The 4 conditions for agile success

Tilt's logo with white text on a blue background
Tilt's logo with white text on a blue background

The conditions for agile success in your charity

At a recent Charity Agile Leaders Club, the awesome Connie van Zanten shared 4 (pre) conditions for organisations that want to embed agile in a sustainable and scalable way:

  • Leadership
  • Team(s)
  • A mission
  • A crisis

This framework is a powerful way to get a better understanding of whether your organisation is ‘ready’ for change. You can also use it to identify where you have opportunities to leverage.

She also shared three things she learnt the hard way not to do!

You need Leadership, Teams, Mission and a Crisis

Whether you are embedding agile ways of working or driving digital transformation more generally (are these in fact one and the same?), in order for change to occur and stick, you need the following four things:


Digital transformation needs to be a priority within your leadership team. You need leaders who:

  • Are willing to spend their time and political capital on reforming the organisation.
  • Are prepared to create the space for you to be able to work differently, and to protect you.
  • Hold responsibility for lasting, long-term change through the entire leadership team.
  • Influence others in the organisation and make this a priority.


It may be surprising but organisational change usually begins with small, multi-disciplinary teams. It needs to be done in a way that is as much bottom up as it is top down.

As well as leadership willing to spear-head change, you of course need a team, i.e. people who are going to do the work on the ground. This team needs:

  • To be cross-functional, with people who have the specific practical & digital skills and experience needed for the work to be delivered. Examples include Digital, User Experience, Design, Brand, Fundraising, etc.
  • A mix of people from across different areas of the organisation.
  • A certain type of behaviours. Specifically, things like:
    • Empowering themselves and others.
    • Open to learning new things.
    • Happy to work iteratively.
    • Communicate openly and honestly.
  • To be user-centered.
  • A clear, agreed shared goal.

Once you have a team like this in place, the best way to gather momentum and scale change is to make their work visible.


Give people a reason to believe you’re going somewhere better. You need a goal that is:

  • Single, clear and meaningful.
  • Rooted in human behaviour and change.
  • Working alongside your overarching organisational purpose (why you exist in the world).
  • Focused on the cultural change needed for agile ways of working, not a fixed outcome or delivering a product or service.

A Crisis

There is nothing like a crisis to focus the mind. It doesn’t need to be a global pandemic (though we’ve seen plenty of organisations use that!). When things are chaotic or have gone wrong you don’t need to make your case for change in the same way. Any example of a need for change will help you:

  • Have a clear challenge to respond to and influence others around.
  • Manage a specific situation and respond effectively.
  • Identify the opportunities for change and the people who want and have an appetite for change. Go where the energy is!

Take stock and identify opportunities

A great next step with this framework is a stock-take of where you are in relation to these four conditions. Ideally do this with your allies and stakeholders. Where can you see opportunities?

Regardless of the extent to which your organisation currently has these preconditions for success, you can start to create a movement internally, learn what works, and test and trial stuff. 

Connie left us with three things that she has learned the hard way NOT to do, regardless of where you are in your journey:

  1. Don’t treat agile like a separate thing. Use agile ways of working to achieve your organisation’s goals, not just for the sake of it.
  2. Don’t waste time over-explaining agile to senior people. Show them instead! Find an opportunity to quickly deliver impact using agile ways of working and showcase the change.
  3. Don’t try and do it by yourself. Get support from coaches, experts and peers from other organisations. For example via the Charity Agile Leaders Club.

You can find out more about Connie here and we recommend reading her brilliant blog post 10 things I hate about agile. You can dive deeper into the 4 (pre) conditions in more detail in the book Digital Transformation At Scale.

The Charity Agile Leaders Club is a free, friendly and informal space for leaders who are driving agile transformation in their charities, social enterprises and purpose-driven organisations. Apply to join here.