Change Management in an Agile Organization

More and more companies are adapting Agile methods and principles in the way they work. However, most change management practices have evolved out of linear ways of working (like project management or waterfall development), not from Agile ways of working. So, what happens when an organization begins to operate in Agile ways — do traditional change management approaches and processes still work?

Changing the Way We Do Change Management

Most traditional methods of change management take a linear approach. It’s a step-by-step process: first, understanding the purpose of the change; then mapping key stakeholders; developing a communication plan; planning and scheduling activities to communicate and involve people; developing solutions and rolling them out in a coordinated way; and finally, once the changes have been implemented, measuring impact.

This works well in the context of a traditional organization that is working in linear, sequential ways. However an Agile approach is anything but linear. If we’re doing something in an Agile way, we’re barely out of the first step or two of change management before the first Agile sprint is over, and we’ve already put it live into production to see how the minimal work product can deliver in terms of results. In this environment, most of the things we would do from a traditional change management perspective will either be far too slow, far too complicated, or far too late for the pace at which the work gets done in an Agile world.

Clearly, the solution is to change the way we do change management. We don’t have the luxury of taking weeks to do our change management. We have to look for real time, fit-for-purpose approaches to change management—ones that align well with an Agile way of working.

Because the field of Agile is still evolving and maturing, and because of the variability inherent in how organizations adopt Agile processes, I’d like to suggest a few things for Agile change transformation leaders to consider to make change management Agile ready:

1.   Managing Organizational Change in Real Time

A quick review of the 12 Agile principles reveals a strong emphasis on getting things done in real time: fast, and face to face. Change leaders should look for opportunities to enact change processes that take place live, in the moment, and/or are democratized to the point where the Agile team and those involved in the sprints are doing the change management as they are working, so it’s part and parcel with the work itself.

In typical software development, for example, the system is first developed, tested and prepped for pilot or launch.  Only then is the change management team brought in to figure out how to train users on the new systems or functionality.  On an Agile team, change management team members could be part of the sprint, embedding training or user instructions right into the software as the software is being developed.  Rather than planning for a separate training event, why not make the new system or functionality intuitive or at least usable by incorporating built-in system prompts, instructions or user guidance?

2.   Adopting a Fit-for-Purpose Mindset

The idea of “fit for purpose” is intrinsic to the Agile mindset. It has come to mean that a solution is not bloated with unnecessary (and therefore inefficient) functionality or features.

When we apply the fit-for-purpose concept to change management, it means we are no longer looking to work through a robust set of surveys, analyses, spreadsheets, and project plans. We have to be able to move from this more-than-enough scenario to a mindset of good enough.

For instance, have we identified every possible stakeholder? Maybe not. But do we have 70-80% of them? That’s probably good enough.

Another example: Do we need a full communications plan? We probably don’t have time to do one, so what are the minimal essential messages that need to get out to the 70% of stakeholders we identified before we roll out our solution?

3.   Adapting Existing Platforms

Because Agile work tends to happen on the fly, it is not always possible to plan in advance just how it will unfold, or what will be needed to see it to completion. If you wait for the Agile team you’ll either cause delays or they’ll already be on to the next sprint and you’ll miss an opportunity. For this reason, it can be very helpful for an Agile change management team to maintain awareness of existing structures and platforms that can be leveraged for Agile purposes.

Social media is an excellent example. By definition, social media is a platform where people can meet, and share information, whether publicly (for instance, a company LinkedIn page) or privately within a closed environment (such as a private Yammer platform or a company intranet site.) Regardless of type, if I am going through a change process and I need to get a message out there quickly, I should leverage existing platforms through which I can accomplish my real time, fit-for-purpose efforts for change management without incurring undue delay.

Available platforms need not be exclusively technological. Social and physical structures, too, can be adapted to Agile use. For example, many companies have meeting areas such as cafeteria/lounge space for people to gather. Most of the time these areas are underutilized outside of the lunch hour. What could an Agile team do with that space? Consider not just how they can use it for their own work, but how they might adapt the space as a way to physically communicate the work they are doing?

This brings to mind a media company we worked with a few years back, which happened to occupy a building that contained a stair-step atrium that looked out over five floors. Faced with the challenge of how to effectively communicate their work to the rest of the company, the change team decided to use the space to physically symbolize the changes they were pioneering. They found artifacts from the past five decades, and each floor of the atrium became a “decade,” displaying artifacts from that time frame. It was a powerful way to convey the idea that their industry had been through many changes over the years, and they were ready and able to do it again. This team could have done a myriad of things—such as videos or posters—to accomplish their goal, but they utilized a platform they already had, which was the physical layout of the building, and it was very successful.

Managing organizational change in an Agile organization requires a more fluid, Agile approach. Agile change leaders need to be proactive about thinking through potential resources, opportunities and/or obstacles.

Change Management

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