Why so many agile transformations still fail

Guest contribution by | 28.06.2021

Lessons not learned

Are you aware that two thirds of all transformations in German companies still fail? Fail? This means not having achieved the change goals set, such as structural and process changes, among others, as well as organisational features such as the way of working together or the change in corporate culture. This is a fiasco, because the resulting sense of failure includes many factors that make it unnecessarily difficult to make a new start.

What are the indispensable things you should pay attention to so that you are spared such scenarios during an agile transformation?

An example of a transformation

Let’s visualise an agile transformation like this and use our your imagination. Picture a move. The old house has become too small, the foundation walls dilapidated, in other words the house is no longer up to date. The head of the family orders the move to a new home. This one offers a modern structure, an energy-saving construction and extension, the location is top and thus everything is much more efficient than in the old house.

Now it is significant what the new façade will look like, facing or plaster, which windows will be planned how and where, roller shutters yes or no … phew, there are many things to consider. One thing is certain, the new house should please be agile!

The head of the family appoints three highly motivated family members to implement the new house building project. The rest of the family is not yet aware of their new happiness. After a few weeks and months, the new house is ready for occupancy, the move is planned, and a housewarming party for the whole family including a change kick-off officially rounds off the project. The family members involved present the rest of the family with a fait accompli: Out of the comfort zone, into the moving boxes and off into the new house/life! Any concerns and insecurities on the unknown terrain are faded out. Welcome to the new home!

And the transformation has already failed!

How to plan your transformation more advantageously and more wisely

Project the new house and the associated move into a new phase of life with ALL family members TOGETHER from the beginning! Pack up the moving boxes and give each other a hand. As the head of the family, explain why the move makes sense and what the benefits are. Together, create a plan and a framework on which the move will be built and how you will approach the first time in the new house, how you will settle in so that everyone feels comfortable. Over-communication is essential. It’s best to talk about it every day:

  • Where are we now?
  • What does the future look like?
  • What concerns do individual members have?
  • What facilities are needed, when and how?

Feel obliged to take all people with you in this drastic change process! Building a strong communication culture in the course of a transformation is incredibly important so that everyone is highly motivated to want to change permanently. The immense importance of this is reflected in a study on the topic, which states that only 8 percent of people implement their own resolutions. So how much effort do we have to make as an outsider to change someone on the inside!

Develop a powerful and transparent communication culture!

If the head of the family confronts the remaining family members with the fait accompli of moving, they will feel unappreciated, not taken seriously enough, not important enough and not sufficiently qualified. If, in addition, new agile rituals come into play in the new house that they have not yet heard of, the family members will be completely demotivated and will hardly be able to help with the transformation.

In the old house, there was a classic, hierarchical distribution of roles. Divided into the directive giver and the other family members, the directive takers. No matter how big the family was, rank and title counted here. In the new house, suddenly ALL are directive givers and directive takers. The product owner is the head and specifies the goal and the others the how as the path to the goal. In the new house, knowledge and experience count. Rank and title, the old driving forces, no longer exist. This is symbolic of this: We’ll do it the short way. This means that there was someone in the family, an unofficial person/authority, who influenced the interactions within the family with his or her enormous knowledge, many years of experience or high social competence. A “useful illegality”, so to speak, for balancing inefficiencies. In the new house, this is done by means of a “usable legality”. With it, the exchange about nuances, professional or social concerns, as well as concerns or great ideas, finds its way in. At best, this is mapped via agile rituals such as plannings, dailies and reviews. The aim is to eliminate the tiresome office gossip once and for all. Only with transparent communication will the move or transformation succeed.

Create trust in the team as the basis of your communication!

Within your family there is a balance of independence and belonging. This makes it highly likely that the move into the agile house will be successful. Each family member appreciates independent working, knows it and feels comfortable. At the same time, they feel a strong sense of belonging to the family. No one isolates themselves from the others.

Fundamentally, strengthen your family’s confidence in the abilities of each individual and their individual person. Question and reflect regularly before, during and after the move.

  • Know: Do ALL within the family have ALL the information to do their job?
  • Does the flow of information work?
  • Skill: Are the required skills available or is training needed?
  • Communication structure: Do ALL use the rituals in a focused way, as given?
  • Scope: Is this really given or do others in the family interfere?
  • Retrospective: What is the individual perception?


Errors are the fuel for innovation

Furthermore, indispensable in a transformation: the analysis of the error culture.

Practice manoeuvre criticism at any time during the move. What is going well, what is going less well and what do we want to take with us It is advisable to take stock before the move begins, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How are communication flows going in the big family?
  • Who thinks they don’t have the right skills somewhere?
  • Who has unused skills?
  • Where does someone feel too controlled or where does someone want more control/support?
  • How do they deal with mistakes?

This is where critical issues with a lot of conflict potential come to the table. Always choose a good moderator for such family conferences. Trust results from these tips, so that everyone is happy to cooperate and help to achieve the goals!

Psychological security

A Google study says that affiliation likes to hide behind the buzzword “psychological security”. How does this come about?

In an agile transformation, sensitivity is always needed. For example, consider whether the share of speaking time in meetings is evenly distributed across all shoulders. Feeling comes from participation. Do other family members notice when someone in the family is not doing well or how they are doing at all? Expose any disruptive factors, especially during the move, in order to counteract them.

Seven questions are recommended in this regard, which should be asked of all family members at regular intervals, for example in retros:

  1. How clear are each member’s own role and task within the family network?
  2. How big is the influence of the individual work in relation to the set goal?
  3. To what extent can everyone contribute their own skills?
  4. Does everyone believe that everyone has an equal say in the meeting?
  5. How many dominant speakers are there?
  6. Do all participants show consideration for the needs of others?
  7. Does everyone feel valued for their work?


We are agile now after all!

Your move is not yet in the bag. There is a great danger about 2-3 months after the start of the transformation. Roles have been redistributed, new value principles have been adopted. Some family members feel a certain fatigue, according to the motto: “We are agile now, that’s enough.” At this point, however, there are still two moving boxes standing around, unpacked. Set up a small team of responsible people in advance who will make sure that ALL the boxes are unpacked!

Another critical point in time that can cause everything to collapse like a house of cards is after about 18 – 24 months. Here the motto mentioned above comes up again. Enough is enough. Be sure, there is always something to do in the new house! It needs permanent and constant care, which is essential for its survival. Pay attention to the following two tips:

  1. Schedule your regular retrospectives throughout the next few years!
  2. Reflect genuinely, i.e. many deep questions should be asked with the aim of making them thought-provoking.

Retrospectives are the underestimated success factor in agile transformation

Be smart and be deliberate in your agile transformation. Value the tools you have been given to make a successful move to the new house. The removal van can come and then it will work out with the neighbour! Keep your new home in good shape at all times, be flexible in rearranging if necessary, muck out regularly and always stay in the flow!



If you want to exchange ideas with Halina Maier about agile transformation or build an agile and strong distribution, just get in touch at  https://www.agile-sales-company.de/.

Halina Maier

Halina Maier

Halina Maier is an expert in Agile methods (Scrum, Agile Sales, Kanban, OKR), sales strategy, sales techniques and innovation workshops. As an Agile Sales Coach and CEO of Agile Sales Company GmbH, she supports successful companies that need agile and strong sales.