Whether you’re considering an Agile transformation or already in one of its stages, it’s important to keep an eye out for potential pitfalls. A lot can go wrong when you’re changing an organization’s culture and way of working all at once. One particular issue you need to get ahead of is the problem of transformations taking too long.
But how long is too long? What causes this to happen? How can you prevent this problem? Below, we draw on our years of experience leading Agile transformations around the world to answer these questions and more.
How Long Should an Agile Marketing Transformation Take?
In our experience, the typical length of an organizational Agile transformation is around 12-18 months. Of course, this can vary depending on institutional culture, and, in particular, the size of the organization (transforming a small company can usually be done faster than a larger organization).
But for the purposes of setting goals and understanding when things are taking too long, you can use 12-18 months as a guideline.
What Causes Transformations to Take Too Long?
Even if you’re following all the best practices for adopting Agile, lots of things can hamper your efforts toward achieving marketing agility within a complex organization. So let's break down the 6 most common issues to understand what you should look out for.
It’s hardly surprising that red tape can get in the way of Agile. When the people leading a transformation or the teams on the ground are held back by bureaucracy, implementing Agile can quickly grind to a halt.
For example, if senior management decides that a lengthy procedure is necessary to request or reassign tasks, actually implementing Agile ways of working can feel impossible. Another example may be secrecy, where teams are prevented from freely sharing information on their work to gain the kind of visibility that Agile teams thrive on.
This is why it’s critical to get buy-in for an Agile transformation from senior leadership to ensure any bureaucratic hurdles that are encountered can be quickly overcome.
An Agile implementation requires some level of training and coaching for success. Without the right support to really understand what you’re doing, the risk of ending up with a case of “fake Agile” is high. This can also lead to team members feeling lost and unsupported as they navigate how to apply it to their own activities.
Once again, overcoming this challenge requires getting buy-in and resources from senior leaders.
With all the mentions of getting support from the top people in your organization it’s no wonder that a change in leadership can lead to major delays and frustrations. If a leader who backed an Agile transformation leaves, their successor may not fully understand what’s required of them for a successful transformation or may not even support this way of working at all.
While it’s difficult to prevent a leadership change, this is a risk to be aware of. If you do experience a change in leadership in the middle of an Agile transformation, work to get the new person up to speed on why the transformation is important and how they can support it.
No One to Lead the Change
Every Agile transformation needs accountable leaders. Sometimes everyone thinks “we’re going Agile together” but you do need someone to be accountable and lead the change. When it’s not a goal for anyone specifically, it gets lost.
Imagine living in a university apartment with 6 people and one day proposing that everyone should keep the apartment more clean. It’s probably not going to make any difference. Trying to implement Agile without an accountable leader is similar, no one is leading, no one is accountable, and so little is likely to change.
To avoid this problem, use training and coaching to create enthusiastic and knowledgeable Agile leaders who can be accountable for the transformation.
Transformation Isn’t a Part of Organizational OKRs
This ties in again to getting leadership support for an Agile transformation from the outset. If that transformation isn’t a high-level priority for the organization then it’s not likely to get the backing and resources it needs to succeed.
This brings us to the importance of organizational Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) that are able to keep a transformation on track. These are organizational or departmental goals that should guide what teams from leadership to execution work towards. So, for example, your OKR might be to reduce churn by 10% by the end of the third quarter. When teams and departments decide on their priorities, hold retrospectives, etc. they should drive their focus towards achieving that OKR together.
So if you’re going to begin an Agile transformation, be sure its success is an organizational OKR. Such a transformation is a major goal that requires support and focus from the top of the organizational all the way down. If everyone doesn’t have clear indications that the transformation is a major priority, it’s not going to get the attention it deserves.
No Clear Roadmap
We’ve talked about how long an Agile transformation can take but how do you even know when it’s done? This is the danger of not having a transformation roadmap. A transformation roadmap can be a detailed multi-page document or it can be as simple as this Miro template. But, without milestones and criteria to know when success has been achieved, everyone involved in an Agile transformation can end up feeling a bit lost.
Roadmaps also help leadership understand that Agile transformations take time and taking a methodical approach will get you there in an optimal period of time. If they begin with unrealistic expectations, the transformation can quickly turn sour as shorter-term pressures mount and leadership anxiously pushes for results.
Also note that, while you should have milestones to indicate when your Agile transformation is successful, that doesn’t mean you’re fully done. Agile isn't static, so to stay Agile in the long term you’ll need to continue making adjustments and improvements even once the initial transformation is complete.
What Are the Effects?
Now that we understand the elements which can lead to delays in an Agile transformation, let’s delve into the problems they can cause.
This is something we’ve seen with our own eyes. Those critical Agile leaders mentioned above can, understandably, get frustrated and eventually leave if an Agile transformation drags on. Leading an Agile transformation is tough. You’ve got to be a cheerleader, troubleshooter, and answer a lot of questions. Add in dealing with resistance to the transformation and it’s no wonder key figures can struggle to stay in such a role for more than 18 months.
When key figures leave, Agile transformations can quickly stall and lose focus. While it’s best to prevent this from happening in the first place, if you do lose a key Agile leader, try and replace them with someone equally enthusiastic as quickly as possible to keep up the momentum.
Transformations without motivated champions can lead to even more employee churn as others start to feel that the organization is floundering or letting them down.
On the team side, teams can get demotivated when an Agile transformation drags on. It’s hardly surprising, because they’ve signed on to this transformation, got excited, put in the work to make it happen, and then feel like progress isn’t being made.
After all, it’s hard to be halfway Agile for too long. At that point, people can easily get disillusioned with promises about the benefits of the transformation and cynicism can sink it. Considering how essential trust and openness is to a properly functioning Agile organization, that kind of a culture shift can be fatal.
Besides simply ensuring your Agile transformation happens within 12-18 months, you can address this problem by using a roadmap and milestones. Even if a transformation is taking a long time, if teams can see that they are making progress on the path to ultimate agility, they are less likely to become demotivated.
Feelings of Isolation
If your Agile transformation involves individual teams or departments making the change one at a time, a drawn-out process can leave those teams which have completed their transformations feeling isolated. This is because they’ve put in the effort to change their ways of working but still have to collaborate with non-Agile teams and departments. This creates a ton of friction that, if left unaddressed, can lead to broken relationships across the organization and blame culture.
The Best Step You Can Take To Ensure Success
There’s plenty that can cause an Agile transformation to stall and ultimately fail. However, there’s also a lot you can do to prevent that. From finding the right leaders to tying your transformation into broader OKRs, you can take concrete steps to ensure you complete the switch to Agile before it feels like a lifetime has passed.
Fortunately, one of the single best ways to ensure you implement all of this advice in the best possible way for your organization is right in front of you. The training and coaching we provide can help your senior leaders understand their role in an Agile transformation, shape Agile leaders, get your teams using Agile effectively, and more.