How comes, your lean-agile transformation is stalled?

You kicked off a lean-agile transformation but you are struggling to see the results you expected, i.e. a shortened time-to-market. Transformation programs often stall due to a lack of results, emerging roadblocks, and a lack of vision.

Common impediments to transformation

Four problems are commonly impacting lean-agile transformations in large organizations:

  1. Teams-only focus
  2. No data, gut feelings based
  3. The unresolved matrix
  4. Fixed portfolio management and budget

The teams-only problem

The first common anti-pattern is a focus on agility at teams’ level only, rather than the overall operating model one. Optimizing teams is usually not enough to achieve significant time-to-market reductions or strategic achievements in large organizations. For instance, a significant improvement in teams’ cycle times, could possibly lead only to marginal gains in the overall lead time time. Organizations can avoid the issue by adopting a systemic view, geared towards their value streams and their operating model, rather than teams’ development flow only.

Teams-only agility vs. Business agility

The no-data problem

A second anti-pattern is the lack of meaningful measurements. You don’t have data, or the data you collect has no meaning for your customers.That’s exactly what happens in many transformational journeys, where outcomes are supposedly the result of many processes, but clear, operational leading data is missing. Hence, you have no facts showing you whether you are making progress toward your strategic goals (or not), and decisions are made too late, and based on gut feelings, and outdated models. You need feedback and an early detection system from your basic, leading measurements, in order to understand if you are moving in the right direction. A typical corollary is that when WIP is not tracked, it is not limited, neither.

The unresolved matrix problem

The matrix is used to connect and support collaboration between different units. But we know that a matrix structure works well in organizations that are already equipped for cross-unit collaboration and collective accountability. Otherwise they often lead to confusion on accountabilities, frustration, and slower decision processes. Managers at different axis on the matrix have often different local priorities. It is possible that conflicting decisions cannot be solved at the matrix level, and need to be addressed at upper levels. If there is a continuous need for scaling up, the matrix will drive misalignment and slow down decisional processes and operations.

Portfolio and Budget

Portfolio and budget management are fixed and not in sync with the flow of value: you are asking your organization to learn and adapt, to pivot, but initiatives and budgets are reviewed once a year only. You have to wait until the next budgeting cycle to steer your initiatives.

Now what?

In conclusion, if your organization’s transformation is stalled, ask your transformation director about his/her vision for addressing the above-mentioned issues. If a clear vision is missing, it may be time to re-evaluate your approach. Remember, transformations today are difficult, continuous journeys, but they can lead to market leadership, or, in the worst case, to competitive insignificance.