As you are probably aware, the word “Agile” has been a popular buzzword for the past several years. Similar to the word “DevOps”, it is very difficult to know what people are referring to when they use the word “Agile”. However, despite the confusion, there seems to be a tremendous momentum towards “doing Agile” as well as “being Agile”. Furthermore, it seems that both of these activities often refer to another phrase, “Agile transformation”.
So, what do these terms mean? Let’s take a closer look.
If someone tells you that his/her organization is “doing Agile”, that means they are or have already adopted some type of Agile method, which could be one of several. There are over 40 frameworks/methodologies that may be considered to be an “Agile method”. So, what that person is telling you is that they have adopted some practices within that broad domain of Agile methods.
On the other hand, if someone says that their organization is an “Agile organization”, it could mean many things. They could just be making a blanket statement about how nimble they believe their organization is in terms of the ability to adapt to changing market conditions effectively. They could also mean that this organization has deployed defined processes for managing changing market conditions in order to stay competitive.
Confused yet? Don’t be. Let’s keep going.
So, the term “Agile transformation” is generally used to convey an organization that is planning to or is in the process of undergoing some changes to improve their ability to react, or their ability to build/deliver valuable products or solutions in a rapid fashion. In essence, a transformation could mean a fundamental change in the culture of an entire organization, or it may encompass just a small subset of teams within that company in how the design, build, test, and deliver a product/solution.
Can you change team processes without changing the organizational culture? Sure, you can, but the benefit will likely not be quite as large as if the whole organization undergoes a change in how it plans and executes work.
From what I have witnessed, what often happens is that an organization starts the journey in Agile by “doing Agile”, learning the mechanics of how to manage work in a different way. Eventually, when they have mastered this through practice and hands-on learning and adaptation, they can expand this to other project teams or business units. Once a critical mass is reached, an organization can then be ready to take the step towards “being Agile”. By following the constructs of Shu-Ha-Ri, many organizations find success by doing, learning, then transcending the fundamentals.
If you are unsure about how to embark on this journey, start simple, learn the basics and don’t be shy about asking the experts for help. It may just be worth your time.