What do we Mean by Transformation?

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From the Scrum Alliance Orlando Conference ”Open Space” Discussion, April 2016, facilitated by Valerie Senyk

Transformation is a big word that Scrum/ Agilists use. It is what we promise our customers through training and coaching.

On the last day of the Scrum Alliance Conference during the Open Space forum, I posed the question: “What is transformation? What do we mean by it?” We had forty-five minutes to try and understand this issue.

Initially, discussion centered around the idea of change and some of the manifestations of change. However, it was pointed out that transformation requires more than a methodology we follow. In fact, it’s more of a way of thinking.

It is easy to say what transformation is NOT: it is not rigid, not prescriptive, not directive. It is about different ways of behaving, it is supportive, and requires a new mindset from being prescriptive to adaptive.

I asked if the participants saw themselves as agents of transformation. Almost everyone did. So, what do they do? And how do they do it?

Participants spoke of the need for greater knowledge and education around Agile, as well as the need to understand stakeholders. To be an agent of transformation is about enabling people, and to enable them we need to understand them.

One commented that when an organization experiences pain, that is an opportunity to go in as an agent of transformation and use that pain as a motivation and means to change.

Transformation is not a one-time event; it requires continuous learning. In order to have continuous learning, agents must create a safety net for innovation to occur. The mindset must be that failure is okay. Trust in the process and in the agent (agilist) is necessary for discovery.

It was understood we can achieve transformation at a surface level to begin with, but true transformation occurs at a personal level. How is it possible to achieve this deeper level?

One participant spoke about the need for love, for truthfulness and for transparency to be part of a personal-level transformation. As a member of the BERTEIG team, I know that love, truthfulness and transparency are integral to how we work, and how we deliver services.

Ultimately, there is a difference between change and transformation. Change means one can go forward but then step backward. Change is not necessarily permanent. But transformation is really about irreversible change! And small transformations are steps to larger ones.

Discussion then centered on what motivates transformation. Behavioural change needs to be felt/ desired at a visceral level. Organic analogies were suggested to help educate and motivate – that in the natural world we see constant development and change. Why would we be any different?

The question was posed: What do we transform to? People need to be shown the beauty of the next step…beauty in itself becomes a motivation.

Is it enough to help change an organization or corporation to run beautifully and smoothly within itself? Or is there a higher purpose to transformation?

One attendee spoke about how all the cells in the body work autonomously for a higher purpose, which is the functioning of a human being.

In business also, transformation can also be pursued for a higher purpose. Imagine a corporation transitioning from pursuing purely monetary rewards to its pursuit being about making a positive contribution to society. It was pointed out that studies show that companies with a higher purpose actually have higher revenue.

However, it was also expressed that everything that matters in life cannot be measured.

We concluded the session with the idea that transformation requires looking outward as well as inward. It’s not just about us and our customers – it’s ultimately about creating social good.

I have been grappling with the idea of transformation for many years, from the viewpoint of the spiritual as well as that of an artist. Hearing the ideas and understanding of the twenty-plus people who attended this session helped me see that transformation on a larger-scale requires patient but strongly-motivated steps toward an ideal that may seem intangible to some, but is worth every moment in pursuing. For it is in the pursuit of the best ways over the better that transformation is wrought.


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