service to the request for transformation. It engages on the surface. Then swallows the demand, dissipating it across the organisation, rendering it neutral.
Where necessary, the mode of defence may change to active defence. At this point, the ABOMM may invoke processes and bureaucracy to defend the status quo. The work of the ABOMM is natural. Their raison d’être is to maintain the status quo at all costs. And they’re good at it.
Almost by definition, large organisations, have large ABOMMs. The larger the ABOMM, the greater the chance of transformation failure.
Approach to Large Scale Agile Transformation
If correct, the implication is that large scale agile transformation is unachievable. Or, we have to use different approaches.
In a series of upcoming articles, I’m going to describe one approach to addressing the issue. I’m so convinced that this approach has merit, I’ve started writing a book on it. Ken Schwaber, co-creator of Scrum, has started writing a training course for it.
You can be the first to get an insight into this approach by becoming a subscriber.