I regularly meet organizations that are excited about their upcoming agile transformation. In the face of that positive atmosphere, it’s hard to point out that adopting agile and scrum has hidden costs. In the past, I’ve always mentioned two sobering statistics. I’ve just added a third.
Initial Expectation of an Agile Transformation
All good coaches have experienced this scenario a number of times. You’re with a new client. They’re excited about the agile transformation and using scrum. They’ve read up and they know what scrum can do for them. They’re eager to get started. They want you to guide them through this organizational change.
The atmosphere is alive with positive intentions but the coach knows that they have to set expectations early. Here are the two things I’ve always mentioned:
1. Initially, your productivity will drop and it may take some weeks, or months, to recover
2. You can expect to lose anywhere up to 30% of your current team
The Reality of an Agile Transformation
It’s like an ice bucket being dumped over the meeting. Some recover faster than others but it has an instant sobering effect. A short discussion often ensues while the organization strives to understand what these effects are and why they happen.
All good coaches that I know will set these expectations early. They don’t want their client to be surprised later on in an agile transformation. Furthermore, we know that clients who get beyond this initial shock are more likely to make the change.
But There’s More …
Declaring these expectations up-front has served me well so far but I’m not resting on my laurels. Like all good coaches, I’m constantly looking to improve. As my experience has grown, I’ve come to identify another pattern; Rather than taking the bold step that an agile transformation requires, organizations will want to refine the way they currently work instead. This is potentially fatal to the organization. To understand why, let’s delve into history.
Most of us in the UK will remember organizations like Grattan or Littlewoods. Those from the USA will remember Sears. They produced retail catalogues that appeared in almost every household. They were phenomenally successful. But then came the Internet and everything changed. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for Littlewoods:
It grew to become the largest private company in Europe by the 1980s but declined in the face of increased competition from rivals and the Internet. Today the brand name remains as part of Shop Direct Group although the original company once employing 4,000 people has been broken up.
And here’s an excerpt from the entry for Sears:
In 1993, Sears terminated its famous general merchandise catalog because of sinking sales and profits … On November 17, 2004, Sears announced it was being acquired by Kmart … Sears has spent much of 2014 and 2015 selling off portions of its balance sheet … Sears Holdings, has lost a total of $7 billion in the last four years.
These organisations didn’t adapt to the new circumstances. Instead, they tried to refine their offering. and paid the ultimate price.
The Third Thing to Expect During an Agile Transformation
So the third item on my list of expectations now, is this:
This is my clarion call to the leadership. An agile transformation requires commitment. That commitment has to be clearly embodied by an organizations leadership to give the transformation a chance of succeeding. For more on the topic of leaderships’ role in an agile transformation, you might enjoy this short article on the one impediment that will destroy an agile transformation.
Before embarking on an agile transformation, be aware of the expectations. Proceed only if you’re willing to accept them:
- Initially, your productivity will drop and it may take some weeks, or months, to recover
- You may lose anywhere up to 30% of your current team
- Agile transformations require commitment from the leadership to succeed
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