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The Dark Side of a Successful Agile Implementation

A product company decides to gain back it’s lost glory and get back up at the roost which they felt was their rightful place.

This is a company that once revolutionized the domain they belonged to, a company people longed to be associated with, be it as a customer or be it as an employee. Everything was going good and they even became the stock market favourite.

The domain landscape was changing – new technologies, new competitors both big and small emerged, but the company was able to maintain its leadership position if not entirely but in few specializations.

The marketing wasn’t generating the numbers they should have, the sales was struggling to rake in the numbers, the customers were complaining a lot more lately and the slew of bad quarters didn’t look like a passing phase anymore.

The CEO & the COO starts to feel the heat not just from a business front but also from the board. In one of the board meetings, someone suggested that maybe they should try out the new trend called Agile that seems to be working for a couple of their competitors.

Successive discussions by the CxOs in their circle seems to give a similar input that agile does look like the way forward. Now, that the decision was made, the hunt for the consulting company to transform the organization starts. A couple of months later a consultant who was recommended highly by a thought leader in the agile circle was hired.

Transformation goal of increasing profitability and decreasing time to market was set.

successful transformation really worth the cost

Initial assessment confirmed that the organization has lost its flair for innovation and was now in a reactive mode, too much of process caused rigidity and in the otherwise lean teams.

The stage was set for the transformation – BAU impact analyzed, budget reallocation finalized, leadership orientation planned and culture upgrades discussed.

Scrum was identified as the framework of choice by the engineering teams, trainings conducted to get the engineering, the product, the process, HR, Sales & Marketing on the same page, tools evaluated and the first experiment of building cross-functional & self-organizing teams were flagged off. Empirical approach was implemented for disseminating and scaling scrum across the product lines and the organization as a whole.

The current value of the organization was baselined, the unrealized value identified, micro-experiments to improve the ability to innovate and time to market were be tried out. Outcomes were measured and the functional, structural and cultural impediments to the transformation was being identified and systematically addressed.

The transformation was touted as a productive engagement based on the

  • Increase in profitability measured by money in bank & stock performance,
  • Improved time to market measured based on the reduction in release cycle from 15+ months to 4 and the ability to deliver higher-value faster and with better predictability.
  • quality improvement measured by the reduction in support incidents
  • customer sentiment improvement based on the change of stance from hostility to having productive discussions
  • positive impact of employee engagement as measured by the decrease in ‘WFH’ & unplanned leave towards the release dates,

This does look like the happily ever after story, doesn’t it?

Ever thought about the intangible cost of this success?

  • The loss in support revenue that nobody seems to care about anymore, now that the customers are happy and the company is back to being profitable
  • The negative impact on the potential job market with the company’s newly developed capability
    • Discontinuous innovation that is increasing the revenue exponentially?
    • Incremental innovation around process and practices reducing the cost of production?

Forget the economics, for money, cannot be the only measure of success, how does one account for the

  • Trauma of the specialist people managers who were taken by surprise by their functional silos being dissolved and self-organizing teams making their decisions (better than what they ever did) emerges?
  • Teams being empowered, given autonomy and the authority that rested with the supervisors being delegated to them?
  • The helplessness and agony of going from being the indispensable and most valued employee to a subject matter expert in the best-case scenario?
Now, is a successful transformation really worth the cost?
Author's Bio

Preeth is a pragmatic coach, Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) & SAFe 5.0 Program Consultant (SPC 5.0) and is passionate about all things agile and leadership. With over 20+ years of experience and commitment, he trains and coach organizations to be agile and more importantly to stay agile. Preeth holds an enviable record of conducting over 10,000 hours of industry-specific training and coaching.

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