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Getting agile transformation right

More than casual dress and post-its

This blog post has been adapted, based off a talk given at the 2018 Lean Agile Systems Thinking Conference and shared at a couple of Melbourne based meetups through the year.

Over the past 12 months there have been a number of bold, public and notable announcements and changes (ANZ, Bankwest, Telstra to name a few) to Australian organisations looking to think, work and organise themselves differently.

However transformation or change, of any kind, is hard. Especially when this change is so fundamental to the core of how organisations, and the people within them, operate.

A look at the current state of disruption and drivers for organisational change

  • 87% of companies are firm believers that their industries will be digitally disrupted
  • 92% of companies believe that they are not structured to operate in the current environment
  • 32% of companies are re-designing their organisation to be more adaptable and team-centric
  • Yet only 11% of organisations feel confident in their ability to get it right.
  • Source: Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey 2017

Why the bold move?

94% of business leaders think that ‘agility and collaboration’ is critical to their organisation’s success. Whether that be in an attempt to be more purpose driven, more focussed on customer needs, creating greater alignment and transparency around priorities, or reinvigorating and creating a great workplace for their employees.

Companies will have either seen the benefits of agility and collaboration in their own organisation and want to replicate this at scale, or have observed what their competitors are (or are not) doing and deciding to act.

However, only 6% say that they are ‘highly agile’ today.

Where does this desire stem from?

A need to change will stem from either an ambition to constantly change and innovate – however, this is often culturally deeply embedded as a part of the organisational fabric. Organisations like Zappos, Netflix, Amazon do this naturally.

Or from a more traditional burning platform, where the result of not changing may result in more dire consequences for the organisation. This is particularly prevalent in industries or organisations adversely impacted by disruption or changing external environmental and market forces. This is evident with the digital impact on telecommunications, the royal commission into banking, and the rising cost pressures on utilities providers.

How might a team or an organisation start?

In an effort to become more agile and adaptable, are these organisations focussing on what really matters?

The goal should not be ‘to do or become agile’. It should be about delivering a better outcome for their customers.

Here are five suggestions to think about, before considering adoption or launching any kind of transformative agile change.

Most organisations recognise the need to be more customer-obsessed, however few understand what is required to become customer-obsessed.

It was now almost fifty years ago that Peter Drucker said “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence.”

However most internal practices within an organisation do not have line of sight to an end customer and often service internal needs.

If you are able to create alignment within a team about who the customer is, what matters to them and why you are trying to serve them – that is a good start.


Having a mechanism to measure what matters to your customers and your organisation is important.

While the commercial drivers that support running any business (revenue, cost, compliance, etc.) are important, setting short to medium term goals focussed on changing customer behaviours as a leading indicator is critical.

Set goals that promote introducing small changes directly to customers, to validate if you are doing the right thing. This naturally favours a more hypothesis-driven approach to validating customer needs.

Being able to quickly shift or respond to customer behaviour, will support longer-term decision making about where and how to invest time, effort and money.

The role of a leader in an adaptive organisation often represents a shift in how they would have lead organisations to-date. There is a noticeable change from the Leader as the expert, to the Leader as a servant.

Without proper support and coaching, they may struggle to adapt to the changing nature of what their teams need from them. To best support these leaders, be specific and measured about what they do and do not need to do.

Have conversations about their role in:

  • Decision making – what they can now take away vs. what they need to hold onto
  • Empowering teams – stepping into support vs. stepping away
  • Sign-offs – signing-up to outcomes delivered vs. signing-off on each change


There is no cookie-cutter playbook or method for successful agile adoption. The context in which each organisation plays in will also vary (the same as every individual team).

Enter into this change with an understanding of the current parameters, constraints or deliberate choices about what matters to the organisation and what can or cannot be shifted.

Openly discussing and assessing on a sliding scale where your organisation currently sits and where they would like to be, across a range of dimensions (example below), will help shape what your adoption or change might look like.

Having agreement on what dimensions can be impacted and to what benefit is incredibly powerful in order to gain alignment to the common goal and purpose, and useful to manage perceptions and communications of the direction the organisation is heading.


Rather than creating a prescriptive approach or method, telling individuals and teams exactly how to do their work, establish a set of principles or descriptive parameters. Then encourage the right behaviours and provide freedom in how people work.

Create alignment within a team to sign-up to these principles and make them contextual to how you plan, communicate, execute and celebrate.

Examples of things to consider building principles around could include:

  • Do we need to keep alignment in purpose and cadence across our organisation?
  • How we handle initiatives when they are not delivering the desired outcome?
  • How do we want to collaborate and work together?
  • How transparent do we want to be?


In summary

These steps support establishing a focus on delivering a better customer outcome aligned to clear goals and priorities, supporting leaders in how and if they need to change, creating conscious decisions about how to change, and then creating the principles-first environment that gives people the freedom to thrive.