Why Tailored Agile Transformation Solutions Are More Effective, Less Expensive and Less Risky

November 8, 2016 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Our contention and experience is that solutions tailored to an organization’s current situation, challenges, and culture can be more effective and less costly than predefined ones that are applied out of the box. While there are risks to the former, these can be avoided. The different set of risks to taking predefined solutions, ironically, can only be avoided by tailoring them. This article discusses the values and risks of both approaches and how to get the benefits of both.

When we think of tailored suits or custom-built cars we think – “nice, but expensive.”  But it would be a mistake to think the same thing with transformation solutions.  A predefined solution must be less expensive, correct?  No.  But if predefined solutions are not less expensive, then why are they so prevalent?  Two words – fear and comfort.

Taking an approach that others have enables one to start under the guise of “this is an established approach, if things go wrong I am not to blame for pursuing this.”  Thus, we are comfortable in our decision and have avoided making a decision that puts us on the line.  This, of course, does not mean we should throw out all predefined solutions, it means we must think how to apply them so that they work best for us.

The risks and wastes of predefined solutions

By definition, predefined solutions will have aspects to them that are not needed in your organization’s transformation.  This does more damage than merely adding complexity to your transformation, which will be difficult to remove later.  It undermines your transformation by increasing resistance to it. This occurs because people will know some aspects of the solution are not necessary.  This will increase their resistance to other aspects  that are necessary but which they don’t understand.

The flip side is also true – some required insights and practices will not be undertaken since a predefined solution can’t fit all needs (there is no one size fits all).  Hence, critical aspects of the solution needed for your organization may not be present in your undertaking.  This will almost certainly create new difficulties.  Significantly, because we’ve been following a path instead of learning to understand what path we should be taking, we will be ill-prepared for these situations.  At this point the easy gains of the initial transition get overcome by the extra complexity and gaps that are present in the canned approach.

The real value of predefined solutions

The real value of predefined solutions is often the “all-in” they may provide.  There is no question that alignment is very important.  But aligning around the wrong solution does have its own dangers as described earlier.

Why Complex Systems Require Simple Adaptive Solutions

While we don’t question that the end-result for different organizations may be surprisingly similar, the path to get there is usually quite different.  The challenges in an organization are intricately tied together.  Unfortunately, we cannot always just implement everything at once.  Doing so typically overwhelms people and causes great resistance.  Ironically, we already have great evidence for this – how many initiatives that were so clear to management have we undertaken that fail due the lack of cooperation by those it was intended to help.  While we do not subscribe to the maxim that people always resist change, change without understanding or perceived benefit will usually be resisted and sabotaged.

Perhaps more important, organizational change is often like untangling a ball of string with many knots.  You not only need to disentangle the knots, but you need to do it in the right order.  The roadmap for change must attend to where people are.

Our situation and the approach to affect it are shown in figure 1:

In other words, being in the dilemma that one size doesn’t fit all, people want solutions yet they can’t be overly complex implies our best course of action is to start appropriately simple and grow our methods as we learn. Hence, the need for an “adaptive framework” is one where you start where you need to start (having done an assessment to determine that).  Then, as you adopt it and learn, extend it at the pace best suited to your organization.

The Lessons to Be Followed

As is usually the case, extreme solutions provide us with insights on the correct course of action to take.  While tailored solutions are more effective and efficient, building them on top of existing “one-size fits all” solutions may provide an ideal approach.  In this manner we accommodate our own unique situation while building off of an existing platform that people can understand.  When considering the cost of a transformation it is important to remember that the biggest costs are not what we are paying consultants, the real costs are in the lost productivity of our organization while this transition is going on as well as the lost productivity gains lost by not taking the better course available.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


Once again Al, you nailed it!

We know people are over burdened and want canned solutions so they don't have to think about it. But we mustn't let them do this with their eyes closed. Its our job to inform them of the risks and provide a simpler path to better results.

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Al Shalloway
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