Making transformation stick: Immersion and measurement

Agile transformation is the process of altering an organization's modus operandi to best adapt to a market that is ever-volatile, ambiguous, and complex. Through agile transformation, the organization is better able to respond to change and can deliver meaningful digital products and solutions to its customers.

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Transformation today has shifted from an era of experimentation to era of multiplied innovation. To compete and win in a post digital economy, where differentiation is defined by a combined use of emerging technologies, will require companies to build a core set of capabilities around speed, personalization and intelligence, all aimed at improving agility and adaptability to better serve stakeholders -- employees, customers, partners and communities. 

Also: Digital Transformation: A CXO's Guide

Today, the customer experience is more important than products or services. Every digital transformation must start and end with the customer at the center of every decision, every investment thesis, and every company's set of core values, starting with trustworthiness as the most important guiding principle. Co-creating value and transformation is hard work, especially given the unprecedented velocity (speed and direction) of innovation -- including new business model innovation. To make transformation stick and grow, business leaders must develop a culture of listening, learning, perseverance, grit, accountability, radical transparency, empathy and optimism. Transformation leaders must train as ultra-marathoners, while running sprints on a daily basis, knowing that the journey of agile and digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. You must plan for a long race, while achieving short-term goals and overcoming unforeseen obstacles. 

So how do companies develop a culture of agility? According to one successful CEO, who has spent most of his career focused on driving startup scale and growth, the answer is immersion and measurements. 

Sheetal Jaitly is a co-founder and CEO of TribalScale and a seasoned veteran in the tech space. He gained his reputation as a mobile and innovation expert as the leader of media and telecommunications at Pivotal Labs and XtremeLabs, and he has over 20 years of experience in technology and business development. Jaitly isn't afraid to roll up his sleeves, especially when it comes to his passion for transforming businesses into industry leaders. An expert in startup culture and growth, strategic partnerships, and all things emerging tech, Jaitly has built TribalScale from a tiny startup into a global innovation firm helping enterprises adapt and thrive in the digital era. Through its agile practices, TribalScale transforms teams, builds best-in-class digital products, and creates disruptive startups. I asked Jaitly to share his CEO and founder lessons on transformation by providing specific examples of how his leadership team manages TribalScale, including specific key performance indicators (KPIs) that have delivered proven results for his company. 

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Sheetal Jaitly is a co-founder and CEO of TribalScale 

What is agile transformation and why does it matter? 

Agile transformation is the process of altering an organization's modus operandi to best adapt to a market that is ever-volatile, ambiguous, and complex. When an organization becomes agile, it adopts the tenets of the Agile Manifesto, embracing people over processes, feedback, change, and collaboration. Teams are restructured to become self-organizing and lean; they trade in their old ways for modern methodologies, and they adopt new approaches to software development.

Also: Digital transformation in 2019: Lessons learned the hard way

Through agile transformation, the organization is better able to respond to change and can deliver meaningful digital products and solutions to its customers.

It is therefore unsurprising that 74% of executives say their organization is actively involved in some form of digital transformation. While some enterprise organizations choose to transform to get ahead of the curve, for most industries, transformation is fast becoming a necessity to keep pace with digitally native disruptors that are eating their long-held positions as leaders in their respective industries -- think Tesla in the automotive space, Netflix in broadcast media, and Airbnb in hospitality.

Whether their rationale is to shift away from legacy IT infrastructures to open up the full suite of digital technologies, or simply to survive, transformation is becoming a must. Yet, and despite this trend, the vast majority of transformation efforts reportedly fail. In 84% of cases, the agile and lean approach to software development doesn't stick, teams revert to their old ways of working, and the why behind the change effort is lost.

Agile transformation often fails because the mindset, and therefore the culture, remains the same while Agile practices are adopted.

What does this mean? It means that companies are organizing their teams according to an agile framework; they're practicing scrum, holding daily standups, and are aiming for weekly releases, but something is off… They're not embracing the agile mentalities and principles that will allow them to build and release better products. For analogy's sake, they're checking off the boxes without fully internalizing agile, and are therefore failing to adopt them in their day-to-day. After all, grasping the principles and mentalities is key to building, and maintaining, the modern software development culture that breeds success in today's rapidly evolving and highly competitive market.

Sticking Through Immersion

If embracing digital, Agile, and lean is akin to adopting a culture, then why aren't they taught as one would learn about a culture?

It is widely known that the best way to understand and appreciate a new culture, and to gain fluency in a new language, is through immersion. Transformation through immersion is much more likely to stick as all participants will not only learn the processes, practices, and principles, but they will live and breathe them (and only them) throughout the period of change.

Also: What is digital transformation? Everything you need to know

Further, and in almost all cases, learning-by-doing tends to be far more effective than learning-by-reading or viewing. When learning-by-doing, individuals understand the why, they experience the benefits through practice, and they adopt and embrace the mindsets that underlie the behaviors.

So why aren't we applying this notion of transformation at the enterprise level? After all, agile transformation is about learning and changing; but learning and changing are hard. It's time more organizations transformed through immersion and learn-by-doing. This will ensure they learn the relevance and why of change, and grasp the mindsets and values needed to not only to adopt but to embrace agile for long-term success.

Then, to ensure the agile mentalities and practices stick through the day-to-day, track progress. Measuring and evaluating the individuals and teams involved is essential as it is a) a surefire way to inspire and push momentum, b) gives insight into the short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals, and c) measurement is intimately linked with the ability to execute.

Tracking Agile Transformation

Agile transformation is complex and involves all aspects of how digital solutions are delivered -- from the organization's culture through ideation to release. As such, any metrics used to track learning and change must reflect the multi-faceted nature of the process, covering everything from individual behaviors and attitudes, to product output and team dynamics.

It is crucial to track and analyze learning and growth patterns, which will help highlight pain points and opportunity areas. Measuring thereby ensures the transformation aligns with the dynamic business environment, and the people driving the business itself -- a core aspect of agile -- and will increase the likelihood of teams embracing the mentalities underlying the change, not just adopting the new methods.

Further, each team will be different, with different baselines and goals, and such variation must be accounted for through tailored metrics that cover both qualitative and quantitative indicators, and at all levels. Regardless of which key performance indicators you chose for your team, track them consistently and ensure they fit your goals, and drive value for your business.

Sample (but Proven) KPIs for Effective Measurement* 

Assessing Individual Contributors

  • Technical competencies: Example -- an engineer's ability to test drive their code and to use new technology and tools
  • Communication skills: Example -- a Product Manager's ability to write clear, concise end-to-end user stories
  • Productivity and engagement: Example -- time spent coding, time spent pairing, employee engagement, and net promoter score
  • Lean and agile development: Example -- an individual's ability and enthusiasm to practice agile principles in their day-to-day

Assessing the squad:

  • Ship predictability: Example -- code velocity, volatility, and story acceptance rate
  • Product quality: Example -- number of bugs per iteration, test coverage of code base, peer reviewing of code, etc.
  • Solution-oriented: Example -- the number of experiments ran to help address ambiguity, escalating issues, etc.
  • Community: Example -- sharing learnings with the larger team and organization
  • Team productivity and engagement: Example -- Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Assessing the organization:

  • Adoption of new technologies: Example -- cloud platforms, automated testing pipelines, etc.
  • Product-oriented, balanced teams: Example -- the existence of teams with technical/engineering, business/product management, and user/design capabilities
  • Ability to manage Agile projects: Example -- using the time-scope-budget paradigm (aka Project Management triangle)

*The KPIs listed above are derived from TribalScale's Agile Transformation offering. The qualitative and quantitative indicators are tracked on a weekly basis.

Regardless of which specific metrics are used, they should all roll up and into the overall agile transformation goal: learning. Again, it's not about hitting a specific deadline or releasing a specific product.

By paying particular attention to the people and immersing them in the rituals of agile, the transformation is more likely to permeate the organization. Going forward, the organizations that internalize this immersive, holistic approach to transformation -- those that don't just adopt, but become agile -- will survive.

This article was co-authored by Sheetal Jaitly, co-founder and CEO of TribalScale