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Adopting Agile Part 3 : Transformation versus Change

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Adopting Agile Part 3 : Transformation versus Change
Stephen de Villiers Graaff
Agile Coach and Consultant, DVT

Adopting Agile Part 3 : Transformation versus Change

Transformation versus Change


Have you ever embarked on Agile transformation for your organisation? If you have then you will be able to relate to this Blog. If you haven’t yet, then this article is written for you.


There’s a simple reason: most organisations confuse transformation (what they want to do) with change (what they are doing).


Simply put, change fixes the past while transformation creates the future. Change looks to improve your current situation – by making things better, cheaper, faster, more profitable – but is based entirely on where you are now. Your current path is the reference point, and success is determined by where you are on the path compared to where you were before.


As the organisation starts to change, increases and improvements in the metrics you’ve chosen to gauge your progress are tallied. Are you more efficient? Are you making more money? This is necessarily balanced against the effort put in to effect the change, thus determining its success.


However, regardless of the perceived success, your organisation still ends up a reconditioned version of its past, and the past tends to set pretty definite boundaries on where the organisation can go and how it can grow. At every point you’re looking back to where you were and thinking about how to make that better. As a result, many opportunities to step off the path and take the organisation in an entirely new direction are missed.


In contrast, transformation pushes our actions and efforts into creating a ‘new’ tomorrow. Transformation frees us from the past; we’re taking a leap of faith, rather than slowly building up from an existing base. We don’t reference the past because what we envision is entirely new.


Even though we need an intimate understanding of our past and where we’ve come from, our journey and ultimate destination is entirely different. It’s a mistake not to take the past into account, because without that understanding, it becomes more difficult to appreciate the reasons for leaving it behind. Taking a leap of faith often requires great motivation, and there’s no motivation greater than knowing the errors of the past.


The only limits to transformation are your imagination and how brave you are. You’re not changing who you are, you’re transforming through new systems and processes, ideas and cultures. You’re not bigger, better or faster, but entirely new.


There’s an example I use in my consulting work to illustrate the value of transformation versus change. In a previous role I joined a support team in a business with multiple problems: they were fighting system outages everywhere, and business units were unhappy with each other. They had tried a number of different change initiatives, but nothing seemed to be working.


My first impression was that the problem didn’t lie with the team – they were a group of highly dedicated and experienced people that were absolutely passionate about what they were doing. The problem was their mindset.


Because the changes they were trying were based on reworking or improving existing processes and procedures, the team became a group of very good fire fighters. Against the raging fires in the business, it wasn’t good enough. What they needed to do was transform their belief of what it meant to deliver great service. In doing so, their mindset started to shift from fire fighting to fire prevention. Now the team was planning far beyond the immediate ‘fix’, making sure it not only didn’t break but also that it wouldn’t break other things.


A more abstract example is an average person like you or me deciding he needs to run to lose weight. He embarks on what I call the ‘constant battle’ to change, motivating and re-motivating himself, and having to put in more and more effort for diminishing returns.


Instead of merely running to lose weight, a different approach would be to adopt the mindset of a runner. Immediately the past is discarded, and a new set of routines and realities come into play. There’s no constant battle because the drivers for running are entirely different to the short-term goal of losing weight. Indeed weight will be lost but as a byproduct of the transformation rather than the energy invested in change.


Before you decide which path to follow in your organisation, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will merely changing your processes or methods be enough to get you where you want to be?
  • Once you get there can you maintain that state only through monitoring and maintenance? Probably not, because if you throw enough at the system, it will ultimately break. It takes constant effort and deliberate thought to make changes stick.
  • Do you have the fundamental belief system to get where you want to be? If not, you need to take a closer look at your people and your culture. Transformation requires a significant shift in mindset and consciousness to create your new reality.


As you ponder these questions and their answers, I will leave you with this thought on why I believe transformation is better than change: the product of transformation is a butterfly, not a better caterpillar.