We’ve all heard about agile transformations. But what can we learn about agile practices when these transformations don’t work out on the first attempt? 

Agile transformation embeds an agile methodology into an organization’s culture, such as Scrum, Crystal, or Lean, or using a custom manifesto for agile change management to create their methodology. These methodologies allow organizations’ staff to react resiliently and creatively to changes and optimize their use of resources. 

In 2023, 60% of enterprises used agile methods to increase productivity and time to market, increasing revenue. Helping organizations achieve reactive staff and higher profits sounds like a dream, right? Well, it’s certainly a challenge! 

According to Sankar Govindan, senior general manager at Siemens, the first challenge is consolidating different departments and sharing organizational goals. He succeeded by staying humble and constantly reflecting.

This article shows Sankar’s journey and helps you learn from his experiences as he supported his organization in turning agile transformation challenges into successes.

6 Essential Lessons for a Successful Agile Transformation in Change Management

Many companies use agile methodologies to get their products to market. Lean methodologies can also be useful for maintaining continuous improvement and performance. 

With this in mind, Sankar Govindan devised his change methodology, the Healthiness Performance System. 

It uses both Lean and Agile methods to support its organization’s achievement of higher business agility for continuous productivity improvements. 

The first lesson he learned when using the methodology was explaining why the organization needed it. 

Lesson 1: Explaining the WHY is crucial for buy-in

The first lesson Sankar learned as he began to take notice of the change managers’ agile movement was explaining why the organization needed changes before leaders started implementing them. 

Sankar was responsible for many departments with different needs and two drastically different cultures. He managed 2800 staff in Bangalore, India, and 400 in Slovakia. His task was to align the teams’ goals in both locations.

Sankar started by working with a small number of teams to transform their processes and workflows. However, they bombarded him with questions such as,  ‘Why are you trying to change how we work?’ and ‘We already deliver to customers. Why must we change how we deliver to them when it isn’t necessary?’

The attempt to help align objectives failed because the staff didn’t understand why the new framework was necessary as the first step, and the proposal to support the team was rejected. 

Sankar explains, “Whatever framework you’re introducing, you need to demonstrate how it fits into the context of this organization and what business benefits will result. If you cannot articulate these benefits, leadership won’t buy in. It’s also crucial to view such transformations from the perspective of change management.”

So it was time to take a step back, reevaluate and re-strategize. 

Lesson 2: Designing the vision using feedback helps get leaders onboard

Sankar explains his next steps: “I asked team members and leaders: ‘What do you want to do about this new framework you will soon begin to use? How do you think it’s going to help you, and what are the actions you would like to take?’”

This change was crucial to define the vision for the transformation. 

“Now it’s the leadership team telling me what they want to do about it,” explains Sankar.  “So they set a vision, and I’m only going to enable them to move towards it. Instead of telling, it was more receiving inputs from them, then crafting something they want to wish they want to achieve.”

By asking the staff what they need for their organization, Sankar increased his chances of success by tailoring the change to the needs of those who will implement it. 

Lesson 3: Building a change enablement team kicks off the change culture early

“We started with a change enabler team of three people. Slowly, the team grew to 10 and then to 15. There were also many things they wanted to share that worked and things that didn’t. 

The goal was to shift thinking so that employees could see there was a different and better way to do things. This created a compelling reason to challenge the status quo and facilitated a change in mindset.

Lesson 4: Communication campaign momentum is key to success

Gradually, Sankar shifted the organization’s language towards embracing change and began emphasizing business outcomes.

“We did a lot of communication campaigns within the organization. So we started getting more and more success stories. And we began to talk about them in a big way. So publicize them and recognize people in all employee groups, who, who contribute to this. So we developed a lot of ways in which we started promoting this information.” 

We also focused on developing more change multipliers at the point of impact—those who execute the work. We began to bring them on board, recognizing and rewarding their contributions actively.

Lesson 5: Measuring cultural change can be challenging but is essential

The next step was to measure how much the culture had changed. Sankar conducted interviews and surveys periodically within the different departments along with the change multipliers and out of this variable to sense whether a culture change was emerging. 

Leaders collected data from their respective departments, which Sankar and the change team analyzed to determine if a cultural change was taking hold.

This step is crucial to ensuring that C-suites can see a visible change in culture and that the transformation is successful. When C-suites see these changes, they should feel reassured that the transformation will achieve ROI.

Lesson 6: Form leadership coalitions for regular reviews

The final lesson involves regularly checking in with staff post-implementation. Forming leadership coalitions at the organizational, departmental, and team levels is an effective strategy.

Sankar explains his process. “What I also do is use leadership coalitions as sounding boards. So I meet them periodically, and try to ask them how things are going. And I also ask them very openly whether they think this is gonna work. Do you think this is going well having been into this for a few years? Do you think all of this is useless?”

I seek blended feedback. I’ve never been told outright that our efforts are in vain or won’t work. The feedback is usually constructive, greatly aiding the transformation’s progress

After learning from these six lessons, Sankar achieved many success stories in several departments of his organization. His organization benefited from staff who were resilient to change, having successfully implemented change management of the agile transformation.

Learn from errors for a successful agile transformation

Change management is one of the most complicated aspects of enterprise life. It is messy, provokes many challenging emotions, and can often feel like one step forward, ten steps backward. 

However, Sankar’s experiences suggest that expecting and learning from mistakes is crucial, as these insights often pave the way to successful outcomes.

With this approach, we can bravely enter a change management strategy and be open to new experiences. Doing so will allow change managers to work with the largest enterprises and win big. 

This approach not only leads to higher ROI and increased revenue during digital transformations but also fosters widespread satisfaction and invaluable lessons for every member of the organization, preparing them for future transformations.

If you’d like to hear more insights like Sankar’s firsthand, grab a ticket for the Lead Change 2024: Live Lessons from Change Leaders – November 6th, 13th, and 20th, 2024.

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