Change Management in an Agile framework

08 February 2018
author picture Article written by Valérie Hospied

New project using AGILE? You now operate in an environment promoting iterative methods and quick wins. To keep up with the new pace and deliver on its promise, CM has to mirror the rationale of AGILE. They certainly have many commonalities, such as a strong emphasis on individuals and interactions, responsiveness to new contingencies and overall organizational fluidity. Regardless of the crossovers at a meta-level, CM is impacted in multiple ways when it comes to adjusting its practice in a project using AGILE. Differences, key factors to success, common pitfalls along the journey … using major insights derived from a recent benchmarking study led by our partner PROSCI[1], we help you to get the basics right.

What it changes for Change Management.

Think of it this way: under the AGILE umbrella, projects are sliced into iterative pieces. This is akin to a “just-in-time” delivery method involving quick moves. The AGILE lexicon reflects the imperativeness of flexibility: sprints, top of the pile, course-correcting…. It is therefore obvious that CM should change to match this framework. Practitioners have to be prepared to fine-tune CM activities (see below) and reevaluate success metrics on a regular basis (adoption and usage). Ideal plans set in stone are bound to fail. This has implications in terms of time constraints and workload in the initial phase of the project. As a general rule, it requires increased senior leaders’ engagement and more frequent and precise communications.

Obstacles and shortcuts.

According to PROSCI, main difficulties encountered when implementing CM in fact derive from a lack of buy-in for the AGILE method in the first place[2]. The resistance problem becomes severe when it affects the middle management as resistance usually spreads like wildfire at lower levels. Unfortunately, the technical side of the project often proves to be all-consuming, in turn leading to a relative disinterest for Change Management (and misunderstanding thereof). If the latter is a common obstacle to applying CM in AGILE, other issues include the amount of incremental change and fast pace of the project. Against this backdrop, CM practitioners find themselves lagging behind, struggling to make their rallying message “stick” and implement CM plans within the allocated time window.

In an AGILE framework, more than elsewhere, CM and project teams have to integrate at an early stage so as to put the management of people on a par with its technical counterpart and reduce latency. Smooth and efficient communication between the project and change teams is an essential contributor to success.

It is crucial that senior leaders demonstrate an unwavering commitment by fully embracing the initiative and “showcasing” AGILE methods. Employees’ engagement is equally important and should be handled in a more casual manner, echoing AGILE culture. Involvement can be strengthened through consistent communication and acknowledgement of success.

The completion of every small chunk of work or early wins is a cause for celebration and each celebration an absolute must to keep moving.

In practice: tweaking the big five (CM activities).

With AGILE, CM specialists have no other choice than to adopt a value oriented strategy and be somewhat selective, allocating resources and energy accordingly.

In an AGILE environment, CM activities can deliver optimal results when adjusted in the following ways[3]:

Sponsorship: a robust understanding of AGILE and continued engagement are critical to getting the best results out of every employee. Not only should leaders promote and transmit the tenets of AGILE, they also have to lead by example. Sponsors have to be fully prepared and take the floor more frequently, at every phase of the project. 

Communication: the watchwords are precision and frequency. Communication should be handled carefully since AGILE may lead to overload and dilute the message. Communication on a project using AGILE should always be aligned and synchronized with the AGILE process. Also, since buy-in is a key factor for projects using AGILE, it is crucial to craft a compelling message conveying the reasons why AGILE is implemented in the first place and make sure everyone fully understands the rationale for that vision.       

Training: bite-size pieces delivered on a just-in-time basis are a better fit. The process must be started earlier and be adjustable to suit people and project circumstances.

Coaching: with busy schedules and hard-pressed to deliver (“sprints”), managers may be less willing to take on coaching tasks. Providing proper training in AGILE, communicating one-on-one and addressing project-specific challenges can greatly help to get and keep them onboard.

Resistance Management: having a strong “why” - “why Agile” and “why this project” -, is a critical success factor and the most powerful driver there is (see ‘Communication’ above).

This paper is based on recent insights provided by PROSCI. See in-text references.

[1] PROSCI (2017), Change Management and Agile: The intersection of the people side of change and Agile development processes, [online]

[2] PROSCI (2017), Adapting and adjusting change management in an agile project [online]

[3] PROSCI (2017), Integrating Agile and CM, Webinar.  

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