Stop using the word "Transformation"

It’s not A-B, because there is no B.

I had the opportunity to attend leadership training earlier this week. One of the key topics was that of leading transformations and during the course of the discussion I came to a realisation. We, in the agile community, need to stop using the word transformation.

It’s not a transformation!

The implication is that we’re going from A to B. That B is a specific and clear destination. It also assumes it will stop. Let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard of a Google transformation or a Netflix transformation? No…

They don’t transform, but they do change. They change continuously.

There is no single “B”.

So why do we talk about transformation? I think there are two reasons. The first is about perception. Change is hard. It also never stops. So when business results invariably suffer in the short-term as a result (or in spite of) a change talking about it as a transformation - with an end - gives hope that outcomes will rise. But the truth is that they will usually rise because you’re changing, not because you’ve changed. The second reason relates to the cost of change. We can show ROI on “transformation” whereas continuous change isn’t as simple. I can point to a line on a chart and say - after t the ROI will $x

Chart 1

Whereas ROI of continuous change doesn’t have a clearly defined t. And yet, over time, the return will continue to rise.

Chart 2

So, unless you’re actually describing a transformation, please stop using the word. It is misleading and does a disservice to the continuous improvement that we lead.