Big Consulting in Agile Transformation...thoughts?


Came across this article on LinkedIn, thought I’d share. I’ve run across a Big 4 company coaching a transformation a few times in my career and I’ve yet to see a success. I agree with most of the points in this article but to me the outlier is Accenture; with their recent acquisitions of SolutionsIQ and Lyssa Adkins’ outfit it seems that they’re really trying to grow their agile talent, which could bear fruit if they let it grow and don’t stomp their corporate culture all over it.



I think “transformation” is now a buzz/trigger word. Ive been through some big-consulting pitches on the client side of the desk before. Now I work for a niche/boutique consulting firm myself. So I have my bias, full disclosure. For me, the big firms lack one thing universally, empathy. That does not mean there are non-empathetic people working for those firms, just that the approach is significantly lacking appreciation for client context, in spite of the highly polished marketing that says the opposite.

What a lot of companies are looking for when they hire a firm to “transform” them, is a trusted advisor to improve the culture and operating model of the organization. The only way I have seen that done in a sticky fashion is to iterate the approach so that it can be adapted as there is more organizational understanding and as the context continues to shift. To be able to do that effectively, you need to take small slices of the org to transform, rather than those mega-contracts the big firms are built on top of. A result of small slices, the consulting company needs to be able to quickly and regularly be able to deliver real strategic value to the client. Not always a strong point for the bigger firms. They prefer the larger batch size to hide outcomes and mortgage delivery for more billable hours.


Really interesting.

What makes me sad is that I’ve seen more than one Small Consulting company start adopting the tricks of the Big Consulting companies - Especially the Fear tactic.


Fear is a powerful motivator and envy. Unfortunately they rarely sustain anything.

I haven’t witnessed a big consultancy transformation, but the halls of history are lined with horror stories of big implementations of tech. It always comes down to communication and respect. I’ve certainly talked to developers that have been caught in the crossfire.

The big transformations can lose both in the process, but so can small ones. How do we keep the human in the transformation big or small?


Inside secret… in 1999, there was a company in Philadelphia called Breakaway Solutions (where I was employed) which competed against Organic and Razorfish until the .com bubble popped. Back then, the founders were attempting RAD (rapid application development) and embodied some of the agile philosophies before we knew about agile. (We also burned a lot of money.)

Flash forward, the ashes of that company were reformed under the same leadership in a company called Gestalt, and they started leveraging agile, including in some government military settings. A few years later, that company was acquired into Accenture and I believe continued to run somewhat autonomously. Lots of really great people there. I would guess that this was the beginning of a seed for Accenture to gain insight/understand of the agile movement (though I can’t speak to how well they’ve done in recent years…).

For those of you in Philly with me… it could be interesting to know this history when networking. My experience with those folks while at Breakaway set me up for later learning about agile while at Siemens Medical (one of the largest XP/Scrum transformations by 2005-2006) and in that situation we used ObjectMentor and Thoughtworks to coach us through our transition, not a Big 4 company.


I do remember the Gestalt acquisition, believe it or not. So based upon that, SIQ, and Adkins maybe they “get agile” more than their competition. I guess only time will tell.

We used Thoughtworks in a previous job to help with our transformation, and my opinion is that they’re best used for the XP/DevOps type activities that go with a transformation, but as far as the culture impacts and changes they fell vastly short. Could also be how they were engaged at the company (as they were presented as “more skilled than our current resources” by our CIO…and yes, that’s a verbatim quote) but that’s my two cents. Might be a story better told over a beer :smile:


@JayHorsecow that was the same CIO that said read Scrum and XP from the trenches over the weekend we are going agile Monday
Transformation Plan

  1. Buy a book
  2. Buy a tool
  3. Hire your Agile practice buddy and his Engineering henchmen from Florida
  4. Hire Thoughworks for a dump truck full of cash
  5. Take Golden Parachute at the contract end date (No new CIO for 2 years)


With a long history in working in big consultancies (including the one mentioned) to me the biggest contradiction is that what is sold towards the clients is not practiced within the organization.

So how can you really help another company to transform if you are not able to practice what you preach?
Naturally this does not mean everyone in the companies or all projects, but if the Organizational structure or culture does not truly change then it is just sales talk.

In a way I think that what is now happening with agile is the same thing what first happened with Design. All the big companies bought smaller design shops and marketed how they are transforming, but in reality the “ways of working” did not really change within.