“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is a famous quotation attributed to the late business management guru Peter Drucker. While a debate continues as to whether Mr. Drucker actually said it, the statement itself merits further exploration.  I believe it means that any great strategy regardless of the depth of research, hard work, number of paid consultants, and even its own brilliance, will not achieve its intended future state if it fails to take an organization’s culture into consideration.

For part three in my Agile journey series, I will examine the importance of addressing cultural elements to achieve a successful Agile transformation. An organization’s culture is an amalgamation of its values, beliefs, norms, practices (policies, procedures, processes, and artifacts), and language. Some of these elements may be documented, such as values and practices, while other aspects like norms and language usually are not. Whether specified or implied, all cultural elements can effectively “feed” (have a positive impact) or “eat” (negatively affect) an Agile transformation. It is important to understand these aspects and develop a plan to systematically address each.

A Recipe for Success

To avoid an organizations culture taking large bites out of our strategy, should we develop a transformation menu that is prix fixe or a-la-carte?  While certain elements could be implemented separately, the success of an organization’s Agile transition is best served when the menu is prix fixe. Below are prix fixe cultural menu items and their ingredients for a successful Agile transformation.

Agile Transformation Menu

Start with Available Ingredients

Should you start an Agile transformation only if all these prix fixe menu items are ready from the start? This is not realistic. Remember, most meals take time to prepare, cook, serve, and eat. These six cultural courses are all important for the transition to Agile and long-term health, but oftentimes the elements will not be immediately available. Use the food you have to begin the Agile transformation while determining when, how, and who will begin to prep, cook, and serve the new cultural menu.

Teach, Train, and Act

Finally, remember the old Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” It takes significant time and effort to change a culture, so invest in teaching, coaching, and behavioral adaptive change management. But don’t let that stop you from starting now. When it comes to cultural Agile transformation, this quote by Jerry Sternin says it all: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.”

Whether you are just getting started or progressing through your agile journey, it is important to address cultural roadblocks that could serve up some indigestion along the way.