Reporting from the second Agile Transformation (ATRANS) workshop
11 August 2020
Posted by: Agile Research Network
Agile transformation is a process that shifts the whole structure and culture of an organisation. Organisations undergo a transformation usually to deal with turbulent and competitive environments and with unexpected challenges such as the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 and Brexit.
There is a growing body of knowledge and experience in this area but also a set of challenges not yet well understood. As researchers we have run three workshops on Agile Transformation (ATRANS) to provide an arena to bring together researchers and practitioners to share their knowledge and experience.
Two workshops (London & ATRANS, Montreal) in 2019, looked specifically at success factors and attendees prioritised the top three as ‘changing organisational culture’, ‘leadership’ and ‘engaging people’.
Following these successful events, another ATRANS day long workshop was organised in May 2020; it provided over 80 participants with an opportunity to discuss and contribute to this important area of research and practice, exploring current challenges, and proposing solutions based on experience and theory.
ATRANS 2020 comprised of three sessions. In the first session, participants listened to, and discussed, issues raised in agile transformation case studies, namely: the perspective of employees in the transformation of a large manufacturing company; the paradoxes agile teams need to navigate; managing control within a cross-functional unit in a financial institution; and the challenges faced in a strategy-focused transformation. In the second session, participants chose one of three breakout groups where discussions on agile transformation ran in parallel. The third session brought together a panel led by two practitioners and two academics, focusing on current research challenges in agile transformation, and looking forward to future research areas.
A common theme expressed by workshop participants was concern about the current focus of both practitioners and researchers on technical factors (e.g. comparing agile methods and analytics), rather than on core human elements (e.g. examining the impact of added pressures exerted on teams to operationalise agile transformations).
Many of the key challenges identified by participants in the discussion were related to human factors throughout the transformation process: e.g., being flexible, trusting, and embracing an agile mindset. Participants also highlighted the need for more novel perspectives on management and coordination of agile and for sustaining transformation through improved communication and training processes.
Based on discussions, the participants proposed a future research agenda looking at important areas of agile transformation that deserve further exploration; these are described in the table below.
Areas of concern
Sustaining agile transformation
- Clearly communicate the rationale, objectives, and benefits of transformation
- Improve knowledge sharing across the whole organisation
- Keep the curiosity about what to do next to improve transformation
- Recognise, identify and manage change fatigue
- Continuously assess agility, setting expectations, i.e. the time it takes, being a journey not a destination, etc.
- Educate leaders ahead of the transformation with clear expectations and about how to let go of control
- (re)Organise the business around value streams
- Ensure sufficient resources to sustain long term transformation and commitment from leadership, e.g. budget, agile coaches, processes, and tools, etc
- Inform people about advances in the transformation and celebrate those
- Inspire and train people, addressing fear of change and insecurity allowing for space and time for improvement
- Don’t try to do it all at the same time, establish priorities
Human factors in agile transformation
- Distinguish between deep transformation and process change
- Explore how management become agile themselves
- Investigate how to support people to change to an agile mindset
- Examine the influence of the certification industry on agile transformation
- Explore the role of communication between different parts of the organisation, e.g. understanding differences in terminology and aims
- Consider the role and significance of developing a shared high-level vision
- Investigate the impact of national and organisational culture on change
- Explore how to build stakeholder trust during transformation
- Investigate managers’ expectations of agile transformation and how they change over time
- Explore how individual psychological factors enable or inhibit change and affect attempts to embrace an agile mindset
- Explore how to support staff experiencing resistance to change and fear of job loss
Theoretical perspectives on agile transformation
- Examine the complexity of agile transformations using theories such as complex adaptive systems theory
- Identify new ways to explain changes brought about by agile transformations using theories on coordination, change management (e.g. Kotter’s model or Worley's framework), temporality, and dependency
- Explore the application of control theory and stewardship theory to explain factors which enable or inhibit agile transformations
- Develop theoretical accounts of the inherently fluid nature of agility as a theory and new norms resulting from agile transformations
- Identify the paradoxes, tensions, and contradictions which emerge during agile transformation
- Propose new theoretical and interdisciplinary insights on the management of agile transformation using, for example, institutional theory, leadership theories, adaptation theory, process theory, actor network theory, activity theory, and normalisation process theory
This article was written by the Agile Research Network. The ARN is a collaboration between researchers at two UK universities, The Open University (OU) and The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), at the forefront of investigating Agile methodologies.