Pattern of the Month: Agile Transformation

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Pattern of the Month: Agile Transformation

Over the past month, Ian Mitchell has looked at the Agile transformation problem and how it can be managed in an empirical way.

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Over the past month, we've looked at the Agile transformation problem and how it can be managed in an empirical way. We've examined the various components of change over the course of this eight-part series: 

Part I: The Mastering of Innovation at Scale

Part II: Sponsored Vision

Part III: Transformation Rollout Team

Part IV: Delivery Teams

Part V: Transformation Backlog and Transformation Heartbeat

Part VI: Team Cadence, Change Actioning, and Daily Cadence

Part VII: Verification and Actionable Metrics

Part VIII: Validated Learning, and a Validated Rollout Strategy

When these components are brought together, we can discern a pattern for Agile transformation. The key dynamic of this pattern is that Agile change must be measured and managed. A haphazard approach to Agile transformation is unlikely to result in the deep and pervasive change that is required. If we handle the dynamic in an Agile way, we can articulate a sponsored backlog of changes each representing the application of one or more Agile patterns that underpin good practice. A measured and managed enterprise transformation, like the Agile delivery of a product, ought to be sustainable, transparent, and incremental in nature. The success of each change must, therefore, be evaluated empirically by means of clear acceptance criteria and iterative inspection. This process of validated learning helps to reorganize and reprioritize the transformation backlog.

An Agile way of working cannot be forced onto people. Yet, a transformation backlog, if it is to translate into change at all, will need sponsorship from management so that organizational gravity can be overcome. There will need to be clear ownership of the associated risk. Coaches will also be needed to encourage and facilitate change until Agile practices are normed and self-organizing and self-adapting Agile teams are in place. A sponsored Agile transformational team, therefore, ought to consist of a clear sponsor, a clear transformation backlog owner, and at least one coach. The transformation team must select the right patterns at the right time for application in the right organizational areas, and at any given moment the available sponsorship must be fit for purpose. As a transformation progresses, the teams being coached will become increasingly Agile and delivery-focused, and more able to inspect and adapt their own process with appropriate empiricism. At that point, each team will be able to plan its own improvements and take ownership of its own way of working. They will be able to highlight and overcome impediments, as well as provide sufficient transparency for the purposes of organizational governance. 

Agile Transformation is Pattern of the Month at www.agilepatterns.org.

Agile Transformation

Intent: harness the agility and innovative potential normally associated with startup companies, but at enterprise scale. Achieve a measured and managed approach to enterprise transformation without interrupting the ongoing operational delivery of value.

Image title


  • It's like teaching an elephant to dance (in the context of enterprise transformation).

  • Be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs (in the context of retaining agility as an organization scales).

Also known as:

  • Agile transformation.

  • Agile transitioning.

  • Agile scaling.

  • Startup at scale.

Motivation: the incremental delivery of value has been the triumph of small and Agile self-organizing teams. These have been able to succeed where larger and more lumbering organizations have failed. Teams of a few people are seen to provide better focus and – if so empowered – can take incisive action as well, unencumbered by the ponderings of bureaucracy. Large organizations can be motivated to emulate this success. For their part, startups may wish to scale effectively without losing their current Agile advantage. The fear of falling victim to disruptive innovation may also be a factor.

Structure: a transformation backlog is ordered and managed by a rollout team. This team is the guiding body which coaches and leads the rest of the enterprise in its adoption. The rollout team decides which patterns need applying to which areas, how their application should be ordered, what success criteria will apply, and what actionable metrics will be considered. Each item on the transformation backlog must apply the benefits of at least one Agile pattern. The transformation process is managed with reference to a regular heartbeat of inspection and adaptation. The transformation heartbeat accommodates and informs the cadence of organizational delivery cycles as well as operational day-to-day work. Validated learning is used to reorganize and reprioritize the transformation backlog in accordance with actionable metrics.

Applicability: large organizations are likely to benefit from an Agile transformation program, as are startups entering a growth phase. Organizations tend to grow into bureaucracies and can lose their willingness to genuinely experiment. They may demonstrate the following symptoms:

  • They attempt to adopt Agile ways of working by layering it as a veneer over existing practices.

  • They adjust the meaning of new words to fit established organizational norms.

  • They favor vanity metrics over actionable ones and engage in success theater.

These are all indications that a strategic and sponsored Agile transformation initiative is needed.

Consequences: reduced batch sizes and cycle times, improved and more consistent quality, improved Return on Investment, reduced waste, better transparency, and predictability concerning the flow of value across the enterprise.

Implementation: the Agile transformation pattern is often implemented by Agile coaches and/or by a guild of Scrum Masters. They must have the remit of improving organizational best practice and have clear executive sponsorship for implementing organizational change.

agile transformation ,agile patterns ,agile

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