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Untangling Adoption and Transformation

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Untangling Adoption and Transformation

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A few weeks ago I agreed to help Brandon Carlson as a reviewer on his Adoption & Transformation stage. Last night I went through about 20 proposals and learned that I think about adoption and transformation significantly different from many of the aspiring speakers. The problem, like many things we talk about, is that these words are overloaded. It seems there is almost a tendency to use adoption and transformation interchangeably… somehow as if adopting agile practices necessarily results in transformation. The insight I had, getting out of bed this morning, is that our use of these words might actually be THE problem. We seem to have equated adoption and transformation when they are really two very different constructs.

Some of the proposals I read last night were about transforming yourself to be more agile. The sessions were about leadership and understanding yourself, letting go and empowering your team members. The supposition was that personal transformation was a necessary precursor to agile software development. Some of the talks were about transforming what we do in our jobs. One proposal was about helping the people doing business analysis learn how to do business analysis on an agile team. My session proposal reflects the perspective that transformation is focused on the larger organization. We need to align our business objectives, management structures, and practices to support agility.

All three perspectives are valid, they are just all really different ways of understanding the words agile transformation.

On the other hand, adoption seems to be focused on choosing the practices we plan to put in place. How do we start doing pair programming? How do we start doing iteration planning, sprint reviews & retrospectives? The talks I reviewed last night, seemed to be more focused on stuff like the top ten things that can go wrong when adopting Scrum or the seven signs you are doing it wrong . From this perspective, adopting agile is about practices… learning how to do TDD, the importance of continuous integration, or how a Product Owner can work more effectively with the team.

So, here is my a-ha moment this morning:

1. Transformation is about changing the ‘agile being’ side of the equation
2. Adoption is about changing the ‘agile doing’ side of the equation

When we confuse the doing side, and the being side, and make them the same thing, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Adopting practices in isolation won’t necessarily help you have an internal disposition toward agile leadership. Likewise, adopting practices in an organization that is not in alignment, either physically or metaphorically, with those agile practices, may or may not have any impact on your overall business outcomes. But… coming to the table with a heart for agile, and the most agile disposition in the world, might not help you get a build out in two weeks. Taking a 2-day ScrumMaster course might make you really excited about servant leadership, but if you come back to a skull crushing, command and control, waterfall organization… I bet it doesn’t last that long.

What this all means is that we have to have adoption and transformation work together to create sustainable change. These have to happen both incrementally and in parallel. A little adoption, a little transformation… a little transformation, a little adoption. Have some success? Let’s try a little more of both. My bias is clearly toward the organization first… I want to make a few structural shifts, create the environment for agility, get folks working, teach them principles, show them how and why this stuff works, and then change hearts and minds. I will acknowledge though, if I don’t have a leader that recognizes the importance of agility, I probably never get the chance to make that first change.

So anyway… thanks for sharing in my ‘moment of discovery’ this morning!

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