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Agile Transformation in Practice: Part I

If an Agile transformation is to succeed, the associated patterns and practices must be implemented in a managed fashion. Ian Mitchell will show you how.

· Agile Zone

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Introduction: The Mastering of Innovation at Scale    

"The only way you survive is you continuously transform into something else. It's this idea of continuous transformation that makes you an innovation company." - Ginni Rometty

Reduced to its barest essence, enterprise agility is really about mastering innovation at scale. Most organizations are conservative rather than innovative, and their respective establishments can be quite reactionary when faced with change. A strategy must, therefore, be identified, sanctioned, and put in place to achieve enterprise transformation. The strategy must leverage the innovation potential that lies within the organization so that disruption is managed productively, and not feared and retreated from, as though it were a threat. All of the varied parts of an enterprise, which when brought together generate value, have a role to play in the innovation process. In other words, the organization must become a disruptive innovation network, an integrated enterprise that can identify, shape, and harvest new opportunities in a systemic and collaborative fashion. To put it more succinctly, it must become a "startup at scale." If an organization can master this agility, then it will be able to perform as nimbly as any small startup, whilst exploiting the resources and scaled benefits that only a larger and shared venture can bring.

Now, if an Agile transformation is to succeed, the associated patterns and practices must be implemented in a managed fashion. We need to get our ducks in a row. There are many things that need doing, many workflows that will need improving and new teams that must be formed, many new skills to be learned and old assumptions challenged, and many forms of waste that will need to be found and eliminated. It's no use setting about this change in a haphazard way, trying to do everything at once in the hope that some of it will stick. This is where a transformation framework comes in. A framework will help us to manage innovation at all organizational levels, from portfolio management to technical implementation and support, and across multiple value streams. We will seek empirical evidence of improvement, not the submission of reports or promissory notes. Innovation accepts no substitute for actual delivery. The framework must, therefore, help us to focus on the coaching and empowerment of Agile delivery teams.

Agile transformation must be measured and managed. At each point of application, the transformational effort ought to be captured as a backlog of changes, each of which is the useful application of one or more Agile "patterns," or good practices. These transformation backlogs will need to be ordered and managed by a sponsored and qualified team: change agents who can roll out transformational change until the process is normed and a self‐adapting and self‐sustaining innovation network is in place.

In identifying each backlog item, this transformational "rollout team" will select the right patterns at the right time for application in the right organizational areas. As the organization becomes more focused on delivery, the respective teams become more Agile and more able to inspect and adapt their own process. Each team will be able to populate its own backlog of planned improvements, identify new opportunities and innovative solutions, highlight impediments, and provide transparency to the wider organization over quality and progress. The success of each change will be evaluated empirically by means of clear acceptance criteria and iterative inspection. These validated lessons help to reorganize and reprioritize each transformation backlog. A measured and managed enterprise transformation, like the Agile delivery of a product, is sustainable, transparent, and incremental in nature.

The need for ongoing delivery must be recognized and supported. Organizations do not typically come to a halt in order to change; instead, transformation happens while those organizations are in flight. A well‐structured transformation backlog is instrumental to managing this. Change must be ordered so that risk is controlled and the ongoing viability of the business is not compromised.
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Here is a framework, a structured remedy by means of which enterprise transformation can be enabled. It is captured as a pattern in itself—a pattern for Agile transformation. It consists of 12 components: Sponsored Vision; Transformation Rollout Team; Delivery Teams; Transformation Backlog; Transformation Heartbeat; Team Cadence; Change Actioning; Daily Cadence; Verification; Actionable Metrics; Validated Learning, and a Validated Rollout Strategy. Over the coming weeks, we'll look at transformation in those terms, and at the implementation of each component as a step which might reasonably be followed.

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