DevOpsGroup Blog Four transformation barriers, and how to overcome them

Four transformation barriers, and how to overcome them

With an estimated 70 percent of organisational change programmes failing to achieve their stated goals, it makes sense to anticipate and mitigate risks at the outset.

In our experience, many of the threats facing DevOps and Agile transformation fall into four main camps.

1. No sense of urgency and an unclear vision

Many change programmes don’t tackle the fundamental question of ‘why are we doing this?’. While the rationale may seem obvious to transformation leaders, the vision must be clearly articulated and easily understood by all stakeholders.

Closely aligned to this is the question ‘why do we need to do this NOW?’. When maintaining business as usual is a fulltime preoccupation, it can be hard for people to see why you’d deprioritise seemingly critical tasks or increase their workload. That’s why it’s vital to convey the urgency of transformation in language that stakeholders understand, explaining the likely repercussions if the programme is delayed.  

A transformation workshop can be a powerful and effective way to address this issue. The aim is to get all stakeholders on the same page, bringing a cohesive perspective to vision, commitment and success criteria (expressed as measurable business outcomes, not programme outputs). Our Transformation Canvas is an excellent tool to help activity get off to a promising start. 

2. Lack of senior stakeholder sponsorship

Senior stakeholders and leaders can unwittingly sabotage change programmes by failing to adapt their own behaviours. If they are immune to the new ways of working, why would anyone else take them seriously?

To maximise the chances of success, the CEO, CIO, CTO and ideally the entire C-suite, need to visibly champion the change and model key Agile behaviours.

One very public way to achieve this is for senior stakeholders to participate in the same Agile and DevOps foundational training as the wider organisation. This has the added benefit of enriching their own understanding of the rationale for transformation, and how the theory translates into real world benefits. It also empowers them to make active and valuable contributions to the guiding coalition, or steering committee, overseeing the change.

3. Cultural resistance to change

Most change programme failures are due to resistance – either passive or active – when the existing organisational culture is challenged.

This is often rooted in leaders’ lack of understanding of the phases of behavioural change outlined in the Trans-Theoretical Model (TTM):

Each stage of the process requires specific messages to be conveyed to the people who will be affected. So, early messaging needs to focus on why the status quo is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the organisation. This evolves to explain why the proposed course of action (in this case an Agile Transformation) is the best way forward.

It’s also useful to identify and work with ‘culturally significant people’. They’re not necessarily formal leaders or managers, but they exert influence and their peers look to them for guidance. Co-opting these people into the change programme early can reap dividends. Find out what their concerns are and take steps to address them in a mutually acceptable way. By taking time to do this upfront, you may convert potential change saboteurs into transformation champions.  

4. Not understanding the change maturity curve

During most change programmes, there is a phase where things get worse before they get better. If people aren’t prepared for this, it can have a detrimental impact on morale and commitment.

Ensure all stakeholders – particularly senior executives – understand that there may be an initial reduction in certain key performance indicators as changes bed in. It takes time to implement new ways of working effectively, especially when people need to learn about new tools, methods and behaviours.

The change maturity curve visualises this phenomenon well:

Many change programmes start out with overly high expectations in terms of the scope and likely speed of transformation. Understanding that there will be an inevitable ‘trough of disillusionment’ helps people anticipate and power through this phase, coming out the other side in better shape than before the programme started. 

Identify the change barriers in your own organisation

There are numerous risks associated with any change programme. The four outlined here are the ones we come across most frequently in organisations implementing Agile and DevOps ways of working. If you’re familiar with Kotter, you’ll notice that our recommendations align with his well-known 8 step change model.

It’s easy to fall into destructive patterns if you’re unaware of change management best practice. So Kotter’s excellent book Leading Change is well worth a read if you’re at the helm of a transformation programme.

However, it’s important to remember that every organisation is unique and barriers to change can manifest in different ways. At DevOpsGroup, we can help you navigate this complex landscape to reduce the pain and achieve a more effective outcome.

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