How an agile, outcomes-focused approach can simplify complex transformations

By Richard Lenton

While business transformations come in a range of sizes and complexities, at the enterprise level it always feels different. Here the stakes are always high. For those sponsoring the transformation it’s a career defining moment. For those delivering the transformation it often feels rushed, under resourced and too complex to understand.

A driver of this complexity is our programmed need to break the activity down into smaller chunks – the way we’re taught to eat the elephant. The result can be a complex programme with sometimes hundreds of milestones, with each milestone a key event and each output representing a step on the journey to the transformed state.

This approach has significant risk for two reasons. First, the programme becomes focused on smaller pieces of work that may not contribute to the transformation outcomes and will inevitably lose focus on the bigger prize. Second, our experience of major transformations tells us circumstances always change along the way.

An agile approach, in contrast, gives organisations the ability to see and manage transformation at an enterprise level – proactively flexing the programme focus or direction in response to changing requirements and the latest information whilst remaining focused on the destination outcomes.

Benefits of being agile

Building in organisational agility can remove barriers to great work by encouraging simplicity, focusing on the delivery of product and service outcomes and empowering people in project teams to make decisions. 

So how do you enable your organisation to deliver agile transformation? Our recent report on organisation agility gave five recommendations to achieve lasting success:

  • put 80 per cent of your effort on cultural transformation to ensure change is embedded
  • be persistent and consistent, recognising that transformation programmes often take some time to complete, utilising agile principles to allow for flexibility in the programme as circumstances change
  • see measurement as an instrument of change, pivoting where necessary and encouraging experimentation and innovation to learn
  • devolve ownership to empower locally and maximise business buy-in
  • recognise that being agile is the new normal.

Our research shows those able to implement the above outperform their competitors by up to 30 per cent. They have greater line of sight on their commitments, how they’ll deliver them and how to make change happen faster.

Can old dogs learn ingenious new tricks?

Find out more

Focusing on outcomes

Another driver of simplicity is aligning transformation to clearly defined outcomes agreed by leadership. Programme activity can then be aligned accordingly, with rigorous challenge of anything that doesn’t support these outcomes.

Our experience has shown that a smaller number of recognised and clearly defined outcomes provides the transformation with the greatest focus and will enable the whole organisation to see what the changed state will look like. Measurable outcomes help track progress and informs the organisation when you get to your end goal.

We took this approach with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), helping it transform as it redefined itself as a better, more efficient and more customer-focused organisation. With an annual spend of £3.3bn and responsibility for over 1,000 UK and international sites as part of its stewardship of the Defence Estate, the programme could have been incredibly complex. An agile approach allowed DIO to flex in line with changing priorities as pressures on the business changed, whilst continuing to work to the targets set by defined outcomes.


An agile, outcomes-based approach therefore addresses the two main problems experienced by large transformations. For this approach to be successful, it requires a commitment from the sponsors and strong leadership to challenge and deliver the programme. This approach doesn’t do away with milestones but frames them in an agile way to ensure they’re supporting one or more outcomes, significantly increasing your chances of delivering transformation success.

About the authors

Richard Lenton PA defence and security expert Richard helps public and private organisations transform to realise strategic, operational and people benefits across their enterprise.

Explore more

Contact the team

We look forward to hearing from you.

Get actionable insight straight to your inbox via our monthly newsletter.