Imagine a professional bicycle team.
All very experience cyclists, that have won many times.


The last years they have been losing more and more because this team is still driving older bikes. Most people in the team love their bike. After so many years they really know the good and bad parts of their bike. Although they weight more, the drivers are now doing power training, and the teams explositivity has doubled the last 10 years.

More and more people said they should change bikes, even a few people in the team have a different bike at home. Although most of them love it, some feel it’s not robust enough to be a professional bike.

Usually the day before a new tour, their sponsor makes a big speech and brings their customer made t-shirts. This year the day before the tour the France, their sponsor even made a bigger event. They brought a total new set of bikes.

These new bike are great, they are much more aerodynamic, they have a new kind of suspension and the steering wheel has some power steering. The teams tries the bikes for the first time in front of the cameras on the parking of their hotel. 
One of them falls of his bike, they all have a good laugh and they blame the champagne. Yet in reality these bike really demand another way to drive: they are so much more sensitive, so the cyclists are oversteering when they are going into bends. On top of that, because of the new suspension they have a different feeling on the cobblestones. All in all they have to sit different on the bicycle to use it to it’s fullest.

Now you have a team of 28 cyclist that will learn how to drive a new bicycle, all while running a race. (Against other teams that also drive this new bike, only they have been learning this for months before.) They are not the last to switch, some of their competitors are still driving old bikes, and to the people who are against the switch, it feels that these teams are more productive as they have won already a few jerseys.

That is how an agile transformation feels to most people inside companies.

Luckily the sponsors brought some bike doctors along to help give advice on how to use the bikes. These people are among the best around the world, the bikers feel frustrated because they have the feeling that these doctors tell them to do things that their own bodies gives them the opposite message.

A few sideline stories that sometimes happen with agile transformations euh I mean bike switches. 

The timerider is frustrated because the sponsor listen to the mechanics to buy all the same bicycles which was easier to maintain the bikes. Yet for timeriding it would have been better to buy at least a few time riding bikes.

A big thank you to my friend and colleague GertJan who inspired this metaphor and who’s e-mail conversation made this a lot better.

Another Thank you for Olivier Puffet who was the direct trigger.

Do you like this metaphor?

What could make it better?

7 Responses to “A metaphor for an agile transformation…”

  1. Nice metaphor, Yves! I would add – and some cyclists are nostalgic about the good ol’ bike and are sulky riding the new one… They were used to that old bike, comfortable with it, maybe even renowned experts… And they generally don’t like changes too much. So, now on the new bike, they are lagging behind the group, feeling nervous and rejecting the need for change, thus keeping the whole group lagging behind.

  2. Mohinder Khosla says:

    We adopt shiny practices and technologies without having any clue where they would lead us.It’s only when things start to go wrong that we realised something is wrong.By now we have lost valuable time from the project. We work outside-in instead of inside-out by asking Why.I am referring to Start with Why by Simon Sinek book here. We should start with guiding principles that lead to right practices so that we can correct out approach when something doesn’t work the way you expect it to.Focusing on short term gains like Tragedy of the Commons. iIf you are not familiar then check Wikipedia. Your metaphor of a bike for agile transformation point to short term gains than long term benefits

  3. yhanoulle says:

    Why do you think this is only about short term gain?

    For me this is about adapting a new way of working, just like working in an agile way is a new way of working for software developers.

    If people would take drugs to improve their riding, then that would be a short term gain and a very risky way of playing with their bodies.

    I do agree that a why should be asked and we should not just move to new and shiny tools, yet I don’t feel this was the case, so please say more…

  4. Mohinder Khosla says:

    We shouldn’t jump into new technologies without running low fidelity experiments that we are jumping into is the right approach and benefit in the long run.We should do assumtion testing to validate our ideas and let the customer decide whether it would do what you think it would do by running experiments and with quick feedback.In you bike analogy you are jumping to conclusions that it is would produce best results by forgetting the people who would make the difference. You know what I am getting at. in design thinking we do ethnographic research by speaking to customers in their context by finding the current realities before offering better solutions.It is all about customer driver approach.

  5. yhanoulle says:

    interesting that you say I forgot that, while my example of a time rider, was ment to exactly show that they sometimes don’t involve the team about the decisions.

  6. Mohinder Khosla says:

    You reminded me of a talk from Agile Business Conference 2014 when a British Olympic cyclist compared his skills to scrum master in both roles and how similar they are. I think sport metaphor fits very well with Agile. the fitness regime and activities map out well. here is the link to his slides Hope they help whatever you are trying to achieve

  7. Eric Abelen says:

    Productive as ever Yves! Good stuff. 🙂 My add-on would be the timing aspect: The sponsors bring new bikes day before the tour, and they bring them apparently as a surprise for the team? This affects mindset and impacts preparation time. The cyclists obviously had not asked for the new bikes, were not expecting them, yet had to immediately adapt to the (forced) new situation. In Agile Transformations (as in any tranformation for that matter) we should take care to ensure that there’s ‘pull’ demand in parallel with a ‘push’; train and coach people the benefits of adopting agile ways of working in parallel to, and in thus in preparation of, ‘other/old’ ways of working. People need to be ready to adopt and embrace change, both physically and mentally. It never feels like a good idea to immediately start with a big race: start small, fail-fast, etc, etc…
    Hope this is useful to further enrich your story?