Blog 17.4.2024

What is change management in an agile change?

In its most idealistic form, agile holds that when motivation comes from the person itself the change will happen without any change management. The idea is when you can develop things that are important to you, you have the motivation to make the change happen. Change management is seen as something you need in case of change resistance, and in this scenario there is no change resistance. When the change starts from you, you are willing to drive the change proactively.

With the word agile change here, we mean a transformation towards more agile organisation. Agile change might also be interpreted as the way change is executed: using agile approach for implementing any kind of a change.

Have you ever been in this kind of situation? You have been thinking that you would like to start jogging and you are motivated to do that. However, for some reason you just have not succeeded in it yet and you never seem to have time for that. Until your friend asks you to start jogging with her. She is very enthusiastic about it and starts to organise jogging dates with you. Suddenly you have found time for jogging! Now it is harder to make excuses because there is other person involved who invest her time for your jogging session.

Key things why you finally started jogging:

  • There was somebody to coordinate and organise the jogging events
  • There were other people involved
  • There was somebody to pull you gently towards your goal and boost the excitement for jogging

The example shows why coordination, facilitation, help to get the change done and boosting the excitement for change are needed in any kind of change, also in an agile change. That I call change management.

No operating model nor process will change – no new technology or application properly taken into use – until people change their mindset and behaviour, and thus, change their organisations.

How can organisations succeed in agile change?

Especially in large organisations, agile transformation does not typically originate from individuals themselves but rather from the organisation’s intent. Enthusiasm for it needs to be promoted to people, which is why someone is needed to pull them towards agile enthusiasm and act as a catalyst for change. That is the reason why change management is needed in agile changes.

Here is the list of the key principles that enable a successful agile change based on the learnings I have got. Basically, it does not make a difference weather the organisation is from public sector or an industrial company. The same principles ultimately apply to both sectors.

  1. Put people in the center – Put the people in the center who will be affected by the change. Not just the leaders, but the ones who will perform the work and use the new mindset every day. At the end people make the change and if they are not willing to change their everyday habits, the change does not happen. This is a basic fact that works in any kind of change.
  2. Allocate time – People need time to adopt the change. Especially in agile, that is mostly a big mindset change which takes more time than just changing your ways of working. Like in our example if you do not take time for jogging, it never happens. This is another basic fact that applies to any kind of change.
  3. Train & coach – People need training and coaching to understand what the change is we are looking for. Understanding what agile really means is a learning journey that takes years, requiring training and coaching along the way. In the case of jogging, if you want to improve your technique and become a marathon runner, you would also benefit from training and coaching, especially in the beginning. If you have never run before it is beneficial to have someone guide you how to take the steps rather than just starting from the scratch, which could lead to using a wrong technique and easily result in injuries.
  4. Build mechanism for boosting change – In a larger organisation you need a bunch of people who will work to make the change happen – that is what I call a mechanism for change. That mechanism will boost the change in the coffee rooms, communicate, be role models, show how thigs are done, coach, etc.
  5. Build change together – Change is more successful when you do it together with the people who will be affected by the change. Someone once said that “if you make it, you don’t hate it”. The way to build ownership around the change is to plan the change by yourself. Especially in agile we would like the change to start from the people themselves. It is even more important to allow people to define what the change means for them and how things would work best for them, as they have firsthand experience of daily life in the organisation. This is empowering people which is part of agile thinking.
  6. Ensure support from management – The most important level of management is the middle management because they have the greatest impact what is done in practice. Middle managers are often left in the shadow, as we focus on increasing the knowledge about the change among senior-level managers and employees. We should remember that if middle managers are not supporting the change, the change does not happen in practice.
  7. Lead, coordinate and communicate effectively – In large organisations we need a group of people to lead, coordinate and communicate about the change. We need people to engage everyone, make workshops happen, document ideas and decisions, lead the way towards change, organise networks to support continuous learning, ensure everyone has heard about the change etc. That does not occur spontaneously. We need to put effort, time, and resources for that work.

change management

Saana Ström

Senior Change Consultant

Saana is an enthusiastic and self-driven continuous improver and people-driven change professional.

With over 10 years as a consultant, Saana is an expert in agile transformations and agile coaching, change management in information system development projects as well as coaching goal oriented teams.

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