Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water - Agile transformation from the trenches
Conference contribution, 2019
Large scale agile transformations are based on the premise that agile on an organizational level (i.e. “large-scale agile”) is rooted in the same underlying assumptions as agile on a team-level. This premise however, proves to be problematic according to Rolland, Dingsoyr et al. (2016) who calls for a re-conceptualization of agile at scale. We join this standpoint and aim to contribute to this re-conceptualization by addressing agility beyond transformational enforcement.
We study the agile transformation of a large R&D organization of a manufacturer in the automotive industry. We study it from the bottom-up perspective, meaning we follow closely a group of mechanical integration engineers (MIE) and how they are affected by the corporate transformation initiative. This allows us to capture an important aspect of agility – the relation between formality and informality. We find that the group of MIE’s work in line with fundamental agile principles, and have done so since long before the transformation. Interestingly, these ways of working are not formally recognized as agile and are therefore not legitimate in light of the transformation.
In light of our empirical findings, we underline the somewhat paradoxical nature of the idea that agile as a self-organizing, post-bureaucratic approach is imposed top-down in a manner insensitive to present ways of working that may be well aligned with the explicit purpose of the very transformation. We suggest using the idea of critical performativity (Spicer, Alvesson et al. 2016) which includes identifying ‘present potentialities’ rather than “faddishly replicating reforms carried out elsewhere” (Spicer, Alvesson et al. 2016 p. 236), as a productive way of conceptualizing ‘agile at scale’ that incorporates the informality of agile practices.
Rolland, K., et al. (2016). Problematizing agile in the large: alternative assumptions for large-scale agile development. 39th International Conference on Information Systems, Association for Information Systems (AIS).
Spicer, A., et al. (2016). "Extending critical performativity." Human Relations 69(2): 225-249.