Agile transformation: No formula, but common success factors

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Gayatri Shenai for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.

To learn more about the McKinsey Quarterly, please click here.

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One of the reasons that doing agile transformations is difficult is that there is no one formula for how to do it. The starting point and context for each organization’s journey toward agility is different.

Our cross-functional agile tribe recently brought together executives of more than 50 organizations from across financial services, healthcare, software, retail, chemicals, industrials, advertising, manufacturing, and advanced industries for our inaugural Agile Day in New York. The event included multiple speakers who shared their companies’ experiences, a panel discussion on the pitfalls of agile, and breakout how-to sessions aimed at helping companies drive agile at scale. What we heard is that although every organization’s story is different, five common factors seem to underpin all successful agile journeys.

[Here are the first two.]

1. Bold vision and clear commitment communicated from the top. This may sound obvious, but it’s critical to success. In almost every journey we heard about, leaders said they invested most of the first months of their programs in helping the organization’s biggest influencers understand the vision. Everyone has to see that there is no going back to the old way of working.

“People need to know what’s in it for them, and they need their questions answered,” said the CEO of a British financial-services firm. That’s when you can also point out the downside of the status quo. Building trust this way is key. “You can’t hide behind slides—you have to be real with people,” he said.

2. Use agile to implement agile. Healthy agile teams continuously learn and challenge themselves to be more mature. “Don’t be afraid to fail, don’t punish failure, and don’t even think of it as failure,” advised the CIO of a US insurance company. Teams should not expect to get to the end in one step. Rather they should celebrate their experimentation, and that includes celebrating the bumps in the road.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

The author would like to acknowledge Somesh Khanna, Marcus Sieberer, Aaron De Smet and Krish Krishnakanthan for their contributions to Agile Day and this post.

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