Scrum Notes 2013-20

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Transformation: an emergent becoming ▶️

This piece is in response to an article by Evan Leybourn entitled, Stop using the word "Transformation". His was a challenge that brought me up short and had me consider my own use of the term. Evan claims that in using the term transformation "the implication is that we're going from A to B" as if B is a fixed goal. He contends that organisations don't transform, but they do change, perhaps continuously, and hoped-for outcomes "will usually rise because you're changing, not because you've changed" a belief I can wholeheartedly get behind. Yet still, something bigger is occurring in these living, changing organisations, and when commenced with a true intent of renewal, I belief that the bigger thing is transformation.

It may be mostly a semantic difference, but I've never thought of a transformation as a desire to reach a goal; it's rather a process of (literally) altering the form. It implies a fundamental shift in structure and values, an emergent becoming. This is very different to instant, magical change, changing your clothes or changing your mind, or the common organisational practice of changing through adoption, or addition—the building of new methods, processes and practices onto an existing structure, a change which is best described as bloating.

The "form" of an organisation consists of its human structure, its methods of sharing knowledge, its policies and procedures, its rules and regulations, even its consciousness. These can be tweaked, honed, improved, added to, or they could be radically reformed. The former will lead to continuous change, even evolution, but the latter would be transformation.

A caterpillar doesn't change into a butterfly by simply adding wings, it undergoes a total dissolution before reforming its cells into that of a butterfly. The same kind of transformation is needed with some organisations—a breakdown of its current paradigm, an embracing of the chaotic unknown, and in time a reforming of the genetic material into something new. A caterpillar doesn't know it will become a butterfly, and an organisation may not know what it will become (no end goal) but only that its time to wriggle around aimlessly is coming to an end; it is now time to grow up into an adult.

I like the term transformation. It has a ring of nobility, renewal and risk-taking that the terms change or evolution don't offer. It asks people to not-know, to let go of control, to trust. I don't know any other word that will speak to this change of heart and mind so well. I reckon I'll continue to use it, and perhaps now a little more mindfully. Thanks, Evan.

Related post: The Lightness of Transformation
See also: Adopting Agile? You're aiming at the wrong target, by Tim Snyder

London, 21/04/2017   comment