The one thing you cannot neglect when moving to Agile.

Are you ready to treat it as a change on its own?

author picture Article written by Morten Kamp Andersen

“Agile organisations have outperformed others in adapting to Covid-19” – can anyone be surprised? Agile as an operating model was under the spotlight well before Covid-19. However, now that the response capacity to change is so critical, we can expect these approaches to gain even more traction. But how do you move your organisation to Agile? There are many answers to that question, but one thing is for sure; you can’t neglect Change Management.

The problem is not whether organisations should embrace Agile, or which framework to choose. It is about understanding that Agile requires a shift in culture and mindset. And it is about being ready to treat it as a change on its own – a challenging one, for that matter. In short, it is about putting people over processes.

Project owners and sponsors, here is how Change Management can help you deliver on the promises of Agile.

The missing piece that can (literally) change it all

What organisations usually do: get bogged down in technicalities while moving their IT and other projects to Agile.

Scrum, SAFe, AgilePM, etc…: Agile uses different names, but the common denominator to all methodologies is iterative delivery. Transitioning from traditional “waterfall” approaches – where the “solution” is packaged as one and final unit – to Agile, comes with a significant amount of work. There is no denying that. So where do organisations usually pour their time and resources? In choosing the right framework, building teams and assigning new roles. Nothing much is left to think about what it means and what’s in it for the people.

What organisations usually miss: the shift in culture and mindset. In plain terms; the people side of change.

Neglecting the people side of change is akin to leaving half or more of the outcome to chance. Remember that Agile as an approach is rooted in a 2001 Manifesto (“for agile software development”) that outlines 12 principles and 4 values. Hence, Agile is more than a set of processes; Agile is a culture with its associated way of thinking and behaving (values).

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Agile emphasises multidisciplinary cooperation and empowered cross-functional teams as opposed to silos fragmentation; speed and a trial-and-error approach instead of linear pre-planning. How people see the process and adjust to it is arguably more important than the process itself. This is where Change Management comes into play.

How CM can help you deliver on the promises of Agile

As is the case with any change, you have to prepare for it, plan for it and manage it. Except that this last part is substantially harder given the current circumstances and shift to remote work. Anyhow, Change Management is the key. Let’s look into all three steps.

#1 PREPARE. It will help you ask the right questions to lay the foundations for change.

Agile starts with a WAR. And by WAR, we mean a set of three questions that weaves together the key components of the ADKAR Change Management model (see our introductory blog post)

  • Are people Willing to move to Agile? Do they want to do this? (Awareness and Desire)
  • Are people Able to navigate an Agile environment? Do they know how to do this? Are there any obstacles on the roadway? (Knowledge and Ability)
  • Are people Ready to do this? Most of all, will they persist through failure – a basic of the Agile mindset? (Reinforcement and Desire)

Keep in mind that this is not just for frontline employees and managers. A solid sponsorship is the number one success factor of any change initiative. It is especially important to generate buy-in from top executives and each member of the coalition of sponsors. CM is there to help you test the waters and ask the right questions to prepare for the transition.

#2 PLAN. It will help you make the transition effective and sustainable.

As you start planning for the change – that is, moving to Agile –, you will need to incorporate the insights gained from the previous step. Again, kickstarting Agile takes much more than simply involving people in the development of new products and get the ball rolling. Using PROSCI’s 5 levers of CM will ensure they fully embrace the process and stay the course across iterations. CM gives you the toolkit to drive adoption with:

  • A communication plan

You need it because a compelling “why”, including business and personal aspects, is the first building block of change.  

  • A sponsorship roadmap

You need it because sponsors have to actively demonstrate the Agile mindset. The very iterative nature of Agile also requires them to show up more often.

  • A (flexible) training plan

You need it to help people beat down the roadblocks that stand in their way. And just-in-time delivery takes more work upfront.

  • A coaching plan

You need it because multiple back-to-back releases puts additional strain on the people. That means planning for extra support and resources to keep them afloat across iterations.

  • A resistance management plan

You need it because no one can be left behind in Agile’s fast-paced environment. But resistance can happen any time, before and across cycles.

#3 MANAGE. It will help you drive holistic change in turbulent times.

Agile is nothing short of a revolution at the enterprise-level: faster decision-making and learning cycles, self-reliant teams, cutting-edge technology, you name it…. If rolling it out was not hard enough, managing the change in such unprecedented times creates a twin-challenge. Remote working comes with its fair share of complexities, starting with scattered teams and disrupted communications. And they collide with some basic requirements of Agile, a methodology premised on creating interconnectedness. Because of its scheduled and structured approach to communication, coaching and resistance management, Change Management is your best ally to square the circle.

Feel free to explore our library of resources to learn more about effective virtual change sponsorship, communication and resistance in Covid-19!

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