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December 14, 2020

Agile Change Management During Agile Transformation

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Written by

Cara Peters

Change Management encompasses the processes, tools, and techniques to manage the people side of change and achieve the required business outcome. It incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realization of change. In order to determine when Change Management is necessary, we must ask ourselves if our change effort requires people to do things differently. If the answer to this question is yes, then the value of the change delivery will be tied directly to how the people involved adopt and embrace the change.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development identifies the following values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

If we take a closer look – three of the four main values are directly rooted in the people side of change, which involves requiring people to do things differently.

Agile Transformation is the act of transforming an organization’s culture or nature gradually to one that is able to embrace and thrive in a flexible, collaborative, self-organizing, fast-changing environment. Introducing a new approach to responding to changes – iterative development, adjusting the sails based on changing requirements – is in and of itself, a change. Therefore, to be successful in applying Agile, organizations must effectively manage the introduction of Agile.

Change Management Meets Agile

There are two dimensions of Change Management related to Agile development. Change Management in Agile processes, and Change Management when moving from Waterfall to Agile. When the people side of change to Agile is effectively managed, there are fewer obstacles and greater success in managing the people side of change in Agile initiatives. On the contrary, when the move to Agile is managed poorly, there is a greater level of resistance to Agile overall, and more obstacles will be encountered when attempting to integrate Change Management in Agile projects.

While there is an infinite amount of content to cover when managing change in Agile processes, this post will focus on Change Management when moving from Waterfall to Agile, or in other words, the Agile transformation.

Organizational Motivation for the Agile Transition

Before beginning an Agile transformation, an organization’s people have to be made aware and also become motivated to shift their mindset to Agile. Inspiring employees to buy into the transition requires leadership to identify the ‘WIIFM,’ or, the ‘What’s in it for me?’ The ability to deliver a higher quality product to the client at a much faster speed is an attractive benefit and a motivator for adopting Agile. Additionally, client satisfaction and the reference for needing a development process that supports addressing changing client needs is highly motivating. Usually, clients want to be able to check in throughout the project to verify their requirements are being met before being presented with the final product. Having clients more involved in the development process ensures there are fewer repeats and do-overs in the development timeline, ultimately reducing the amount of work and saving valuable time.

If communicated effectively, the optimization of efficiency and flexibility – a core value of Agile – is a huge motivating factor to transition to Agile based on the inherent optimizing benefits of the Agile development process.

Contributors to Agile Transformation Success

Successful Agile transformation requires significant changes in how an organization works, which requires altering the way people do their work every day. Engaging employees early and often ensures they are fully involved in the transition and not just being told what to do and when to do it.

The biggest and most important factor in a successful Agile transformation is having an active and visible sponsor who is enthusiastic and 100% committed to the transition. If the sponsor does not exhibit credibility and a strong belief in the Agile principles themselves, there will inevitably be a trickle-down effect on the entire organization.

Effective and timely communication is another very important element of Change Management. Communication should be timely, transparent, easily digestible, distributed through the correct channels, and not overbearing as to oversaturate the audience. It is also important for the sender of the message to be credible and trustworthy.

Training on Agile principles is critical to successful skill-building and education, and if possible, formal certification for employees. Having formal training in Agile principles ensures that every person involved in the change is operating under the same approach to Agile. In addition, providing training demonstrates to your employees that you are investing in them and value their growth and personal success – making it more likely they will be inclined to adopt this new approach.

Lastly, bringing in experts in Agile, such as an Agile coach, who is available to help translate and demonstrate complex Agile principles during the transition aids in communicating the approach’s credibility and also adds another layer to sponsorship credibility.

Obstacles to Agile Transformation Success

The greatest obstacles to a successful Agile transformation are rooted in the natural human response to change – resistance. Expecting resistance to change and planning for it from the start of your Agile transformation will allow for more effective objection management. It is unrealistic to not expect any resistance or skepticism when introducing a new way of working.

Varying degrees of resistance to Agile transformation are inevitable, as humans naturally question any change that wasn’t their own idea. The key to a successful Agile transformation is not avoiding resistance altogether, but rather learning to manage it successfully.

Resistance to organizational change can take many forms and is not always easy to recognize. Sometimes it is obvious, such as blatant opposition, and other times, resistance is masked as something else, such as an increase in sick leave or a change in disposition. Learning to spot these indicators will be important. Their identification depends on the degree to which leadership is in tune with employees and engaged in the Agile transformation process. Greater engagement will make it easier to proactively identify potential friction points and then overcome them.

Resistance can and should be addressed in a variety of ways, many of which fall under these four categories:

  • Communicate more frequently
  • Communicate the value of Agile
  • Create opportunities for additional training
  • Increase sponsor effectiveness

Bringing an element of personal connection to your approach and learning to identify how resistance is likely to manifest will help Agile practitioners address resistance before it derails an Agile transformation.

Sustaining Agile

Once the Agile transition has been implemented and the team is successfully operating with Agile principles, sustaining the change will require ongoing support and work through consistent communication, feedback loops, continuous training and education, and strong leadership support. If support and engagement falter here, employees are likely to revert back to old ways and waterfall approaches will creep back into workstreams.

The success of Agile transformation is determined by the organization’s ability to engage its people to successfully transition to Agile. That is what will allow the organization to maximize its investment. Ultimately, success will be achieved if the organization and the people within it are able to make a permanent shift to an Agile culture and mindset while improving business processes and maintaining high employee morale and satisfaction along the way.

For more on this topic, check out the accompanying talk on
Learn more about sustaining your Agile Transformation.

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Cara Peters

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