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What types of strategies have worked well for Agile transformations?

What types of strategies have worked well for an Agile transformation?

Welcome to part 10 of our Agile coach interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of Agile coaches in interviews and client engagements.

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the word agile transformation. It’s something management consultants have come up with to sell the concept of a long-term engagement that will somehow transform an organisation from a legacy-driven environment into an Agile organisation.

It simply doesn’t work that way, nor does it need to.

Organisations need to be great at execution and management, and they also must be great at innovation and product development. Agile only applies to the innovation and product development element but traditional waterfall-style project management works incredibly well for the simple and complicated elements of their business.

That said, let’s answer the question.

The truth is, anything could work in an Agile transformation because each organisation is unique and their context and application may warrant strategies and tactics that would not ordinarily be successful.

Master the basics

As stated earlier, each organisation is unique, and their context is different to any other organisation you work with so taking a cookie cutter approach to Agile transformation and hoping to copy and paste what you have done in other environments will simply lead to failure.

The only thing that is proven to work, regardless of context or application, is the concept of transparency, inspect and adapt. The pillars of Scrum and any other empirical process control driven framework.

In essence, trying things out and learning from the experience what works well for the team and what needs to be abandoned.

You develop a hypothesis, design an experiment to test that hypothesis, and use the data and evidence you gather in the execution phase to inform whether your hypothesis is correct and how the data will inform what you attempt next.

There are several agile frameworks about, from LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) to SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), and organisations can get caught up in the excitement of adopting a framework but if you don’t have inspect, adapt and iterate at the heart of your process, you’re likely to fail.

In other words, if you aren’t attempting an experiment and using the data and evidence from that experiment to inform what you do next, then you’re not growing Agility in the organisation, you are instead replacing one methodology for another prescribed methodology.

Observe the nuances

There are patterns in organisations that tend to repeat or crop up across several other industries and applications. They are important and they are worth consideration. Understand that when you adopt or apply these patterns, you are going to observe nuances that are unique to your application and implementation.

Adopting or applying the pattern may be a useful starting point but it isn’t a formula, nor can you copy and paste that pattern to achieve a specific outcome.

You still need to observe, inspect, and adapt.

You still need to understand what elements are working and would benefit from greater time and effort investment, and which elements don’t serve the environment and require a different approach.

Be curious about the current application and take the time to learn their environment and context to inform what your options may be moving forward. Stay curious as you move through the process of experimentation and adaptation and allow the data and evidence to inform the processes, tools and systems that you design.

A successful Agile transformation strategy

For me, personally and professionally, the only strategy that works for adopting and cultivating Agile within your organisation is to try something and learn from that.

It can be tempting to recommend X framework or look to Y case study to project what is and isn’t likely to succeed in the environment, but you are attempting to guess what will work upfront and you would be foolish to think that committing significant amounts of time and money to ‘replicate’ that successful adoption in your environment is a great decision.

Learn your craft

That said, you do need to have a strong knowledge of what has worked in other applications and how others have successfully adopted Agile.

Invest in books, podcasts, webinars and reading articles online.

Reach out to other scrum masters and agile coaches to discuss what has proven successful in their experience and learn from the nuances of each successful and failed adoption.

Scrum Alliance, Scrum.Org, SAFe and others have hosts of case studies that will serve you. Invest time and effort in learning those case studies and understanding what empowered the people, teams and organisation to successfully adopt a new style of working.

Those same certification bodies and organisations have great certification paths that will empower you to level up in terms of knowledge and skills through continuous study and following a clearly defined certification path.

Make that investment in your learning and development.

It is super important, as an agile coach, to be knowledgeable and credible with customers and potential partners. You need to demonstrate competence and capability in your field and that will go a long way in helping you design effective agile transformation strategies of your own.

About John McFadyen

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.

For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

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