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Agile Transformation Requires Destruction Before Creation

“The first act of creation is an act of destruction.” – Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, known for centuries as a visionary and masterful artisan, may have had some insight into successful Agile transformation. 

Agile Transformation Requires Destruction Before Creation

Organizations that are creating new ways of working, behaviors, and mindsets know all too well the pains transitioning from old to new. Of course, the effects of transformations are not all immediately seen, but rather gradual and incremental. It may be this prolonged but necessary timeline of transformation that lends itself to complacency, which leads to avoiding the discomfort of transformation.    

Change can be painful enough as organizations find their own way in the new world, but even more painful is not destroying the old to make room for the new. Keeping the old ways along with introducing the new ways generates enough conflict that transformations generally stall or are quickly abandoned before the benefits are ever realized. 

What we Have Can’t Always be Made Better

All too often, I see organizations that initially want to change into the new agile world but fail to heed Picasso’s sound wisdom. For example, they do the scrum thing for a select number of teams but continue to keep the old structures in place. The team still reports to a project manager and continues to receive day-to-day guidance on work from managers, in some cases several managers. Wait, the desired change initially was to have self-managing, self-organizing teams!!! How do companies change but not change? Simply put, they can’t. Additionally, change is not “to take what we have and make it better.” Instead, according to Picasso, take what you have and destroy it and then create something better…or in other words, replace it.

Change the Old Thinking

The ingredient needed to create Picasso’s masterpieces required a daring departure from the prevailing structures and artistic norms of the day. He challenged these norms by changing his belief system to support and follow his avantgarde vision and fearlessly persevered by adjusting techniques here and there, and most importantly, challenging the status quo of the art world. This courage would then go on to inspire many painters for future generations.

Oddly enough, the experienced change agent can draw some uncanny parallels with the production of the classic masterpieces and the Agile transformations of organizations today.  One that stands out is they both call for the change of current thinking into something boldly and vividly different. 

It’s NOT Complementary

I have seen organizations that have courageously embarked on the transformation journey only to have the journey slow or even come to a complete stop due to a misunderstanding of transformation. The unfortunate demise of this misunderstanding is rooted in thinking of transformation as a supplemental endeavor rather than an exchange of the old with the new.

Transforming to a new state of behaviors, practices or mindset should NOT be a complementary initiative to the old stratagems but rather an exchange of the old for the new – one small element at a time. I have discovered that organizations that ignore this have found themselves in a world where the act of transformation becomes the new problem to solve. Instead, organizations should look at themselves through a system’s lens, where they will see many systems that are working together, ideally in harmony. Most struggling transformations begin with only focusing on one system while ignoring the relationships and connections between the many other systems. Transforming to new ways of working and better practices will not go far without changing the mindset and beliefs that bore out and support the old ways and practices. The resulting tension is what can stop a transformation dead in its tracks. Successful organizations treat transformation as a wholesale change of mindset, beliefs, behaviors and practices – transforming all of the current state of system elements into something incredible.

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