In my book “Leaders, it’s not how you finish … it’s how you start!” I cite 5 mistakes that result in the failure of Agile transformations. 

Mistake number 3 is “Mindset of the consultants running the transformation”. But how do you know that the consultants or coaches that you are hiring have a more Agile mindset than you the leader, or the managers who are expected to be coaches by them? After all how can we go about measuring mindset? We certainly can’t stick electrodes on their heads and measure their brainwaves … at least not yet!

I have ways that help me to read consultants and coaches and thus assess their level of agile mindset and I’ll share them here in this article with you. You’ve just got to promise me one thing … don’t tell the big consultancy houses!

According to research carried out by McKinsey 77% of all Agile Transformations fail to deliver on the expectations of the Executive Team 

We have a solution … what’s the problem you need solving?

There is one very easy test that leaders can employ to test to see if their consultants are as Agile as they claim to be: see how many solutions they provide you with to your problem, AFTER they understand what the problem is. There are more ways to test them buy this is a good start and I’ll provide you with some more tests before the end of this article.

For me, the big problem with large consultancies is that, in my humble opinion, they have lost the plot when it comes to Agile transformation and to a large degree they are in denial or are deluded about how they think they can help!!! For some reason all large consultancies seem to think that one particular framework is the answer to all the organisations ails: It’s either the one they are incentivised to promote or the one that they invented on the back of a fag packet while down the pub!

This is where the problem starts. One size fits all solutions!

As much as people have tried to convince me that these frameworks are a smorgasbord of different techniques, tools and approaches, from which the process designer takes the best or most applicable bits, it’s rare that they are implemented that way. This is due to the “sheep-dipping” that goes on in the classroom, where people are eager to get their badges and go out and inflict LAFABLE on people. Please do look at Mike Cohns parody of a well know framework at … its a hoot!

Following recipes and templates is the least agile approach

One size fits all solutions will cause serious problems further down the road as the structures espoused will start to cause issues that wont have been predicted at the outset.

The five step Pre-Tx model.  Taken from "Leaders, it's not how you finish ... it's how you start!" By Mark Buchan

Instead, the more Agile of consultants will take the time to understand what the problems are within the organisation. They wont assume that the leaders are right, thereby colluding with them in landing wholesale change which rarely results in organisational agility. Instead some time needs to be taken by the consultant as suggested by Edgar Schein (1969) to help the leaders to more effectively diagnose the organisationation problems. Hence step 4 in the diagram above: run co-diagnosis.

It’s not the consultants … its the models of consulting they follow that are the problem

In essence the issues lie with the current models of consulting, as opposed to the consultants themselves. The models are deeply flawed and lead to less than useful outcomes which result in the leadership nearly always being disappointed in the outcomes of the transformative change initiative.

So what are the models I am referring to? Schein (1969) identifies two:

  • The Purchase model
  • Doctor-Patient model

In the purchase model the consultant is hired for experise that the organisation doesn’t have. Fair enough, right? The model presupposes that the leaders know what problems they are trying to solve and that the consultant has the requisite expertise to solve them. If you are a seasoned Agile consultant (more than 10 years experience) you will no doubt know that providing an organisation with a new process and structure to support it will lead to less than favourable outcomes. Why? Becuase the culture of the organisation will win out. Ultimately it’s a people thing …

In the doctor-patient model the consultant is brought into as the doctor to “examine the patient”, the organisation. The major flaw with this approach is that the leaders may not be willing to hear the diagnosis and may defend against it. Tell me how I know this …

When I go to the doctor for my once yearly check-up I find myself wanting to give her the sunny-days scenario, all so she will give me a clean bill of health and then I wont have to change. Yes I eat too much cheese, maybe drink too much coffee and have a wee dram too many, but ultimately I’m an adult and I dont want to be “shamed” into changing. Best to save the lecture for the twenty-five stone guy in the reception area… they really need the help.

So why do I bother asking for the doctor’s diagnosis?

Well I think it’s because it’s a human condition to want to know to that I am doing fine and better yet, that I am doing better than my neighbours … or is it just me?

Well clearly it’s not just me. Leaders and managers may hire consultants because they too want a “clean bill of heatlth” and want to know that they aren’t the problem. They also maybe want to know that they are more agile than their competitors and there is nothing else they need to do.

But what respecting consultancy will tell the leaders that? “No work for us to do here!” 

Not many I suspect. 

And what if problems are uncovered? Well, then the consultants have to either:

  1. Collude with the leaders and agree with the root cause identified at the outset by the leaders (which curiously enough are most definitely never anything to do with anything their potential paymasters are doing wrong) or
  2. Disagree with the leaders and maybe hold a mirror up for the leaders to look into.

Unfortunately failed Agile transformations, in my experience, are down to poor leadership and management behaviours and mindset as stated above. So when the consultancy (or consultant) opts for the first choice above, they create what I call pseudo-transformation because the agile transformation doesn’t go far enough up the hierarchy to make a meaningful difference to the agility of the organisation.

What’s this got to do with my consultant having an Agile mindset?

Well, it depends on your outlook as to whether your consultant has an Agile mindset or not. I’ll let you be the judge …

Are they demonstrating the Agile (Scrum) value of Courage and challenging the leadership behaviours and mindset? Or are they too concerned with their promotion to head partner?

Are they providing a holistic approach to agile transformation which also looks at changing the leaders or changing the leaders (Succession management or continued leadership development)? Or are they just happy doing change to other people lower down the “food-chain”, even though they know (becuase they will espouse it in their interview) that the culture needs changing … and only the leaders can do that!

Are the consultants following models of consultation that result in them telling you the client what the best outcomes are, without fully understanding the problems they are trying to solve? How could they possibly know unless they have spent as miuch time as the leaders or managers in the organisation; and even then as I said earlier very often the leaders and managers may get it wrong due to a whole variety of issues including their own cognitive biases. Incidentally Process consultation is the model of consulting I would recommend allied with relational coaching to help the leaders take on board the best advice the consultant has to give. The advice however, according to Schein, ought to be helping the leaders become better diagnosticians for themselves as opposed to the consultants telling!

Or finally, are the consultants themselves being coached in evolving their own mindset to be more agile (training in a framework doesnt count!!!)? I can tell you that most of them aren’t. They are mostly too busy playing pissing contests with each other and inventing new models of Agile Culture on the back of fag packets trying to convince their clients that they are the one true source of agility! Tell me how I know this …


In summary, if your consultant has only one answer to your problem and maybe only sees one set of problems (the ones presented by the leaders) then they are most likely not very Agile. If, as well, the consultant or coaches are stuck in a rut of “the managers/leaders wont listen” and throw their hands in the air, that in itself is not a very Agile response.

If they aren’t being coached themselves in becoming more agile then they aren’t as agile as they may need to be to help your organisation. 

The net result of your transformational endeavours will result in the dilbert cartoon above, giving the consultancies a huge wad of cash that will result in little or no transformation for the client organisation. This will surely result in the leaders expectation of Agile not being met and only a fraction of the benefits of Agile being realised.