(agile) transformations take time..

Information radiators...
Last month at 10 years of devopsdays I was in a hallway or better an after-the-event-on-stage-in-the-massage-queue conversation about transformations, and while driving home I realized I have been talking a lot about that, yet never wrote that down.

I see a lot of people these days claiming that transformations don’t work.
I have a slightly different view on that. yes transformations are hard.
yes, most people who start one have no idea about what it takes.

yet, most feel the pain of their current world.

They do know things need to change.
Oh yes, most do not know what that change means, nor do you they have a clear vision of the future. (And when they think they do, they are probably wrong.)

Hence they need help. That is why they hire me or some of my friends.
And just like they are used in their world, they want this transformation to be efficient.
Only transformations are never efficient. Just like a therapist can’t tell you how long it will take to help you. By the time people come to a therapist, the hardest work is done. They now know they need help. yes, probably there are some people who can get psychologically better, on their own. yet if it’s a serious problem, things go better, safer etc with professional help. (Which is totally different from having good talks with trusted friends…)

the hardest part
Unfortunately with transformations, the hardest part is not done by the time someone is hired.That’s because, the person hiring a coach might be convinced, many others are not.
That reminds me of a friends who is hired as a therapist, by the Belgium government, to help criminals. It takes her sometimes a full year before her clients start to trust her. (And that is normal)
Same things happens, when we are hired by upper management to help their teams.

These teams have the feeling that we are hired to fix them, aka they are broken.
And these teams feel not broken, they might feel that they work in a broken organisation, yet they don’t consider themselves broken. And it’s not even important if they are broken or not.
The fact they think we are hired by people that don’t trust them, they don’t trust the coaches.
Hence creating psychological safety and the need to spend time so these teams start to trust us… And only when they start trusting us, the real work begins.

And that work, also takes a lot of time.
Remember it took spotify, about ten years before Kniberg created the video about their then engineering culture.
People think they can skip the 10 year work, that’s like thinking you can run a marathon, by watching runners run. No you need to do the groundwork, and figure out for yourself (your company) what you need. You can learn from runners best practises. you can buy better shoes, yet without the running, you won’t finish. And yes these great runners can run longer and better with just normal clothes then you ever will with all the great gear without practising.  

Looking back

When I look at the companies where I was over 10 years ago, most have morphed into a better company for their employers. And although a lot of them wanted their transformations to be done in less than two years. It all took them longer. And they all worked with multiple sets of coaches.
Some might think it was only the last coaches that succeeded. Just remember that those first coaches that were fired because they were supposedly incompetent, prepared the company for the next generations of change agents. (Over the years I have been both that first and last coach and everything in between…)

I don’t want to set 10 year as the new guideline for transformations. yet compare it to people. We educate humans for +/- 15 years before we think they are ready for university. Why do we think, that an organisation can be transformed in just a few months? 

What if we hire more coaches?
Yes if you have an organisation with +500 people, you need multiple coaches, to reach everyone. yet doubling the number coaches after you reach ever that first number, will not go faster.
We all know the joke of 9 women can’t get a baby in 1 month. My father replied to that joke, if you want to move a heavy box up on a staircase, you can’t do it on your own either. Not even if we give you double the time. You need a critical mass of people. Adding more people after that won’t help anymore, as the staircase puts a limit to the number of people who can touch and thus carry the box.  

When we are talking about scaling, the biggest problem is usually not the teams itself. It’s more the way the organisation was designed that makes collaboration hard.
And many other things. After +15 years of agile work and helping many small and large companies I have a lot of other ideas about helping companies becoming more agile.
For me, one of h most important one is, know it will take years to change a culture.

That is not an excuse to do nothing, it’s the reason that everyone involved (including me & you) should take daily small steps in working in a better way.
Don’t use anyone else behavior as an excuse to not aim for a better way of working.