Carving a path to "Agile" through CM

22 January 2018
author picture Article written by Valérie Hospied

Endless meetings, too many shifts of responsibility and overall slow decision-making are lethal for any organization operating in a fast-paced environment. Most frequently cited reasons for revamping working routines include a better alignment with client’s needs, optimized efficiency and increased speed of delivery and flexibility (Creasy T. & Prosci 2017). That is where AGILE values and principles come into play.

Of course, transitioning to AGILE is easier said than done. When it comes to introducing AGILE as a standard approach, a clear structure and strong purpose are essential. Even though there is no ready-made receipt that can be applied in all circumstances, there are a number of success factors that can get you on the right track, faster[1]. The journey towards success starts with managing the people side of the “Agile Transformation”.  

Keys to success.

AGILE is a culture in itself (a manifesto that outlines 12 principles and 4 values), one that requires a change of mindset so that it gets deeply engrained into the organization, end-to-end, and becomes part of its fabric. Think of traditional hierarchy vs. squads[2], empowered cross-functional teams and multidisciplinary cooperation - to name but a few challenges awaiting. Our partner PROSCI has identified four keys to success to tackle the people side of change on the road to AGILE:

Strong executive sponsorship. We all know that there is no favorable wind for people who do not know where they are heading. Beware, though, that AGILE is not an end but a means, a “way of working”. Leaders must have a clear vision of the broader purpose. That vision should be driven by a single compelling message that conveys in practical terms the benefits of transitioning from traditional waterfalls approaches to AGILE, as well as the pitfalls of status quo. Not only should impacted groups get acquainted with the technicalities of projected changes, but they must be informed of “what’s in there for them” (WIIM).

As they build Awareness, leaders have to walk the talk, endorsing and demonstrating the values of an AGILE approach. This typically means refraining from too much interfering with the implementation plan and “getting comfortable” with trial-and-error methods, which take into account the client’s needs and feedback.

Sustained communication. Changing the corporate culture requires sustained communication to secure buy-in and most importantly, support a desire among people to work in such an environment. Identifying quick-win opportunities and focusing on a few projects likely to generate results may help promote an AGILE approach. The motto “don’t just tell them, show them” is helpful to drive commitment and scale up the process of adoption.

Training. Implementing an AGILE approach requires training resources to empower people and infuse them with a spirit of experimentation and a taste for participatory and multidisciplinary methods. It all comes down to ensuring that autonomous teams can seamlessly work in a cross-functional way and do not equate failure with punishment. Coaching is equally important and may be directed primarily to teams responsible for quick-win projects.

Involving AGILE Experts. Providing knowledge and making sure people have the ability to implement the change are cornerstones. Impacted groups can benefit from the assistance of experts through information sessions, including best practices, and on-site advice.

Return on experience.

When asked to elaborate on what to do differently should they implement an AGILE approach again, the majority of respondents to the PROSCI survey[3] singled out elements closely related to Change Management.

Designing and implementing an iterative change management plan is crucial to create more buy-in and to facilitate the adoption and usage of an AGILE methodology. This is only logical given that the lack of buy-in and the emergence of resistance, derived from not seeing the value of the AGILE principles, are also cited as the main obstacles to AGILE. These issues can be easily addressed through proactive resistance management and effective communication.

The second element identified by respondents to the PROSCI survey is the necessity to focus on convincing top executives of the importance of transitioning to an AGILE approach and getting them on board as they are usually less involved in the process.

Respondents finally pinpointed more coaching on AGILE as a success differentiator.

On balance, CM is, in itself, a key success factor to AGILE.


[2] McKinsey (2017), ING’s Agile Transformation  in McKinsey Quarterly [online]

[3] Creasy T. & PROSCI (2017), Effectively managing the move to Agile [online]

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