A Complete Guide to Agile Change Management

Business dynamics are changing rapidly. Traditional change management techniques are no longer meeting the demands of the 21st century. Today, organizations need to tailor their change management strategy to include agile processes.

Traditional change management follows a rigid plan with lengthy timelines and limited rollouts. In contrast, Agile change management offers a faster way to adapt to changes in the business environment and customer requirements by offering solutions to the challenges posed by traditional methods.

In this article, we’ll discuss what agile change management is, implement it in your organization, and overcome its challenges.

What is Agile Change Management?

When organizations adopt agile processes to change management strategy the result is agile change management. Agile change management delivers frequent tangible change through an iterative and incremental framework within the business environment.

Through an agile approach, change managers can create a strategy that is flexible, adaptive, and delivers faster results.

Implementing an Agile Approach to Change Management

Although well-known companies such as Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and IBM have adopted agile to some of their projects, many managers today may still be hesitant to make organization-wide changes. Agile change management pushes them out of their comfort zones by exploring new, unfamiliar ways to work. Some remain unconvinced that agile change management is any better than the current processes.

Change has never been easy. Gartner research finds that the typical organization goes through at least five major changes every three years, with half of the change initiatives leading to failure. Change managers must adopt a different strategy for managing change to meet the evolving needs of stakeholders and to achieve positive outcomes.

To implement agile change management in an organization, change managers must take on efforts that include:

  • Educating the team on agile
  • Redefining change
  • Encouraging the formation of self-organizing teams
  • Establishing an iterative and incremental approach to change management
  • Conducting regular check-ins

Educate Your Team on Agile

It’s crucial to focus on the steps taken before implementing an agile approach to change management. In agile methodology, there is an increased focus on cross-functional collaboration and teamwork, so everyone needs to be on the same page.

As a start, educate your team on agile values and principles stated in the Agile Manifesto and conduct team-building exercises to test how well your team performs together. You can also hire an agile coach to accelerate the learning process and better understand the agile mindset to embrace change in the process.

Redefine Change in the Organization

Companies should be eager to create a change statement and develop a sense of urgency and commitment. Senior managers should show confidence in delivering the changes by following the steps mentioned in the change statement rather than by weighing-in on the opinions of stakeholders that may delay the process.

Encourage the Formation of Self-Organizing Teams

Self-organizing teams are a key element of Scrum/Agile methodology. Teams form an autonomous work culture and seize opportunities as soon as they come across them. This is much more effective than identifying an issue, reporting it to top managers, and then acting on it eventually.

Since employees are empowered to make their own decisions and adjust their tactics according to the situation, managing teams like this leads to higher productivity, increased workplace satisfaction, and quicker deliverables.

Establish an Iterative and Incremental Approach

Agile thrives on continuous improvement. In agile environments, companies establish an iterative and incremental model to keep the process flowing. This can be done in several ways as companies make good use of agile tools and processes.

Change management can be broken down into sprints (short iterations lasting from one week to one month) to roll out tangible changes and test them over time. Improvements are made incrementally, over the course of several sprints, which creates organization-wide change over time.

Conduct Regular Check-ins and Quarterly Reports

Since agile change management requires teams to move faster, their results should also be evaluated more rapidly. Change managers would have to shift from conducting annual performance reviews and arrange regular check-ins and quarterly reporting.

Short-term reporting will allow the inflow of constant feedback that the team can build on. It will enable change managers to prioritize better what needs to be done and keep the team on track to achieve change objectives.

Differences Between Agile and Traditional Change Management

Traditional change management follows a linear and sequential path, with a top-down hierarchical approach. Given the fast-paced world of today, this style of change management is starting to become obsolete. Traditional methods of managing change don’t involve employees at the bottom of the hierarchy. With these methods, managers  try to keep strict control over the whole process.

This causes issues as employees who are hands-on with production may be better equipped to manage changes in the process. In contrast, agile change management aims to enable employees, along with senior managers, to embrace change and adjust as they go.

The differences between both agile and traditional change management can be summarized in the table below:

Agile Change ManagementTraditional Change Management
Adaptive: keeping the plan flexible for future changesFollows a fixed plan with sequential steps
Typically implemented for IT and software-related projectsTypically implemented for high-risk projects or within a single department
Short-term accountability with check-ins and quarterly reportingLong-term accountability with annual performance reviews
Iterative and incremental approachLinear, waterfall approach
Changes are made immediately following quick feedbackChanges go through an extensive approval process

Benefits of Agile Change Management

Encourages a Test-and-Learn Approach

Traditional methods of change management often involve the people sitting on top of the hierarchy forcefully “pushing” change onto the employees. This can leave employees overwhelmed and also contribute to poor workplace satisfaction.

By embracing agile techniques, the employees situated at the bottom of the hierarchy get to be more hands-on with the process. They’re provided training and given quick feedback through regular check-ins, enabling them to correct issues as soon as they arise.

Team members learn how to embrace change rather than dread it. Agile values encourage people to adjust quickly to change, so all stakeholders may not be able to give their opinions before making a decision, but it improves the response of the team and helps them learn more about the process, leading to positive behavioral outcomes.

Higher Responsiveness to Change

According to a 2015 study, the most sought-after quality for CEOs is the ability to manage change effectively. The same report showed that 31% of CEOs get fired for poor change management. These are alarming statistics given the dynamic landscape of today’s business world.

Traditionally, change management requires decision-making to go through an extensive review and approval process. This makes it difficult to implement changes quickly and lowers the productivity of workers.

Through agile practices, companies can reduce time to delivery, improving productivity. Production is constantly reviewed which helps the team detect and correct errors as soon as they arise.

Improves Team Motivation

Energy Report partnered with Harvard Business Review to survey 12,000 white-collar employees and found that employees who felt fulfilled and derived meaning from their work were three times more likely to stay with that organization. Millennials, who make up 50% of the U.S. workforce, usually leave a company in less than three years as they may demand more meaningful work and a positive work culture.

Agile change management creates a collaborative environment which encourages cross-functional communication, quicker feedback, and fosters more opportunities for innovation. This gives workers a sense of purpose and promotes a positive work culture where employees feel a part of something meaningful.

Challenges of Change Management in the Business Environment

Resistance to Agile Practices

According to Prosci’s research, resistance to agile practices was one of the biggest obstacles companies faced when adopting agile change management. Employees should undergo sufficient training, and have experienced leadership to guide the team through change, while setting clear expectations.

“Define and set expectations up-front. Define as a group what Agile is and isn’t because I believe people have different definitions. Pick an Agile flavor that works best and stick with it.”

– Tim Creasy, Chief Innovation Officer at Prosci

Increased Risk

Agile empowers workers in the lower-level hierarchy through self-organizing teams. This promotes an autonomous work culture and improves collaboration between team members.

Not having a core leader can lead to disruptions because projects may fail to achieve change objectives. Due to an increased burden of incremental change, it may be harder for newer workers to catch up and stay up-to-date on where a specific process stands.

To meet this challenge, organizations should give authority to people that are most willing to lead and are 100% committed to the change process. Agile change management requires strong leaders who are trusted and respected within the organization.

Need For a Faster Pace

In an agile environment, team members are expected to “fail fast” in order to gather feedback and enable continuous improvement. Most people accustomed to traditional project management may be unable to adapt to this faster-paced environment and often fall back to their old ways.

Teams should be encouraged to work together to streamline the change process. Sufficient training in agile project management tools and processes, an experienced leader to guide the change, and a collaborative environment is essential to effectively align agile with organizational change management.

Conclusion

Traditional change management is becoming obsolete. Its outdated techniques are unable to handle the pressures of today’s complex and uncertain world.

Change managers can take inspiration from agile project management to improve process efficiency and implement successful change management.

Agile change management allows teams to receive constant feedback on changes, make immediate corrections, and to review the changes before moving on in the process. Its iterative nature leads to better results and a much more productive workplace.

Despite its benefits, many organizations face a plethora of challenges when tailoring their change management strategy to agile values. Each organization is different, so it’s important to involve the team, along with key stakeholders, to discuss this new change and introduce them to the basics of agile.