Transforming Mountains

WRITTEN BY Rick Austin

In early October my wife and I vacationed at Cape San Blas, FL and I was struck by the beauty of the brilliant white sand on the beaches. They are impossibly white and it made me wonder how that sand came to be. I became fascinated by the time it took and the processes that made it so. I learned that when walking on that sand, I was really walking on ancient material from the Appalachian mountains. Eons ago the Appalachians were taller than the Himalayas but through the ages they have continuously been worn down and transformed. All of that material flowed towards and was deposited into what is now the Gulf of Mexico. The continuous motion of the waves deposited quartz that came from the Appalachians onto the beaches of Cape San Blas and other beaches on the Emerald Coast.

This extraordinary amount of time made me think about the time it takes for any type of change, including transforming an organization to work in an agile manner. Change is difficult, and much like the weathering away of the Appalachians, it takes patience, persistence, and focus on changing the right things at the right time. Successful agile transformations include elements of the following:

  • A clear understanding of the existing organization: The landscape if you will.
    • What is driving the desire to move to agile?
    • What structures need to be changed?
    • How does the organization deliver value?
  • Are there capabilities in place to deliver value: Are the right processes in place to turn mountains into sand?
    • Does the organization have appropriate skills in place?
    • Are practices in place that are required for agile teams to deliver value?
    • Is strategy connected to team’s ability to deliver value?
  • Are the people aligned and wiling to change: Are forces working together and persistent?
    • Are people willing to work in ways that are different than what has made them successful in the past?
    • Is there a commitment across team members to collaborate and work together more frequently?
    • Do people understand the time needed to change and are willing to have the patience to see it through?

When there is organizational support for making structural changes, agile practices are embraced, and individuals are willing to change then conditions are suitable for a successful transformation. Just as suitable conditions were in place eons ago for the Appalachian mountains to be turned into brilliant white sand.

Even with conditions suitable for change, persistence and patience is required. Agile transformations in an enterprise are difficult because of the scale of change. Transforming enterprises, like transforming mountains, is difficult and takes time. Agile transformations don’t take eons, though they may feel like it, but they don’t’ take weeks either.

I often hear that we’ll just send some folks to a class or two and we’ll be agile. Just taking a couple of classes with no other transformation strategy is like banging on a mountain with a hammer, it may be a good way to start but much more is required. Your organization must have a real commitment to change and the patience to see it through if you intend to create your own white sand.

Here’s to improving your organization’s ability to deliver value, to your ability to create your own version of Cape San Blas’s brilliant white sand.

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1 comment on “Transforming Mountains”

  1. Flowmotion

    Clever analogy! Can’t imagine anyone not wanting to create something so amazing :)

    Reply