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Agile Transformation Snakes & Ladders

Your entrepreneurial mindset got you a long way. Your product is valuable, feasible and viable. Now what. Responding to demands for more you add people of course. Someone suggested you need to be more agile which sounded like a good idea at the time. Now you look around the room and see familiar faces but who are all these others? Worst of all, despite doubling your workforce you’re not delivering as much as you did before. Where did it all go wrong?

Think of any large endeavor, use your favorite hobby as an analog. Can you go straight from novice to expert? Of course not. Product development is an order of magnitude more complex. Yet why do we persistent in believing there is a simple answer?

Maybe this isn't the first time you've tried Agile. If you are about to undertake yet another Agile transformation ask yourself this; is our new approach fundamentally different from what we did before or are we putting our faith in yet another big picture? Are we stuck in a never ending game of snakes and ladders?

With so many succeeding with Agile it may seem a commodity. This assumption coupled with the notion that “there is one answer we just need to find it” leads us to the ladder of the next big picture only to slide back down the snake. Not understanding complexity we try to fit humans into boxes. As Dave Snowden points out, those rigid boundaries we establish, have a nasty habit of breaking catastrophically.

To deal with complexity we cannot apply a 20th century project management mindset; we need to constantly sense and adapt. We need to invest in fostering an experimental mindset.

Before attempting Agile in-the-large you must establish agility at the team and individual level. This is not easy, it takes courage, discipline and persistence. We need to overcome many biases. As Patrick Lencioni points out, organizational health is so simple and straightforward many have a hard time seeing it as a real opportunity for meaningful advantage.

Starting small and mastering agility before scaling is a message difficult to hear, to deliver and to sell. Most hard choices are. Yet if you do have the courage, discipline and persistence you might just discover that you can do a whole lot more without ever scaling.


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