Agile Transformation Learning Curve

Many a time, I’ve brought up the conventional learning curve (J-Curve) to help agile champions understand that there will likely be a dip in productivity while adjusting to the new lean-agile way. This dip is followed by a rapid increase in effectiveness and efficiency as the new approach is mastered and finally culminates in a plateau at a higher level.

While I’ve seen this J-Curve (on the left in the image below) unfold countless times with team members making the transition to agile; I’ve seldom encountered this with managers in large organizations. A different dynamic plays out and the transformation’s learning curve looks slightly different (on the right in the image below).

Sketches - 3

In the right hand figure, there is an initial improvement that is driven by an illusion of learning. In this stage, managers have had some introductory training and the organization has mastered the rhetoric of the new approach. People know enough to be dangerous and spend some effort in grafting the new way onto the old organizational approaches — but the same old premises are at work. While there is much activity nothing new is being done by management — no new approaches to problem solving, decision making, budgeting, horizontal relationships, etc.

The initial rise in effectiveness/productivity stalls and subsequent introspection leads to a sufficient understanding to see that “we don’t really know much.” This “A-ha!” experience is the beginning of the integration of acquired knowledge with know-how. It leads to a reset — a new beginning — and the start of real learning that results in a rapid increase in effectiveness.

I know real learning has started when I begin noticing signs of managers asking smarter questions and applying the principles learned earlier to current circumstances.

What has been your experience? Do you see this primarily in large organizations or is this a universally predictable pattern?

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