The #1 success factor in driving agile changes

The #1 success factor in driving agile changes

There are many facets of driving agile changes.  Agile changes are featured by such as developing minimum viable product and not investing too much initially, developing a series of iterations to gradually improve the product, engaging stakeholders early and frequently to ensure the outcomes meet business needs, developing working product/solutions from which feedback may be sought to feed iterative improvements prior to final release.

With so many facets of implementing agile changes, what is the most important part of driving agile changes?  What is the core concept that must be done right without which the change would not be considered ‘agile’?

One of the most critical parts of agile change is the concept of developing a hypothesis that can be tested.  The outcome must be clear in terms of whether the solution developed meets the business needs or not.

Why hypothesis?

In waterfall methods of delivering projects, the focus is on spending significant focus understanding and detailing features and ‘requirements’ from the business.  From these, the solution is then designed and developed.

The problem with this approach is:

  • Significant resources and investment may be required to sufficiently develop the solution depending on the complexity involved
  • It may also take a long period of time to involve various stakeholders and investigate solution design options before a final product can be developed.  A series of design decisions also need to be made, each step taking time to undergo
  • The business may not know what they want and they would need to provide ‘requirement’s that may or may not meet their needs.  For example, prior to the launch of iphones, touch screen phones were not popular and were not seen as the design of future phones
  • The risk can be significant if the solution developed does not meet business needs.  Millions of dollars of project investment could have been wasted if this is the case.   

On the other hand, what is the advantage of a hypothesis based approach?

  • Does not spend a lot of time creating a sophisticated solution or product.  Instead, a simplified version is developed which captures the core of business need.  This is then tested, and then the results can then feed into further improvements required.  In this way, the process allows organisations to fail early and cheaply in order to eventually come up with the winning solution
  • Instead of focusing on detailed planning which is based on a series of assumptions which may not have been tested to be valid, the focus is on deriving a solution that CAN be tested and validated or invalidated.  This is especially important when the solution is new and has not been implemented previously in the organisation
  • The hypothesis approach is a scientific approach where the focus is on proven results based on data.  In the same way a laboratory technician would conduct a series of experiments to test the properties of a chemical solution to further understand it, in the same way the project team would conduct a series of ‘experiments’ (or iterations) to gradually test and from testing results, improve the solution
  • Tests are always based on ‘real’ data and real scenarios therefore there is a much greater chance that the final solution will meet business needs

The importance of a hypothesis-approach for organisational agility

The survival and growth of a company are dependent on its ability to go into different products, different territories or different customer groups to expand its offering.  In order to do this, the company needs to ultimately launch various products or services that do not exist currently or that have not been launched in certain new areas/segments. 

Therefore, the ability of the organisation to continuously develop, launch and learn from new products and services is critical for its success.  Each product launch is a new hypothesis that is to be tested.  And with each testing, a set of learning is achieved which will improve its next product launch.  In this way, this is how companies become agile and develop the ability to flex and change based on its ability to generate hypotheses.

For digital businesses developing hypothesis is a core way of operating.  A hypothesis can be as small as testing the wording of the website using A/B Testing to see which wording is more engaging for website visitors.  A/B Testing is where a certain number of visitor traffic is channeled into one version of the website versus another version.  And the results of visitor interactions can be used to validate which version is more engaging.

Change management hypothesis testing

To truly adopt a hypothesis-based approach to change management one needs to adopt change hypothesis testing.  What is change hypothesis testing I hear you ask?  It is basically developing a series of small change experiments to test assumptions.  Change experiments are important because they help to inform what change tactics or approaches work or do not work.

Some examples of change experiments include:

  • Wording of campaign phrases or positioning
  • Email click-through rate based on details such as who email is from, time of delivery, etc.
  • Effectiveness of training exercises
  • Employee awareness after town hall messages
  • Website effectiveness
  • Impact assessment approach effectiveness
  • Campaign medium effectiveness such as freebies, posters, etc.

However, it is critical to ensure that hypothesis to be tested is not time nor resource intensive.  The experiment must also be tested using feedback data.  The hypothesis cannot be proven or disproved unless it is backed by hard data and not just opinions.

The secret in understanding the core of change management

The secret in understanding the core of change management

Change management is a broad and diverse discipline with many facets.  Just like other disciplines like Finance, Marketing, Human Resources or Management, there are many sub-components.  In Finance there are sub-disciplines such as accounting, tax, budgeting, and investment.  Likewise, in Human Resources there are sub-disciplines such as employee relations, remuneration, organisational development, business partnering and learning and development.

In change management there are also various sub-disciplines such as change leadership, learning and development, change impact assessment, organisational design, communications and change portfolio management.  There are also multiple functions that all claim to have change management skills, for example Human Resources, Project Management, Strategy and Operations Management.  To read more about this topic access our infographic ‘Why lots of functions think they are all experts in managing change’.


Change impact

With so many components to grasp where does one start?  And which component is more important?  It’s easy to say that all components may be important depending on the nature and context of the change.  However, to manage change, one needs to understand what is changing.  To understand what is changing, one needs to be crystal clear on what is the change impact on various groups of stakeholders, internal or external to the organisation.  It is only after a deep understanding of the impact that it is possible to plan how the change can be managed.

Too often, generic change approaches are used such as training and communications without a detailed understanding the nature of the change to the impacted stakeholder.  The result is that the change interventions miss the mark, resulting in resistance and lack of support.

How do we understand change ‘impact’?  There are many ways to do this.



1. Perception of the change

How does the impacted stakeholder group perceive the impact of the change on him/her?  If we are implementing a new system and most of the users are very comfortable and happy with the existing system, then the perception of the new system may be one of scepticism and negativity.  This could especially the case if the ‘why’ is not established for needing to transition to a new system.

The perception of the change is about the mindsets, attitudes and expectations of people.  These are not easily quantifiable and will require deep understanding of that particular stakeholder group and the history of how they have transitioned through different changes.

The perception of the change can also be positive or negative.  Positive perceptions of change could be the result of a perception or expectation of benefit, for example the system may be easier to use, saves time or accomplishes significant tasks that are not possible with the existing system.  Negative perception could result if the benefit case is not clear, or worse, perceived to be adding more time, more complex and providing less value.

Typical ways to understand the perception of stakeholders may involve surveys, interviews and focus groups.



2. Severity of impact

Another way to assess and understand the impact of change is the severity of level of the change impact.  Is the impact such that significant investment and resources are required to undergo the change?  Such as a major restructuring exercise.  Or is the impact small as it only involves a minor process tweak and only requires emails to notify those impacted?

The severity of the impact may be measured and quantified using a Likert scale.  For example, 1 could be deemed as small impact, 3 being medium in impact, and 5 being very high in impact.

Note that if you are using a scale to rate change impact it is advisable to use a 5-point scale versus a 10-point or 3-point scale.  10-point scale is quite complex for the average person to understand and select from.  For example, how would one select between 6/10 versus 7/10 and there may not be that much material difference between the two levels of impact across change initiatives.

Likewise, a 3-point scale is too few of a scale to be of any value.  Most organisations have multiple changes going on, and all impacts of changes are forcibly categorised into one of 3 categories.  The result is that the analysis becomes too general and not sufficiently detailed to differentiate the levels of impact in any meaningful way.



3. Capacity of impact

Another way to understand the impact of change is to assess to what extent the capacity of the stakeholder is affected in order to digest and transition through the change.  For example, what effort and activities are involved for managers of a business unit to be sufficiently briefed about the new system so that they can then lead their teams through the process?  What are the learning requirements and what support is required?

If a change is more complex and requires significant effort and involvement to go through the change process, then what are these activities and how do they impact the stakeholder group?

Typical change and transition activities that could impact the capacity of the stakeholder group include:

  • Town halls or briefing sessions
  • Workshops and focus groups
  • Involvement of subject-matter-experts
  • Watching videos or reading emails about the initiative
  • Team meetings to discuss the change
  • Learning and development sessions
  • Practice and gradual familiarity required
  • Providing feedback about the change
  • Attending any celebration or other events related to the initiative


Another way to view capacity of the impacted stakeholder is to examine what else is going on during the time of the implementation of the change.  Are there are other changes or key work tasks that are notable?  For example, is the change happening during peak customer period or major annual peak work cycle such as end of financial year or audit?  If so, the capacity of the stakeholder could be greater reduced.

In fact, for most large organisations there is usually at least a few change initiatives occurring at most times.  The trick is then to work around the anticipated capacity and bandwidth challenges ahead of the game, and plan around them.  To learn how to do this, read our suite of articles on change portfolio management to learn how to manage multiple changes.



4. Time Impact

Stakeholder capacity can also be measured and quantified using time.  In fact, all aspects of change impact will have an element of time impact.  This includes all facets of mindset changes, learning the new system, digesting and understanding emails and information packs, attending the various sessions and meetings, and practicing how to operate the new system.

In this way, by quantifying the various change impacts of a particular initiative on various stakeholder groups, it is possible to estimate the time ranges of impact.  This becomes very valuable particularly for those teams that are highly time-sensitive.  These could be call centre teams.  They can also be Finance teams during month-end or year-end period where they are busy consolidating finances.  Customer complaints and resolutions teams may also be busy during end of year periods where there could be high customer volumes.


How do we put these into use?

Change impact assessment is the process of assessing and evaluating the nature of change impacts on various stakeholder groups.  By leveraging the above ways in which to assess the impact of change, change impact assessment can result in a detailed set of information from which we can then set the change approach.  It is only after we understand the ‘what’ of the change that we can then design ‘how’ we are going to transition stakeholder through the change.

The completed change impact assessment should also be socialised and verified with those impacted.  Without this verification process, it could be that those who are impacted do not agree what the change impacts captured.  Or that, there could be other impacts that are missed in the assessment.

At The Change Compass we provide a cloud-based tool in which organisations can input and visualise change impact information.  By visualising the data, we can assess any risks and opportunities in terms of:


  • Groups that may need additional support due to the complexity, volume or complexity of the change
  • Comparing different stakeholder groups to assess which ones are the most critical to the success the initiative and to what extent their capacity is impacted, in terms of time
  • Plot the change saturation points for different parts of the business and assess to what extent changes exceed these points. From this assessment, determine any risk mitigation strategies, such as re-prioritisation, providing additional resources, or change implementation timeline
  • Assess to what extent impacts (across initiatives) on different parts of the business are aligned to the strategic goals. Are the largest impacts on parts of the business as expected according to the strategy?  Is the organisation’s implementation impacts more on operational efficiency versus growth?  And does this match the strategic intent?

4 change leadership lessons from these 2 prime ministers

4 change leadership lessons from these 2 prime ministers

Australia and New Zealand are like 2 brothers. One big brother, Australia,
and the smaller brother New Zealand. We are culturally similar and speak
with almost the same accent (almost but not quite the same). Both
countries have experienced recent tragedies and challenges. However,
there are 2 very different prime ministers. Let’s explore what we can learn from
these two leaders within significant change events.

New Zealand

On 15 March in Christchurch New Zealand, there was a mass shooting at 2
mosques resulting in 51 killed and 49 injured. This has cut through the
psyche of New Zealand quite deeply as it was the first time the country had
experienced mass shooting at this scale. Being a small country with a
relatively liberal and tolerant culture this came a shock for most.

Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, reacted swiftly. Within
a few hours of the event she addressed the terrorist directly
demonstrating strength and determination. She quickly flew into
Christchurch to visit survivors and their relatives. Dressed in black head
scarf, she visited mosques and asked how she could support the mosques
and the victims. Within a few days of the event she also called out
blatantly the responsibility of social media platforms in hosting hate
messages which was the case for this incident as the attacker posted
Facebook messages prior to the attack.

She then made sweeping changes to gun laws in New Zealand banning all
assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics. This happened within a
few days of the event and though some may argue that this is much easier
to achieve in New Zealand than the US but the point is that she acted
swiftly and had even convinced the conservative opposition party to enact
on this law.

4 key lessons we can learn from her example as a change leader include:

1. Displaying agile leadership. She proactively faced into a catastrophic
situation and worked with others to address the situation head-on.
She made fast and clear decisions to resolve and contain the

2. Authenticity. She spent time with those affected by the tragedy and
showed empathy and care. This wasn’t about the photo
opportunity as it was more about spending time to listen and show
care for those impacted by change. She didn’t try to be someone
she is not. Instead of the antagonistic and hostile speeches that one
might expect from leaders like Trump, her words were empathic,
strong and unwavering.

3. Displaying emotional connection . She also placed herself in the
shoes of those affected by the tragedy with her cultural sensitivity
and emotional connection to those impacted. The grieving was not
only felt by those involved in the tragedy, the whole nation was
grieving. Her visibility was critical to speak for the nation but also to
acknowledge everyone’s emotional state and concerns. The critical
word here is ‘visibility’. Felt emotional connection wont garner
groups of people if they are not displayed.

4. Collaborating with others to drive change. A series of changes
ensued not just gun law changes, but also driving security, and
social media regulation changes. In an interview she used the words
“duty of care as a leader” to safeguard her people and address their
concerns. She is not just speaking for herself, but also for other
leaders, including business leaders, to step up and take action. She
also influenced various world leaders on the same agenda to rally


Right now in Australia, at the time of writing, we are still in the middle of a
catastrophic set of fires raging across most states of Australia. More than
1300 homes have been burnt down and 18 people have died so far. In
Sydney, we have had more than 2 months of smoke haze in our air
resulting from bushfires, and sometimes the air quality can be 11 times
more than ‘hazardous’ level. This is absolutely the worst I have ever
experienced in Australia. This morning, I received the message that at the
southern highlands where I spend Christmas, the area is surrounded by
bushfires and residents have all been evacuated.



Let’s have a look at how our Prime Minister has lead the country during
this period of environmental change. Unlike the leadership we’ve seen
from Jacinda Ardern, Scott Morrison our Prime Minister flew out with his
family to Hawaii to spend holidays by the water. Whilst the country is
burning and people are suffering, even under intense criticism, our prime
minister was absent and away. When prompted to address serious
climate change issues, he responded by saying that it was not the time to
talk about climate change.

Eventually after continued public pressures, after Scott Morrison came
back from holidays he proceeded to visit some of the towns completely
destroyed by bushfires. Many of the victims refused to shake his hand. In
the business world we have also seen this type of reaction from those
who felt they have been deserted and have not received any leadership
support. There have even been incidents where the victims have asked
Scott questions and he had ignored them and moved away, then later on
quoting how he had promised help for them.

Whilst fires continue to burn through our states, the Prime Minister’s
party released a party propaganda social media tweet proclaiming the
party’s prowess in helping Australians through supporting firefighters,
listing the financial assistance offered as a part of the package. An
Australian TV panellist said this was like “being ‘sold to’ at a funeral”. It
was completely inappropriate and badly timed.

In terms of the same change leadership lessons we had captured from
Jacinda Ardern, what can we also learn from Scott Morrison’s change
leadership example?

1. Displaying agile leadership. Lack of action and decision at the
commencement of the change is almost unforgivable. It is very hard
to salvage from the lack of leadership support when at this pivotal
moment when there is no leadership action or response.

2. Authenticity. Unfortunately, authenticity by definition cannot be
faked nor acted. People see through the actions and inactions of a
leader. There is no amount of corporate communications packaging
nor word-smithing that can change how others experience through
change leadership, or the lack of. Being open and transparent
remains the best approach for any change leader.

3. Displaying emotional connection. It is difficult to fake emotional
reaction. Through overall body language as well as tonal cues
people can easily pick up on a leader’s ability to connect
emotionally. When people are in distress and in suffering, the best
approach is to simply listen and show that you have heard them.
Ideally, you are also able to address at least some of their core
concerns. But the critical must-have remains how a leaders
displayed active listening and showing that he or she cares.

4. Collaborating with others to drive change. What Australia needs is
global leadership to drive climate change and to work with various
agencies and leaders, the same way that Jacinda Ardern has been
doing with New Zealand‘s agenda. Several countries have proactive
offered support in fighting bushfires even without Scott Morrison
reaching out to tap on others.

Change is all around us, not just in the organizations that we work in.

In the same way, change leaders are also all around us.

Leading change is an absolutely critical skill to master and will well into the future.