The core of change management is helping an organization prepare, support, and apply changes to an organization. In execution during an Agile Transformation, it looks different depending on how the organization is going about this change.
The most significant aspect of change management is that it should include the people. Yes, deciding on the new structure, governance, and metrics is crucial. But you can’t do that without your people.
People are naturally resistant to change, and there will inevitably be pushback from some people. Change is uncomfortable, especially when it involves your livelihood at your job. Or, if someone has been doing the same position for 10-20+ years, teaching them to change their ways can be met with complaints.
During Agile Transformation, it’s essential to manage the expectations of what’s happening throughout the process, support people’s hesitancies, and work to alleviate them. Creating safety and reassurance that they are needed in this new Agile world and helping them process what it looks like moving forward helps calm fears and get people moving.
Even though change management should support the people, there may be more to it than you think.
How Change Management is Typically Implemented
Most organizations that adopt Agile are taking a practice or culture-first approach. This means that their change management strategy revolves around the following:
- Agile practices training.
- Teach Scrum, SAFe, etc.
- The team goes back to work and implements new practices.
- Training that empowers people.
- Focus on teamwork & collaboration.
- The team goes back to work and implements a new culture.
In these scenarios, the strategy is training people and then letting them return to work and implement the changes. It doesn’t need more than that because nothing around the team is fundamentally changing. The existing org structure, teaming strategies, org design, governance, metrics, and controls stay the same.
At the most basic, Agile is only seen as something that teams do at the work surface level. They may have a daily standup and work in determined sprint intervals, but they’re not Agile. They’re putting practices and culture changes on top of a broken system that isn’t designed to support them.
Because of this, these Transformations inevitably fail. People see that no amount of practice or culture change will help what’s systematically wrong, and these changes don’t make that big of an impact. They will slowly go back to working the way they used to.
What Agile Transformation actually needs is a systems-first Transformation strategy. Then, once the systems are in place to support everything else, practices and culture follow.
What’s Different with a Systematic Change Management Approach
Here at LeadingAgile, we take a systems-first approach to Transformation.
Our approach looks like this:
- Look at the organization’s design and changes needed to support Agile.
- Form small, cross-functional teams around business capabilities, feature sets, products, components, services within the organization, etc.
- Refine backlogs to be clearly defined and reasonable to complete.
- Produce a working tested increment of product at the end of every sprint.
- Manage dependencies until we can break them.
- Governance model: interaction between different teams and levels of the organization.
- Metrics: decide what to measure and control.
- Connect progress to measurable business value that leaders care about.
Developing a systems-first plan gives us an incremental and iterative approach to Transformation. It will not work if you go in and upend the entire organization. We must choose a pilot section of the organization to start with, get it working, and then move on to another department.
In that case, our approach to change management is also more systematic. Because we are fundamentally changing the team structure, how they work within a sprint, the frequency of delivering work, and more, the people need much more support.
Our change management strategy involves communicating and ensuring a progressive understanding of what the Transformation means to the organization and the people themselves.
From there, we build upon progressive engagement from the top down and get leadership on board to facilitate change. Throughout this process, we are supporting the people to understand their fears, resistance, and overall understanding of their role in the Transformation.
When we keep a consistent flow of communication, show the people that they won’t be left behind, and help to calm their fears of change, we can implement Agile practices, and the changes will be sustainable.
Over time, this change management strategy is used to incrementally walk the organization and the people through Transformation. When they have a plan to follow, they’re much more likely to execute it. Once the organization sees one team succeeding, the rest will follow until the entire organization is on board and achieving Agile success.