What change strategy should we use for Agile Transformation?

Do we go top down?

Should we use agile ‘methodology, or princples’ to ‘go agile’?

Can we do an agile transformation if we only use ‘bottom up’ approaches?

These are the questions we are hearing a lot of at the moment.


We have a pretty firm view on this, one we share in the “Inconvenient Truth of Agile”. But before we dive into answering the question on which change strategy to use, there are two prerequisites that need to be in place.

  • There is a clear identified need for agility as part of being successful as a company. It is critical the ‘going agile’ is not a fad driven C-Suite imperative. You need to be able to explain how being quicker to market, faster in your processes, more nimble in changing direction aligns with your organisational strategy.
  • Assuming there is a clear identified need for agility – the overall end state needs to be defined using co-creation and collaborative approach (Open Space Technology, Appreciative Inquiry, Action Research). These are all quite old approaches to co-creation, nevertheless they are very effective. (It’s also the reason why old school OD practitioners get very frustrated with Agile Movement – but we were doing it first!!)

If you have those two in place it’s time to consider what change strategy you want to use:

Agile Transformation Change Strategy Options 

Your options are:

1. Start small and snowball

This can be slow in the face of other changes competing for attention, or blocked by people in power who are not onboard. This is often suggested in Agile Transformation as it aligns with “test and learn”, fast feedback cycles, and using data to inform your path forward.

2. Big bang planned implementation

This is most common in large scale organisational change where consultants are involved. It is resource intensive and expensive, and needs a sense of urgency. It is effective at generating momentum, but not usually flexible enough to accommodate obstacles that emerge as change proceeds.

3. Social virality

This is where you seed the change and let the community run with it. The trick to getting this right is you need knowledge of the right people to seed the change with. Danish Organisational Network Analysis company Innovisor tell us that you only need 3% of the organisation engaged to achieve change. The other caveat to this is the change needs to be really attractive, its hard to make a poorly received change go viral for the right reasons.

4. Shift the dial

This one is effective if you don’t have a sense of urgency or compelling targets to achieve. You meet people where they are at and help them move the dial in the right direction. This creates a highly targeted and relevant change approach and permits phasisng. Key to this success is being able to assess current state and get the recipient to buy in to the agreed targets and what they need to reach them.

So which change strategy do you use for Agile Transformation?

Our experience shows that it’s a combination.



Change Strategy for Agile Transformation

You do need to start with Big Bang, top down to ensure that you have all of the Senior Leaders onboard. Not going to lie, it feels heretical to start an agile transformation with a big bang planned approach – because, well, it’s not agile!

But it’s the only way to ensure that when you move to ‘start small and snowball’ the blockers are removed and you have enough inertia to combat the challenges of what it really means to be agile and move from highly hierarchical, command and control organisational systems.

Both social virality and shift the dial can be really effective sub strategies that you use in different parts of the business depending on the organisational characteristics. Your feedback from the start small and snowball gives you the data to discern when you would use them as strategic approaches.

For those of you who have experienced a successful agile transformation, how does this track with you? We’re curious to hear!