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How to Recognize and Resolve Agile Transformation Fatigue

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Let’s assume that you’ve initiated an agile transformation, and everything seems to be off to the races: Scrum teams have been stood up and are benefiting from the Scrum Framework. Teams are using Kanban to increase visibility and limit work in progress (WIP). Communities of Practices (CoP) are meeting, and leadership was trained on agile for leaders. Then, for some strange reason, the transformation begins to stall: People stop attending the meetings with the CoP. Teams stop having retrospectives, claiming, “Well, we don’t really have time for another meeting, and we’re agile so…” Not to mention that leadership is only interested in understanding why the velocity of some teams isn’t still increasing.

It may come as a surprise, but those behaviors really shouldn’t be surprising at all. This is what I call transformation fatigue—and here are all the ways you can resolve it.

First, Why Does Transformation Fatigue Occur?

Transformation fatigue is part of the ebb and flow of agile transformations. Just like anything else that’s new, transformations start with skepticism mixed with intrigue, and are soon followed by early adopters advocating for the new way of working. Early wins are noticed and the groundswell begins—but these wins begin to be treated as status quo rather than achievements to celebrate.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools are key aspects of the Agile Manifesto, but the interactions of individuals along with the processes and tools become too routine and monotonous. This tends to happen at the same time communication about the transformation dissipates into the air of a despondent culture. Not to mention that the lone agile leader has less bandwidth to continue the cause. The result? Transformation fatigue settles in, and teams lose sight of why they started their agile journey in the first place.

Why Transform Anyway?

An agile transformation is not, and should not, be the goal of transforming. The intent of transforming is such that when decisions are made, the thoughts gravitate toward the new way of thinking. At that point, transformation takes place and business agility is achieved. It is the outcomes and benefits of the new mindset that support working in an agile ecosystem and enable true business agility. If the original intent is not understood, confusion and frustration are sure to follow.

How to Counteract Transformation Fatigue

What should be done when transformation fatigue is on the horizon? Can you stop it before it starts?  What if it’s already happening? Is it too late? These are all fair questions. Fortunately, the answers to these questions are all variations of similar things.

  1. Leadership must actively stay engaged to support the transformation. And by leadership, I mean those who can make both financial and strategic decisions to ensure that transformation efforts have all the resources—stuff, not people—needed to continue. Leadership can support by providing the following resources:
    • Collaboration tools for teams to chat and share documents
    • Ample team space with whiteboards and wall space for collocated teams
    • Agile tools for planning/tracking progress

It is imperative for leadership to walk the talk themselves, and to frequently communicate why transforming meets a critical business need—otherwise, the rest of the organization will struggle to buy-in.

  1. Ensure there is a transformation team that guides and protects the transformation itself. Think of this team as being the Scrum Master for the transformation; much in the same way that a Scrum Master serves and leads the Scrum team while removing impediments to progress, the transformation team provides similar servant leadership to the transformation. A team that is charged with being a servant-leader for the transformation contributes to the execution of the transformation strategy.
  1. Any CoP should be led by a team of agile champions and not an individual, for the same reasons that transformation teams should be led by a team instead of individuals. A team-led CoP is preferred to reduce the toll on any one person and to bring broader support from the organization. The agile champions must keep their finger on the pulse of the needs and maturity of the community they serve. Frequent communication of each CoP’s upcoming activities and previous successes in building the desired culture is a must for continued participation. Sharing the wins and fostering the desired community behaviors will build sustainability during times of fatigue.
  1. Lastly, once both leadership and the teams decide there is nothing more to do, that is the exact moment you can expect transformation fatigue to take a toll on the organization. Simply put, don’t become complacent—complacency is the enemy. But if you do feel complacency creeping in, here are some ways to overcome it:
    • Periodically have company leaders be guest speakers at CoP events
    • Maintain all-hands meetings where members of the transformation team are frequently allowed to share how the transformation is impacting the organization
    • Ensure that leadership provides intermittent input from the transformation team during appropriate leadership events

Organizations don’t have to succumb to transformation fatigue. If there is no awareness of this phenomenon, it can catch everyone off guard. So, check out our blog for more tips and tricks on overcoming agile transformations obstacles—and remember to be aware, be vigilant and be agile!

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