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Top 10 Reasons why your Agile or Digital Transformation is likely to stall.

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

It’s that time of the season where we love to look at lists. And so, without delay, here are the top 10 reasons why your Agile or Digital Transformation is likely to stall. And how to prevent it!

10. You commit to work beyond your capacity

Nothing is moving quickly on highways that are full of cars during rush hour. This same problem exists with knowledge work; however we don’t have the luxury of simply looking at the cars. Without paying attention to how much work is being committed to, you don’t discover optimal amount of “cars” in your organization’s highway. The result are your projects stuck in gridlock.

The fix: Track how much work is being committed to, and experiment with setting limits on how much can be committed to at a time.

9. Your Product Owners/Managers don’t actually own the product

While you adopt formal roles for managing decisions on your products or services, you continue to adopt an approach where decisions are being made elsewhere in the organization. In many cases those put in the Product Manager role lack some combination of: domain knowledge of the business or sufficient political control to make decisions. As decisions get made elsewhere, the distance of the decision making to where the work is being performed will perpetuate delays in your organization’s capabilities.

The fix: Find out who in your organization already has sufficient domain knowledge and political reach, give them this responsibility.

8. You focus on following a framework

Modeling your change on an existing frameworks (e.g. Scrum, Lean Startup, DevOps, SAFe, Design Thinking, Spotify, etc) offers a tempting accelerator for your change. Frameworks may offer a good starting point, but their appropriateness needs to be challenged particularly as your combination of business challenges are unique to your organization.

The fix: Consider existing frameworks as sources of knowledge rather than implementation kits. Learn why the models worked in their context and determine if any aspects of each are right for your organization to attempt.

7. You have no clear role for existing management

With your transformation, you may encourage leadership at all levels of your organization; this includes empowering teams with more autonomy. But new locations of decision can also lead to disenfranchisement of existing management. This can lead to resistance or managers overly focusing on HR functions.

The fix: With increased decentralized control, it becomes imperative that your organization is well aligned to avoid chaos. Management needs to be pivoted away from focusing on managing people but on aligning the organization. They need to be given responsibility to ensure the business’s services are fit: that work is flowing across teams and reaching customers, decisions are aligned with strategy and sources of delays are being managed.

6. You don’t know how decisions are made

Your decisions for projects are done in some form of annual planning meeting, perhaps if you are fortunate, it’s a quarterly exercise. In many instances, competing groups lobbying for priority can resemble a popularity contest. Some common examples of why something is chosen: the person asking is the most senior, the group asking has previously been rejected, there’s a paying client ready, or a project shows “great ROI”. This tends to create an unfocused collection of initiatives. Coupled with the annual planning cycle, there is no feedback loop to adjust the decisions until a year has passed.

The fix: Develop decision making frameworks that reflect your organization’s strategy. Evaluate decisions against this framework, and increase feedback loops to inspect these decisions and consider alternatives regularly throughout the year.

5. You focus all your attention on teams

Teams make fantastic building blocks to improve the fitness of your company. However most organization provide products and services that need teams to work together and have access to each other and other resources. But if your strategy only relies on improving your teams, you may not be paying attention to how all teams work together. Without solving how the teams work across departments and through the whole organizations, expect even high-performing teams to be delayed by roadblocks and impediments.

The fix: Focus on how work flows through the organization. Identify and work the delays out of your organization.

4. You take on too much change at once.

Change creates disruption and has been modeled through J-curves popularized by Virginia Satir’s Change Process Model. The curve shows performance initially dips into a valley followed by an eventual rise to improved performance over time. Too large a change may create too much of a dip, incurring too much risk and too much time to reach new performance levels. Your business, or more frequently change team, won’t survive long enough to see the change through.

The fix: Adopt a small and continuous change approach.

3. You don’t know how things work today

In many cases the business change is urgent and so we are tempted to start our transformation right away so that we can see progress. Most organizations unfortunately don’t have clarity on how they already work: what does their existing process look like and where do things go wrong?Without taking the time to understanding this, it is hard to objectively choose and measure the impact of the changes you make. The changes become wild bets, known as tampering, with no clear understanding of the impact to your organization. At best you solve the wrong problems, at worst you make things worse.

The fix: Take the time to understand how work gets done today. Identify the numerous challenges with the existing process. Prioritize which challenge to focus on initially and take smaller and measurable changes in steps that:

Test the changesAdopt, adjust or discardRepeat.

2. You measure the wrong things

With adopting a lot of change, it can be a daunting task to objectively determine what needs to be measured. Typically, organizations will either give up on being serious about measurement or conversely measure too much in an unfocused way. The latter group having the problem of not knowing what to do with the data, in many cases spinning into constantly reacting to what they see.

The fix: Categorize your measurement: find out what’s important for your customers and why they choose your offering — now measure that. Then find out what other things contribute to those measurements and measure those as well. Review the measurements on a cadence and introduce changes as testable experiments whose results can be measured.

1. Your change doesn’t match your organization’s culture

You take on a change whose required values are distant from how you are operating as a business culture today. Its admirable to adopt change goals that required extreme amounts of trust, risk tolerance and collaboration; but if your organization’s current values are on the other end of the spectrum you will face significant resistance. Existing cultures are typically more powerful than forces of change, and like antibodies they will work to contain and excise any changes.

The fix: Start your change from a position of where you are today, respect that it’s got you this far. Start making changes incrementally. For example if your organization is low on trust, accept this as a reality with any initial changes. In addition to this, include approaches to shift values in small safe steps.

And finally accept that every company’s culture has their limits for a host of reasons and be realistic whether certain end goals are compatible.


There you have it, consider these 10 and increase your chances of success.

If any of these resonated with you, I encourage you to learn more about the Kanban Method or better yet get in touch with a Kanban coach or consultant; we can help you figure this out!

Good luck with the new year!

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