Implementing an Agile Operating Model: Key steps to transition

Emergn Article - Implementing an Agile Operating Model - Team stood on a spiral staircase discussing progress

Human beings are generally creatures of habit, so naturally, it takes time to create lasting change in the way people fundamentally approach their work. The end goal of implementing an agile operating model is to transform the way an entire organization adapts to a new way of thinking, from decision-making to product development.

That magnitude of change represents a cultural shift within a workplace, and consequently requires adaptable planning and full participation from every level of the organization in order to achieve success. Here’s an overview of what your company can expect after deciding to implement an agile model, how to prepare for potential challenges and where to invest your resources for best outcomes.

The decision to implement an agile model often requires a great deal of consideration, discussion and commitment, so it’s understandable that many companies are anxious to incorporate agile principles before they have a clear roadmap for how to proceed. Taking the time to plan the first steps will likely make for a smoother transition, and ultimately long-lasting change that leads to greater efficiency and profitability.

Identifying Goals

Organizations should begin the implementation by truly understanding the drivers for their change before engaging a provider to help them move toward an agile model. Specifically, what are the business outcomes the organization is looking for? It’s best to carefully identify the desired business benefits (like improved revenue generation) and work those into your goals instead of blindly clinging to a specific agile process like Scrum. If this discussion is successful, it should provide both the starting point and end goals for the agile implementation. Understanding the driving forces and desired business outcomes for implementing an agile model will more naturally lead to defining metrics and key markers of success for the project later on.

After the initial discussion about driving forces and intended outcomes, it’s time to “get the ground ready” with the right conditions to start the implementation. A culture shift could take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the size and scope of your organization. The more divisions and departments you have, the more involvement and effort for a major cultural shift is likely to take.

Getting Buy-In

First and perhaps most importantly, begin getting buy-in at every level of the organization. Of course, getting buy-in is going to be a process that happens over months (if not years), and definitely not overnight. If the shift to an agile model is going to work, the entire team all the way up to the executive level needs to be fully on board, but that generally starts with a handful of IT team members and mid-level sponsors from the business side who will become the “champions” for the agile transformation. These “champions” should help deliver some quick wins to the rest of your team that really demonstrate the tangible benefits of an agile model and bring more people on board. Later in the agile implementation these “champions” can become the coaches who continue the company’s cultural transformation after the training organization’s engagement has ended. The level of buy-in throughout the organization is something that needs to be continuously assessed, so be prepared for regular check-ins with your team leaders and coaches during the implementation.

Picking a New Model(s)

Other activities include identifying an agile model (or two) that is aligned with the company’s strategic goals, culture and way of thinking. In addition, make sure the agile coaching organization you’re working with helps your company use the same language to describe concepts, processes and outcomes so you’re on the same page communication-wise throughout the project.

A Note on Timing

The amount of time it ultimately takes to make the shift to an agile model is going to vary greatly between organizations, but the critical element for employees to gain an agile mindset shouldn’t be rushed. Most companies can expect a transformation that will last from one to three years if they intend to achieve long-lasting change. And as change continues to accelerate in the wider marketplace, these transformations may even become an internal culture of constant change to adapt to new technologies, competition and customer expectations.  During that first year, employees who have been approaching their work the same way for a long time will need to relearn their ways of thinking and skillsets. Infusing an education-led transformation approach has the benefit of having employees own their continuous learning. Have patience with this process, because this work-based education is how true transformation to agile thinking takes place. But you can also expect incremental changes in the way they make decisions and deliver products to market throughout that time, making shorter-term benefits to your company achievable.

Companies should keep in mind that the timeline for implementing an agile model depends on the company’s level of buy-in and engagement in the process. If your company wants effective results, be prepared to work closely with your change and education partner, invest time and energy in securing buy-in, conditioning minds with adapting to new ways of thinking and gaining early successes. This will provide you with the momentum necessary to achieve your transformation.