Debbi Scheun

Agile and Change Management. Allies or Adversaries?

The relationship between Agile and Change Management can quite easily be compared to the dynamics of a relationship between two people. Any relationship can be improved by understanding the similarities, the differences, the conflicts, and how to bridge the needs between the two.

When implementing Change Management on projects that are using the Agile methodology, you need to set up the right mindset, approach, and ways of working for Change Management and Agile to be healthy allies.

A Gallup study links failure rates of IT projects to project management overlooking the emotional aspects of change. With a combination of the Agile approach to project management and people-focused Change Management, your likelihood of producing better project and business results is greatly increased.

Agile is designed to stay close to customers and focuses on interactions. Change Management is designed to continuously engage with impacted stakeholders, but also focuses on driving the desired behaviours and emotional well-being of people going through the change.

Agile is designed to adapt quickly to changing conditions, and Change Management drives awareness, acceptance and readiness so that people can adapt to those changing conditions.

The reality, however, is that Change Management and Agile aren't always aligned and this can create an adversarial relationship between the two, resulting in challenges for an organisation.

Agile and Change Management - Allies or Adversaries Infographics

Challenge #1

When a project team decides to adopt the Agile approach to software development, often the impacted organisational stakeholders, who aren't part of the development team, have a limited understanding of the Agile way of working. They don't have an Agile mindset. If they aren't educated on what it means to be an Agile organisation, they are likely to stick to traditional ways of thinking without adopting an Agile mindset. Leaders in the business need to buy-in to the Agile way of working and need to be promoters and supporters of organisational agility.

Challenge #2

Traditional Change Management has a larger focus on planning, process and documentation, whereas organisations that have adopted the Agile approach, need all supporting disciplines to use an Agile approach to delivery. This means that when it comes to Change Management, leaders and Change Management practitioners also need to apply an agile approach to change delivery.

Challenge #3

Traditionally, Change Management plans are designed around the waterfall project plan. In an Agile context, Change Management plans should focus on customer-centred Change Management activities. By customer, we mean internal and external customers. You need to increase the degree of engagement, making sure people are taken on the journey of change with you. The creation of traditional Change Management activities often requires a lot of work upfront with tools and templates like stakeholder lists and change impact assessments being completed in one go. This differs in the world of Agile as Change Management activities are iterative and updated continuously throughout the duration of the change.

Challenge #4

Change Management efforts traditionally use a methodology and a blueprint with processes, tools and templates that should be followed in a structured way. In an Agile world, you don't have the luxury of using everything at your disposal, because of the urgency and tight timelines to ensure people are ready for the change. The focus needs to shift to the Minimum Viable Change, or MVC, which are the smallest possible change activities that maximise buy-in, learning and readiness for change.

This means starting with a high-level structure but adding the detail as you go while identifying key MVC activities that will give you the results that you need in the shortest turn-around time. For example, creating release note for training materials that have already been created as systems are being updated, explaining what changes have been made.

It sounds simple but putting it into practice means Change Management needs to change. Take the time to ask yourself if you are putting steps in place to address these 4 challenges. Make the move from adversarial and traditional approaches to Change Management that aren't aligned to the Agile way of working to approaches that are. This shift will help you; your project teams and your organisation achieve better project and business results.

If you'd like to learn more about this, please visit our website to view the ChangeTalk videos.