I’m Sick of the Word “Transformation”

Boot stepping on a butterfly
Boot stepping on a butterfly

I’m sick of the word transformation.

There, I said it.  Organizational transformation, at least in the business world I’m in, implies this massive scrap everything, burn the fields, and start anew approach.  A gigantic change.  A different way forward.  And the term agile transformation?  Oh boy. 

Agile transformation, to me, implies product-delivery-at-all-cost and customers suddenly delighted by an IT department that they’ve despised for decades. It’s slamming everyone in small conference rooms for two week iterations, rewriting all the contracts, and rewiring the entire leadership team. Data lakes and value streams! Experimentation! Value trains! Etc., etc., etc. 

Here’s the thing: transformations don’t happen quickly.

Often, what happens is one team over here says, Hey!  Let’s try this agile thing! So, they give it a go. Then, agile processes start to creep across the organization. There’s no change to compliance methods or the way the program is funded, and leadership is on board only in theory.  Early adopters within an organization are simply finding ways to work around the system; the system has not changed. 

Similarly, (I’ve seen quite a bit of this lately) some of leadership–not all at the same time– decides, Hey! Let’s try this agile thing! So they hire some coaches and a Scrum Master or two and they do some assessments and the coaches give trainings and this department over here sort of starts to try agile and this department over here doesn’t give a crapola about agile and this other person in leadership is open to trying agile but wants all the same rules and regulations abided by.  And then there’s the multiple vendors foaming at the mouth to provide executive briefings and give training by PowerPoint, to scale frameworks and provide strategies on their own flavor of agile that the organization must adopt.


Think about it, how many leadership and agile books have you seen with a butterfly on it?  Don’t get me wrong, I love butterflies as much as the next person.  However, organizations, programs, and individuals don’t get to crawl up into a cocoon, hiding from all outside pressures for 3 weeks, and come out the other end beautiful and fully transformed.


Comic about change
Cartoon by audiencestack.com

A Change in Vocabulary

So, let’s not use the word transformation anymore. Instead, let’s use reality based thinking. This is a journey of organizational evolution. Evolution by definition is a process of change in a certain direction.  It’s the process of working out or developing.  It’s chip, chip, chipping away at something.  It’s pivoting even the slightest bit every single day.  In other words, it’s making a difference for the better where we can.  It’s simply making today suck less than yesterday, everyday.

So, go to the willing.  Then again, make something a little better/easier for the unwilling. 

I know you’re thinking, But leadership is essential to an agile transformation! Scaled Agile says so!  I know, I know, I know. I’ve said the same thing numerous times myself.  Just go with me for a second.  Let’s assume this agile initiative is imperfect and messy, which, by the way, it usually- almost-pretty-damn-near-always is.  We’re not after a big bang! quick! transformation, remember?  We’re after evolution, making a real difference that will become part of the organization moving forward. 

I know the other thing you may be thinking, But I’m an Enterprise Agile Coach.  I work on the Ent-er-prise.  My question to you: do you care about the title or doing damn good work?  People make up the Enterprise.  So, help the people make damn good, if not small, changes.        

Just Make a Difference

In moving the needle everyday and evolving every step of the way, you will not see the transformation until it has already happened.  Bumps, bruises, failures, and successes will be along the journey of change.  Every step, every change, every black spot and beautiful shade of orange you will have earned on your way to becoming that butterfly you envisioned– all without a cocoon.

  • Do the roles that nobody else knows how to do until that capability is born.
  • Be the leader you want to see in your organization, and others will catch on.
  • Invite people into any and all conversations. If you believe everyone is needed and everyone has something to contribute, amazing things are possible.
  • A system functions exactly how the people of the system want it to. (Sit with that for a minute.) Until the people change what they want and how they want to achieve it, you’ll never achieve butterfly status.

So, go ahead, get sick of the word transformation, too. Walk the walk. Chin up, sleeves up. And, above all, keep your eye on the next step of evolution.