When we are young, we are taught not to use certain words. Our parents, teachers, and mentors showed us that while certain words make us feel better in the moment, they are often seen as a sign of immaturity and not welcome in professional speech. I am wondering if it’s time to add “transformation” to this list of words.    

Suzanne D Williams Vmkbfr6r Jg Unsplash (1)

“Agile Transformations” have become the standard term for describing an organization’s movement toward a more agile way of working. Organizations will set-up transformation offices, hire a “Vice-President of Transformation” and engage a consulting firm to help them transform. While taking some action is admirable, I am not a huge fan of the term “transformation” for a few reasons.   

First, people don’t truly understand what a transformation is. A transformation fundamentally changes the very nature of the item being acted upon. For example, when wood is set ablaze, it is fundamentally changed. It is no longer wood. It is a combination of the heat produced along with the resulting pile of ash. Most organizations underestimate the level of change involved in moving toward a more agile way of working. 

Second, transformation and its associated structures (e.g. transformation office) imply that moving to a more agile way of working is an event or series of events. It can be planned, managed and reported on.  At the end of the event, a determination can be made as to whether these activities were a success or failure. Moving to a new way of working cannot be defined or managed in this manner. It is much more intrinsic to the organization and its culture and it’s never “done”. It is an ongoing process that, while often introduced as something new, becomes just the way things are done. 

Finally, even if organizations are aware of the amount of change necessary to truly transform the organization and acknowledge the eternal nature of the effort, they aren’t truly interested in bringing about this change. Instead, they often just want to do enough to call themselves Agile. Sometimes they want to demonstrate movement as a way to show their employees, partners, or other stakeholders that they are making steps to speed the delivery of value, increase quality, or increase employment engagement. Organizations love to participate in “Agile Theatre” and point at their Centers of Excellence, their cadre of coaches, and the consultants that are driving their transformation. While these entities can help an organization better adapt to change, most are mere window-dressing and don’t actually bring about the change necessary to achieve the aforementioned result. 

So, let’s ban the “T-Word” and work toward making a movement toward an Agile framework something not to be managed and planned, but to be embedded in our cultural DNA and lived every day – an Agile evolution 

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