Whom Do you Seek?

A major key to success of a sustainable agile transformation is finding the right person or persons to lead the transformation. This person(s) need great prior experience at the Enterprise level coaching and mentoring as a ‘Sherpa guide” through the difficulties of an Enterprise wide agile transformation. This is an “OZish” view of the behind the scenes of how an agile adoption can proceed, leadership and its role and the case for the “determined person”.

Follow the Yellow Brick Roadai??i??

I often ask people who their favorite character is in the movie ai???The Wizard of OZai???. Usually it is Dorothy or the Scarecrow. Those that answer Toto. I worry about. My answer is ai???I like the Man Behind the Curtainai???. Here is the actual wizard working the flash and bang of the big show from a small side stage and he does not mean to be seen or heard (other than through his avatar).

Man behind curtain

Good mentors are like that. Good Enterprise Transformation Coaches are very much like that. They project leadership and strong qualities, and work the invisible pedals and levers of the Transformation within your organization. A great coach or mentor is always taking a back seat to the Employee who leads the Transformation. Even though they may be for this one topic of Transformations ai???the smartest person in the roomai??? they donai??i??t act it. They work at drawing out people, providing behind the scenes coaching, salting the conversation with ideas that others can latch onto as their own.

If required, they have the strength of character and leadership capabilities to take charge, but as a least acceptable solution. The Enterprise Coach should get their sponsor and lead to step up to the role of leading the Transformation.

What Comprises a Set of Skills?

Defining the Enterprise Agile Transformation Coach role is a mix of:

  • Communicator (up and down the whole chain of command)
  • Agile experience and practices
  • Enterprise Transformation experience
  • Technology savvy across multiple knowledge domains
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  • Business experience and savvy to connect with non-IT types
  • Exposure and experience across the IT organization

Basically, someone who has been there done that, built and burned down the T-Shirt factory a few times. So they must have had experience with Enterprise Transformations before. There is no replacement for experience in this realm.

Most important they have a force of will to drive to get things done. Many years ago I read a paper on the concept of ai???The Determined Personai???. The basis of the story was that The Determined person is someone who, despite what seem to be overwhelming odds manages to persist through the effort to its conclusion. Someone of strong conviction and faith that we can solve problems and overcome inertia of culture. This strength of will is coupled with persistence. This persistence of vision from Calvin Coolidge is my favorite quote of all times.

ai???Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.ai???

Do I Hire Someone Who is Certified?

Certifications are not a replacement for experience. Iai??i??ll take the seasoned veteran of the fight any time over someone with 5 certs on their resume. An interesting question to ask in an interview to sort out who is experienced is ai???So tell me about a major transformation failure and how did you get out of it?ai??? An experienced coach will have interesting (and sometimes scary) stories for that one. (FYI, the more interesting part of the answer is how they got out of it).

TrekkersSomeone with little or no experience or who is too cautious to answer is likely not the kind of Mentor you are looking for. You want someone with wisdom, and unlike the catch phrase, ai???with age comes wisdomai??? it really should read with EXPERIENCE and failure comes wisdom.Ai?? Once youai??i??ve had your metaphorical legs blown off by stepping on the various landmines strewn on the path to Transformation, you learn what a landmine is and how to avoid it. I want to follow that person.

These Coaches Are Really Expensiveai??i??

So I got one of these people lined up, now I canai??i??t afford them. Yes, experience comes at a cost. The kinds of consulting we are discussing is expensive. Cheaping out just means you get what you pay for. Besides, transformations are cheaper with a good guide. Experienced coaches save you money by offering up, “I did this in three accounts, it worked in these two and failed here because… This kind of guidance can save lots of time, energy and money.

The value a Mentor brings is the experience and guidance to provide you with the capability to succeed. Just like climbers of Mount Everest hire Sherpas, you need to do the same.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned from our “Playing the Agile Transformation Game” Blog series. Did it answer some your questions? We’d love to hear from you…

And stay tuned for ourAi??upcoming blogs!


Iai??i??ve been working at doing Enterprise transformations for 18 years now and I can guarantee you that Murphyai??i??s law is quite alive and well. Or as technologists know – the perversity of the universe is optimized toward the maximum. I do have to say all of these events are predictable, and with proper vigilance, can all be avoided. Now you just have to pay attention to find the ones I have not identified.

Here are lots of lessons learned from war stories of how large scale adoptions go off the rails with great ease.

ai???Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.ai??? – Murphyai??i??s First Corollary

Failure of the Agile Transformation Team to Deliver

So it turns out you have assembled the best team capable of delivering a new agile transformation to the organization. We have key representatives from all contributing departments; we have the best and brightest decision makers to get to right plans in place and we are ready to begin. We hold our first Transformation team meeting and we have a 70% or better “no show” rate because of press of business on the part of all these people who also have full time (as in 120% booked) day jobs.

Fallen chess pieces

This becomes a real failure upon the part of the Agile Transformation Team to deliver. The team consistently fails to meet; they consistently fail to deliver any assigned work as it is not as important as their day jobs. Essentially you get nothing done.

What happens to your well-conceived Agile Transformation is that you encounter the Second Law of Thermodynamics ai??i?? and a state of entropy occurs. Your transformation dies a universal death.

Failure to Measure Against a Plan

Simple logic dictates plan the work, work the plan. This is a simple axiom to follow, yet it seems when we actually encounter the work, the plans go out the window. This always amazes me when professional project leaders dump logic and purpose for panic.

It seems that staff on the Agile Transformation Team are not aware we will fight battles, win some lose some, and as long as we win a majority and re-fight when we are in a stronger position for the others, we will ultimately win the war. Instead, each battle is assumed to be the war.

If the plan is no good, of course jettison the plan in favor of a better one. Just donai??i??t proceed day to day without middle term and long term goals and objectives and a path to get there.

Measure progress forward and backward to the plan, use it to gauge and inspect and adapt to the vagaries of the workplace. As Dwight Eisenhower said ai???Plans are nothing, but Planning is essentialai???. Do contingency planning, have a Plan B, C, D and Z if necessary.

Failure to Communicate

“What We got here is a Failure to Communicate” ai??i?? Strother Martin from ai???Cool Hand Lukeai???

Failure to communicate is often a cause for failure. Our goal is to establish an agile environment where Transparency and Trust are vital to the success of agile adoption and our transformation. Too often, due to the nature of trying to deliver ai???stuffai??? (ai???Stuffai??? is a technical term for anything we need that is support or infrastructure necessary to our cause) we miss the opportunity to shout from the rooftops the availability of ai???stuffai??? for teams to use to do their jobs.

Or we miss the opportunity to create celebration moments for highlighting successes. We do this for generating excitement and good will for the program. When was the last time you celebrated a success with the team? Get your leadership from both the IT and business sides to go to the team and congratulate them in front of their peers who may not yet be on agile teams. ai???Hey, look the boss is throwing a pizza party for the agile team, how do I get a pizza party?ai??? That is what you want everyone NOT on an agile team to start thinkingai??i?? then we can introduce them to agile.

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Communication Plans and Change Management plans ala Cotter or ADKAR as essential to the success of a transformation. Use every means at hand to communicate whatai??i??s happening. Especially WHY you are doing what you are doing. The WHY is just as important as the HOW and the WHAT.

Failure to Lead

I once read an article that dealt with the topic of ai???the determined personai??? and how that person would use their talents to overcome any obstacle placed before them. I view agile transformations at the enterprise level to fit that category of ai???any obstacleai???. Lots of barriers, cultural roadblocks, technical traps and management indifference await the determined person who will now need to overcome these barriers.

These types of barriers and more are already in place and awaiting you to be challenged. If you fail to provide leadership and the ability to lead by example, how can you expect that your Agile Transformation Team will follow you? All these barriers, challenges and obstacles will require your best every day to overcome them.

ai???Everything will go wrong at onceai??? – A Modern Revisionistai??i??s Murphyai??i??s Law

Thinking Too Small

Agile Transformations for very large organizations (2000 staff and up) can take years. Donai??i??t get caught without a strategic plan to accomplish growth over time. Your timeline could look something like:

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  • 1 ai??i?? 6 months Organize, Mobilize and plan the whole effort
  • 4 months to end of year 1 ai??i?? Early Adopter and piloting
  • 1 year ai??i?? 3 years Bulk of the adoption based upon organization size and complexity
  • 1 year and on ai??i?? Establishing stability of the conversion

Donai??i??t get caught thinking that for very large organizations, you will get this done in a year. If you can and do, maybe you belong with the Justice League saving the universe.

Organically Growing Due to Lack Of Management Education

This is a result of abandoning planning. You are just moving from one shiny object to another based on management whim. As an agile Transformation team, you need to broadcast and syndicate support for a plan across the board. Make it public and work the plan. Having a rolling 4 quarter plan that accommodates change is fine. Just keep it in front of everyone so there are no gotchas.

Little or No Change Management Capabilities

Key messaging and managing expectations are keys to success for these Enterprise Transformatons. You have to let everyone in the division know whatai??i??s happening, when they may be part of an agile team, what the expectations are, what training they will receive, that coaches are availableai??i?? you get the idea. Spew information like Linda Blair in the exorcist spewed pea soup all over the priest. If the staff start telling you ai???too much Information,ai??? youai??i??re doing your job well.

Failure to Get Bottom Up Support for Your Efforts

This is a variation on a theme of the Failure to communicate problem. Actively solicit your teams to speak with leadership; have them tell their stories to their peers. Ask them to sponsor communities of interest for various aspects of agile practice. Work the teams to tell their stories and talk with their peers. This is much more powerful than you think.

ai???It is impossible to make things foolproof, because fools are ingeniousai??? ai??i?? Murphyai??i??s second Corollary

Failure to Keep Your Ear To The Ground To Help Avoid External Events Like Poor Business Performance Terminating Your Budget

This happened recently to a company I know of. A downturn in business caused severe budget cuts in the IT area (as well as companywide cuts). End result is many of the Agile Coaching and Enterprise Transformation staff got cut. This caused a loss of capability to achieve forward motion. Agile Transformations can be very expensive, and therefore are a potential target for budget cuts.

One shop I worked in had invested $18.5 Mil in a transformation, they were acquired and the acquiring company having just come out of a bankruptcy had a mentality that ai???if it does not make us a penny today, donai??i??t do itai??? The $28.5 Mil investment in the Transformation was scrapped. Keep your ears open for events like this. Even public companies can show signs of upcoming bad news. How would you prepare for a downsized Agile Transformation so you can keep it alive?

Loss of A Key Sponsor

It has happened to me three times now in 22 shops. One heart attack, two changes in management for reasons I cannot mention. The losses were sudden, and new replacements essentially meant new direction too. There was always some period where the new sponsor undertook to come up to speed so as not to rock the boat initially, but in all three cases, the new CIO wanted to prove something to their superiors, that they could get more done with less.

This put a large target on any efforts that were not directly contributing to the business, and unless your transformation is well documented, has serious success stories, has won the hearts and minds of the new CIOs senior staff and is well entrenched as a ai???good thingai??? for the business, you should be checking out alternate business opportunities within or outside of the company because your future as the lead of the Agile Transformation team is a short term thing.

Backsliding or Just Plain Failure of Teams to Adopt

My experience says adopting agile is not that hard. Almost all teams properly mobilized and organized can practice agile as SCRUM or KANBAN. So if you are encountering failure to launch, or serious backsliding, check the competence of your coaches, evaluate the competence and effectiveness of your training materials, question the veracity of your competence surveys before you blame the teams. Something in your delivery mechanism is broken. Look internally first, before you blame the teams.

Missing Overcoming the FUD Factor

FUD – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. Having teams overcome the FUD factor when adopting agile is very important. If they never get over it, that team will be a failure. The FUD Factor is not hard to discover. You can actually see it in the faces of the team members who just donai??i??t get it, or those who see their current job description being disintegrated before their eyes. Having the successes to point at, having leadership address the change in methods and that all are still valued under the new ways are good ways to address this problem.

So there you have it, the challenges, the pitfalls, the problems, the landlines, and Murphy. But don’t despair… Just be prepared!

Get ready for our next and last blog coming soon.