Three-Cycle Framework for Agile Transformation in Higher Education

Watch my discussion with Dr. David E. Johnson of TransformEd Consulting on how the Three-Cycle Framework can help to make higher ed administration a great place to work.

The framework emerged as part of my 2024 series on Agile-based transformation of college and university administrative operations.

The strategic approach I introduced in part 4 of the series outlines how meaningful transformation is driven and sustained by three interdependent and mutually reinforcing processes (cycles) at different levels of the organization: the Leaders Cycle, Mission Innovation Cycle, and Teams Cycle.


All three cycles revolve around the idea that small-scale experimentation undertaken by increasingly autonomous and self-organizing expert staff teams – irrespective of their members’ place in the org chart – generates meaningful and impactful innovation that organically permeates the professional network at the institution.

Each cycle operates and impacts a different level of the overall non-academic employee network; in concert, they allow leaders and teams to nudge the system toward the desired end state.

The servant leader supports, empowers, and enables these teams while refraining from taking – or at least minimizing – directive (“managerial”) action.

Teams are temporary, flexible in their composition, and centered on mission-driven work rather than static job descriptions. Team members may come and go, depending on what expertise is needed to tackle a particular issue and mission.

The Leaders Cycle

At the individual level, the Leaders Cycle focuses on transforming traditional managers into servant leaders. Guided by the Agile Consultant and Coach, they build the mindset, skills, and commitment to assemble, empower, and support teams of expert staff members. These are tasked with identifying common pain points and conducting small-scale trial interventions to improve processes and workflows. Here, the 80-20 rule applies and informs the selection of work to be done. The goal is to generate small yet meaningful improvements for adoption by the larger staff community. Close collaboration with human resources and team members’ supervisors ensures that teams have the capacity and freedom to dedicate time and energy to the innovation process.

The Mission Innovation Cycle

The process of identifying an area of improvement and finding innovative ways to relieve administrative pain points is described in the Mission Innovation Cycle, which is situated at the team level. The name deliberately includes the word mission, as teams coalesce around a closely defined purpose, such as tackling a particular process or group of processes. After the successful completion of a project, the mission may intermittently shift to a different focus and require team members with a different set of skills and expertise. Teams are guided by their transformation leader, the Agile Coach or Consultant, as well as the HR representative, in devising feasible change and innovation strategies in adherence to an institution’s, system’s, state, and federal regulations and practices.

The Teams Cycle

To ensure that all successful innovations are properly documented and made available to the wider staff administrator network for adoption, the Teams Cycle outlines the mechanisms needed to disseminate administrative changes in the staff network. It is based on recognizing the importance of ongoing feedback to teams for continuous improvement and identification of additional pain points to be tackled in the next innovation sprint. The latter, in turn, entices previously not-involved staff members with expert knowledge in the upcoming process or workflow to join the innovation team. Transformation leaders will work with these volunteer staff members’ supervisors to provide the needed capacity, time, and resources.