Agile transformation is, without a doubt, one of the most daunting initiatives that any organization can undertake. It takes leadership buy-in, frontline commitment, and disciplined execution to get right.
For the times when you need guidance other than a set of aspirational bullet points in a slide deck, we’ve compiled this list of the absolute best books on agile transformation to assist you in your journey.
These books give insights into the struggles faced by other organizations as they shifted cultures and reimagined ways of working, strategies for overcoming some of the most common pitfalls, as well as advice for ensuring success through (un)common sense.
Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos
Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez dispel the myths and misconceptions that executives have about agile transformation and provide practical advice on how to make your business' agile transformation a success.
In Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos, Darell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez of global management consulting firm Bain & Company give a much-needed reality check on what it takes to become a truly agile organization.
Too many companies, the authors say, embark on a big-bang agile transformation that tries to copy/paste what’s been successful for others without necessarily adopting it for them.
All too often, agile transformations are used as euphemisms for mass layoffs and excuses to demand more work in progress, destroying workforce morale and hindering accountability.
Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos is a no-nonsense guidebook for organizational leaders who want to understand their role in supporting—or, more often than not, constraining—business agility in their organizations.
In a captivating and compelling way, Rigby, Elk, and Berez describe what agile is, how it can scale, and what’s necessary for applying its values, principles, and practices across lines of business, functions, and processes from planning and budgeting to operations and talent management.
Agility, the authors claim, is about accelerating the pace of business by accelerating flow efficiency, reducing wait times, and eliminating waste. Given how few leaders and managers think that way, it’s no wonder that only 12% of major change initiatives achieve their ambitions!
Instead of big-bang changes, the authors recommend a “back to basics” approach for doing agile right.
Their best-practice approach includes: setting clear, non-conflicting, and genuinely attainable goals; putting metrics in place to measure progress and outcomes along the way; and fostering small, adaptive teams that deliver on customer needs in small batches.
They recommend achieving this by deploying agile at three levels:
- Agile teams;
- Agile units and functions;
- Agile enterprise.
Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos is effortless to read as Rigby, Elk, and Berez waste no time getting to the point, showcase examples, and draw lessons learned.
Insightful and practical, it’s one of those agile leadership books that you’re likely to highlight once, then keep coming back to over, and over, and over again.
Read this book if:
You want to get “the truth” about what works and what doesn’t in an agile transformation that, for one reason or another, most agile consultants and executive coaches won’t directly tell you.
The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done
Stephen Denning provides a compelling introduction to the agile movement and tells the story of how its ways of working have helped companies become faster, more innovative, and able to adapt to changing circumstances.
No matter what you think about agile transformations, one thing’s for sure: in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, the hierarchical command-and-control management methods of the 20th century are no longer effective.
In his book, The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done, author and leadership scholar Stephen Denning translates the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto to the level of organizational leadership using analogies throughout history and what he calls “snapshots” of companies at different stages of their journeys.
Denning formulates three laws of the new management paradigm: The Law of the Small Team, The Law of the Customer, and The Law of the Network.
The Law of the Small Team is all about the need for sponsoring, deploying, and facilitating small and cross-functional teams that work autonomously and transparently to resolve complex business challenges or meet customer needs.
The Law of the Customer is about the necessity for having a North Star that can help guide the teams as they self-navigate and course-correct toward it. At the same time, the organization itself embraces a ruthless focus on the customer and practices continuous experimentation, all while embracing a willingness to disappoint and fail.
Last but not least on his list is The Law of the Network, which talks about transforming the top-down hierarchy into a network of agile teams that develops and assigns talent as needed, where needed, and when required.
All in all, Denning’s The Age of Agile is an engaging and informative introduction to the concept of an agile transformation that looks at the most common challenges and pitfalls companies that undergo one typically face. It tells a compelling story and gives valuable insight into the things that agile leaders can do to create a more energizing, prosperous, and meaningful mode of working and living.
Read this book if:
You’re relatively new to agility. You struggle to understand how a manifesto created by software developers for software developers can help you take a large and multi-national firm to the next level of innovation and adaptability.
Agile Transformation: Using the Integral Agile Transformation Framework™ to Think and Lead Differently
Michael K. Spayd and Michele Madore propose a framework for a systemic approach to agile transformation in the enterprise. The framework is aimed at executives and senior leaders to help them become what the authors call an authentic transformational leader.
If you’ve ever found yourself reading a book on agile transformation and feeling like the most essential information on how actually to get it done is generally missing, then Michael K. Spayd, Michele Madore’s latest book is for you.
In Agile Transformation: Using the Integral Agile Transformation Framework™ to Think and Lead Differently, Sprayd and Madore advocate for taking what they call an integral approach to agility, which takes the individual, team, program, and organizational context together to form a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
The book is packed with new terms and management concepts, and it will take you time and thought to digest each of them until you can ultimately put the pieces of the puzzle together. So definitely don’t go for it if you’re looking for a quick and light read on agile leadership; this one is close to being an owner’s manual.
Sprayd and Madore dive deep into the traits, behaviors, and conditions that engage individuals, support teams, deliver programs, and transform organizations. Their book helps you develop a holistic view of the agile mindset, behaviors, systems, and cultures that drive transformation.
This culminates in what they call The Integral Agile Transformation Framework, which will help you address the four critical areas of an organization to drive change:
- Leadership and mindset;
- Practices and behavior;
- Organizational architecture;
- Organizational culture and relationships.
The authors give you experience-based insight and practical advice for leading an agile transformation using real-world examples in the final chapter of their book.
What makes Agile Transformation: Using the Integral Agile Transformation Framework™ to Think and Lead Differently unique in comparison to all other books we’re read on agile is that it’s as much about the self-work you need to do as an agile leader as it is about the change you’re in charge to make happen.
Read this book if:
You’re clear on the needs and virtues of an agile transformation in general, and your organization is in the process of embarking on or going through one. You want to understand your role in driving change and understand the mindset shift you need so as to deliver outcomes.