How to Apply Agile Principles to Change Management

By: Lisa Insley, Partner

 

We commonly see the word “agile” added on to existing concepts to signal a modernized way of working. However, clarifying the intent of doing so is important. The word agile could be used as a verb to mean, “able to move quickly and easily”. It can also be used as stand-alone noun defined as: 

Relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.  

Source: Oxford Dictionary 

In this article, we will try to help distinguish what it could mean to intentionally use “agile” as a noun to describe change management, as in "Agile Change Management", and the implications of doing so. Given the prolific use of the word “agile” without clarity on the meaning, it’s important to build a common understanding of what is really meant. Let’s first consider the origin of the agile philosophy.  

It originates from the The Agile Manifesto, which was created for software development, by software developers. The manifesto primarily outlines values and principles held by the creators. The values in the manifesto literally are “based on trust and respect for each other and promot[e] organizational models based on people, collaboration, and building the types of organizational communities in which we would want to work”. In this sense, agile philosophy is incredibly people centric!  

Now, let’s consider this philosophy when applying it to a change management initiative. We can combine the principles of agile software development with change management best practices and get great, people-centered outcomes. Agile Change Management can help us to facilitate immediate change and organizational transformation in a complex business environment.  It facilitates a change in the culture of the organization (people side) and engages the workforce in transforming the way business is executed. 

At Concinnity, we have the privilege to work with many clients on their Change Management initiatives and recommend applying agile principles to improve the employee experience throughout the work. Below are the ways you can adopt agile values as part of your change management initiatives. We have a recommendation for each of the 12 agile principles, aligned with the originals created as part of the Agile Manifesto, which can be found here

 

Communicate Early

Early and continuous delivery of information and communication is important in getting ahead of rumors and inaccurate information that can cause distrust, uneasiness, and concern amongst your organization. Early honesty and transparency will be valued by stakeholders and will go a long way in supporting your efforts in the long run.  

Adapt often 

Harness change throughout your entire process. It is impossible to know everything upfront, especially when navigating through change. Be open and flexible to amend your plans based on new information you gather along the way.  

Be consistent and concise

Deliver information (new and repeating key points) frequently with a bias towards a shorter and predicable timescale. Long messaging and inconsistency in receiving information can lead to distrust and uneasiness which is what you want to avoid in times of change.  

Collaborate

It takes cross-functional partnership to best manage through change. Leaders of affected areas of the organization should be involved in developing the case for change, ensuring the right stakeholders are included in mapping exercises, providing inputs on messaging, and helping to mitigate risk. Managing change is not solely the responsibility of a project leader, a project manager, or a communications leader. You may have someone running point on the change initiative but there are a number of people who need to be accountable to that person.  

Plan for People

Make sure your change initiative has the necessary resources realistically required to get the job done. This includes, but is not limited to, people (with reasonable bandwidth!) and funding. Allocate these resources and then give them the autonomy to get the work done. 

Get face time

When a message to be delivered is sensitive, has major implications, or has potential to severely disrupt work and people, realize that face-to-face communication (or in remote environments, video calls) with the right groupings of people is the most effective. Be empathetic in how you are delivering information! 

Test messaging

Validate that your key messages can be understood by your stakeholders in terms of how they align with the change occurring and the value of that change. This validation is an important leading indicator for your progress metrics. Get feedback throughout as to how your messaging is resonating with your audience in terms of the ‘why’ behind the change. 

Ensure viability

The best change management approach entails a rhythm and cadence that is sustainable for all involved (sponsors, the team members working on the change management initiative, and the organization impacted by the change). The plan should be feasible to manage at a constant pace. A good indicator this is happening is when you can feel messaging gaining momentum as it moves through the organization. As related food for thought, given change is always occurring in any organization, why not create an "always on" change management practice to prevent constant starting and stopping of these activities?  

Revisit plans often

Continuous attention to details and design throughout a change initiative is critical. Otherwise, it will be difficult to adapt quickly at later stages in the work. In order to realize change that sticks, continually focus on identifying and defining the change that is occurring. Evaluate how various audiences are affected and create messaging that is relevant for that audience. Thoughtful attention to change will help you minimize starting and stopping the work and keep your organization more responsive and adaptable over time. 

Keep things simple!

Be just as thoughtful about what you do not include in your change plan as what is included. If the case for change, stakeholder mapping, messaging or metrics are too complicated, it is going to be complicated for your organization as well.  

Empower teams

Change can be messy, often difficult to navigate, and never the same as the last change you went through. Try to avoid imposing traditional processes or bureaucracy on the change management team. The best work will come from the team who is empowered to self-organize and chart the right path forward for the moment.  

Evaluate continuously

Regularly reflect on what should continue, what should stop, and what new work or behavior should be incorporated. In Scrum, this would be known as a “retrospective” and is part of regularly inspecting and adapting to allow for a team to improve work as it is ongoing versus waiting until the end to consider what could have been done better.  

 

Keep in mind that these ways of adopting agile values will stick best in organizations who embrace operating in these ways. When using “agile” in reference to the philosophy, you need to consider if your organization's culture values the concepts that “agile” brings to a team’s way of working. If you believe the above recommendations would be a challenge to successfully integrate in your organization, it could be a signal that you need to transform to be culturally, philosophically, and operationally ready to work in these ways.  

We enjoy helping leaders and organizations learn how best to navigate change. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you on your change journey, email us at hello@concinnityus.com or book a free 15-minute consultation with us here