5 Lessons on Leading Agile Transformation from a Former Product Executive

March 7, 2023

How a serial entrepreneur, crypto enthusiast, and lover of complex problems coach leaders and help teams through the most challenging parts of change and transformation.

Carlos is no stranger to leading teams and supporting leaders through the ins and outs of agile transformation. As the person responsible for developing and delivering new products, he soon discovered that the traditional way of working and the development cycle was constricting and costly. Their company was growing and scaling, and it needed to find a way to better organize its work without sacrificing quality and integrity. He led his startup through an agile transformation, which helped the business grow and scale.

While it’s been a few years since he first adopted agile in his own work, Carlos still looks to these concepts as a gateway to help organize teams and businesses who want to move forward faster. 

In this blog post, Carlos shares five key lessons to keep in mind when leading agile transformation – especially in mature businesses.

Lesson Learned 1: Start with a clear vision

I’m a big fan of the saying: Think Big. Start Small. Before embarking on an agile transformation, it’s important to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. This means defining the problem you’re trying to solve, identifying the benefits you want to gain, and setting a measurable goal that you can track your progress against. A clear vision will help you to get buy-in from stakeholders, build a sense of purpose and direction, and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal.

There are many reasons why an organization may want to adopt Agile methodologies and ways of working. Here are some examples:

  • Improved customer satisfaction: Agile prioritizes customer collaboration and feedback, which can help ensure that the final product meets the customer’s needs and expectations.
  • Greater flexibility: Agile methods allows for greater flexibility and responsiveness to changes in business needs, customer preferences, market conditions, or technology.
  • Reduced project risk: By breaking down projects or new initiatives into smaller, more manageable solutions, Agile can help reduce the risk and improve the overall success rate of the initiative.
  • Better quality: By focusing on delivering working software in shorter cycles, Agile methodologies can help organizations identify and address quality issues earlier in the process.

While there are many other benefits of adopting agile methods, the important part is choosing a select few that the organization can link to the wider corporate goals and demonstrate how Agile is helping to achieve these corporate goals.  A company may have three key areas of focus such as customer satisfaction, profit and increased adoption or usage of their products and services. We want to show how changing the way we work serves as a key benefit to the organization.

Lesson Learned 2: Build a strong team

Agile methods are a team sport, and building a strong team is critical to overall success. You need a team that is not only skilled and experienced but also committed, collaborative, and adaptable. You should invest time and effort in building a culture of trust, respect, and open communication. This will help you to create a safe environment where people can share ideas, experiment,  learn from each other, and work together towards a common goal.

In my experience, the most successful agile teams are those that have a diverse mix of skills, perspectives, and backgrounds. This diversity helps to bring different ideas to the table, challenge assumptions, and drive innovation.

Building a strong team also requires setting up norms and working agreements that support a highly collaborative environment.

Lesson Learned 3: Embrace experimentation and learning

Agile transformation is a journey, and you’re bound to make mistakes along the way. The key is to embrace experimentation and learning and use your failures as opportunities to improve. You should encourage your team to experiment, measure their success, and make decisions. You should also create a culture of continuous learning, where everyone is encouraged to reflect on their experiences, share their learnings, and use them to drive improvement.

A common commentary you’ll find on agile commentary is that it’s never a linear approach, and will have its ups and downs. While that’s true in my experience, I also find that the approach to leading agile transformation needs to focus less on the destination but on what you learn along the way. The key to building the right foundations for experimentation and learning is not solely focusing on efficiency. Instead, consider the effectiveness of the problem or solution that your team proposed. 

In one of my past projects, we tested different marketing methods in weekly experiments where leaders were open to making decisions based on the data, as a result, the company was able to identify the most effective and cost-efficient way to generate awareness and drive sales for their new product launch. This is a valuable lesson for any organization undergoing an Agile transformation – to encourage experimentation, measure success, and create a culture of continuous learning to drive improvement.

Lesson Learned 4: Focus on delivering value 

Agile transformation is not just about doing things differently; it’s about delivering value to your customers. You should always keep the customer at the center of everything you do, and focus on delivering the features and functionality that will make the most impact. You should also use data and feedback to continuously improve your product and your processes, and ensure that you’re delivering the right things at the right time.

In my experience, the most successful agile teams are those that have a deep understanding of their customer’s needs and are able to prioritize their work accordingly. This helps them to deliver value quickly, build customer loyalty, and ultimately achieve business success.

Lesson Learned 5: Go First and Lead by Example

Finally, as a leader, I’m a firm believer in doing instead of talking. You should embody the agile values and principles, and demonstrate the behaviours that you expect from your team. This means being transparent, collaborative, and adaptable, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. You should also be willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside your team and be open to feedback and criticism.

In my experience, the most successful agile leaders are those that lead by example. They are humble, curious, and empathetic, and they have a strong sense of purpose and direction. They inspire their teams to do their best work, and they create an environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

As a former product executive, I have been a part of several agile transformations in my career. I have learned a lot about what it takes to lead an agile transformation successfully while making mistakes along the way.

To summarize and reflect on my own journey, undertaking a successful agile transformation requires commitment and collaboration. Having motivated teams who rallied around the objectives and goals is key to ensuring we can keep the momentum and move forward. Remember to lead by example, embrace failure as a learning opportunity, and always keep the customer at the center of everything you do.

If you’re new to leading agile transformation or building an innovation team, then feel free to reach out via the button below. Drop me a message and I’d be happy to respond.


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