As a change manager how do I improve my company’s agility

As a change manager how do I improve my company’s agility

It is 2022 and at the beginning of the year, we reflect on the previous year that has been.  A year ago most of us were praying for the end of Covid so that we can move back to ‘normal’.  One year on, here we are again.  Covid disruptions are even more severe and widespread.  Not only are we still amidst continuous business disruptions compared to a year ago, but probably even more severe.  

We see lots of memes around social media of people wanting to forget the past year with the difficulty of life caused by Covid.  And a year ago it was the same.  What we are learning is that change and disruption will not be going away any time soon.  The only thing we can do to support our organisations is to continue to build change agility.  With better change agility, organizations are better able to respond to constant and continuous change.

The big positive for change managers is more than ever, change is now the centre of attention for businesses.  In the past, many would struggle to position management conversations about the importance of managing and leading change.  That is no longer the case.  Even the most backward and change immature businesses are thrust in the midst of constant change.  We no longer need to raise this as a topic of focus.

This means now is the opportune time to utilise the focus on change to gear up the organisation’s readiness and capability to respond to the constant change in the longer term.  More than ever now is the time to pitch to your organisation about the importance of building the right ‘change agility muscles’ so that the organisations can remain competitive and in business.

What are some of the benefits of agile organisations?

We can see quite stark examples of organisations that are agile versus those that are not.  Businesses that jumped on web offerings have benefited versus those that have relied purely on brick-and-mortar channels.  Other businesses have diversified their offering whilst others have reduced their store footprint.

Mckinsey studies have shown that with successful agile transformations, organisations can achieve significant business improvements.  Not just surviving, successful companies have achieved 30% better customer satisfaction, 30% improvement in operational performance, 5-10 times speed in driving change and decision making and ranking higher in innovation compared to peers.  These organisations are also 30% better at engaging employees and 30% more efficient in their operations through fewer handovers, reduced overhead with clear focus areas.

However, as a change manager, how can I move the dial on improving my organisation’s agility for change? As a solitary individual how does one person influence an organisation?  This is especially when you may not have the decision making authority nor the power?  As a change manager you have your project work defined.  How can you do this without boiling the ocean which may not be part of your bread-and-butter role?

These are 5 ways to improve your organisation’s agility as a change manager:

1. Influence your project sponsor and business owner to lead agility.

A part of the change manager’s role is to help influence and to equip stakeholders with the right skills to drive the change.  This starts with your own project.  As a project, assess the skills of your project sponsor and business owner.  Do they have the experience and skills to lead agility practices as a part of overall change leadership?

These may include:

  • Ability to spot changing and emerging trends that may impact the organisation’s business
  • Balance the oversight of immediate daily operational trends and insights, against longer-term and more strategic patterns and trends that may emerge
  • Ability to work across disciplines in influencing change
  • Promotion and advocacy of constant experimentation and testing of new ideas and concepts, supporting experimental failures as they arise
  • Lead behaviours that support organisational learning, whether its learning from within the industry outside the industry, using historical data, or through innovation incubation teams
  • Savviness with shifting technological trends and use cases that could implicate the business

Work with your sponsor and business owner and help to identify key required agility leadership behaviours. Partner with them and coach as necessary to support these behaviours. Collaborate and come up with a skills development plan if necessary.

2. Embed agility practices within the implementation design of your project.

To support business agility the first step from a project perspective is to ask how the project benefits can be protected and sustained even in times of constant disruption and uncertainty.  Asking this question is the first step to take.  Simply asking this may help you re-shape the project’s approach in its implementation and the work involved.

Some of the ways in which you can design agility into your project include:

  • Designing flexible role and team structures where appropriate to ensure that any workload or role changes can be easily flexed and catered for in case of future changes
  • Designing the right skills and competency requirements into business roles as a part of role requirements, including agile leadership, experimentation, work approach flexibility, and reporting/data fluency
  • Building agile business rhythms and routines into business readiness and future end-state designs.  These may include stand-ups, business scanning and review practices, and agile iteration practices
  • Work closely with your business representatives and subject matter experts within your project and leverage them as anchors for agility practices into the business
  • Leverage your pilots as agility experiments in designing agility components into your change implementation.  For example, use the pilot as a test from which to build agility components so as to further change agility in the rest of the project roll out

3. Proactively participate in change centre of excellence, or if this does not exist, built a change network with other change managers and interested business representatives

Leverage the power of other change practitioners in other projects and across the business to collaborate and build a common approach to further change agility in the business.  Work with others to come up with ways to influence the business and build practices that will help the business strive in times of disruption and change.  Don’t underestimate the power of like-minded representatives across the business.  Each representative acts as an influencing node from which powerful tactics and practices can be driven into the business.  

Work across projects to build one view of change impacts.  By building this integrated view of change impacts across multiple projects, you are also helping the business connect the dots and build an integrated way of getting ready for all changes, not just yours.  An integrated view of change can help you:

  • See a holistic picture of what is going to change
  • Prepare the business for what is going to change across the board, and this is made easier by knowing what will be changing
  • Utilise the changes in the roadmap to design a series of agility tests to prepare the business for challenges further down the track in the roadmap

4. Liberalising data and support swift decision making

Historically, in hierarchical companies data is usually restricted to select managers.  With digitisation there is an opportunity to give power to a much larger number of employees to access data and through this be more aware of the changing needs of the company.  Liberalising data to make faster and better decisions is one of the key trends of digitisation.  This is also a key enabler for change agility.  With easier data access for a greater number of employees, decisions can be made by those who are most familiar with the work context, on a timely fashion.  This ease of data access means that someone does not need to wait for rounds of approvals to make decisions.

This also applies to change data.  Rather than restricting the access of change impact data to a select few managers, liberalising this across a larger number of managers and team leaders can help to paint a clearer picture of change and help equip the business’ readiness for change. 

The ease of acess to data does not just mean the raw data itself, but ease also implies the ease of understanding the format of the data.  Pre-configured data visualisation and charts are valuable since the user will not need to go through long training sessions in order to use the data.  By making the data easily understood and make sense, the business can then balance forecasted change against impending change disruptions that may not be forecasted.

5. Change scenario planning

Scenario planning is an exercise where a facilitated team reviews the existing operations and the external business environment to try and forecast differing business scenarios.  Scenarios are then used to build the right tracking signals.  The business may have already built safeguards toward this scenario, or a clear set of next steps in which to deal with the progress toward this scenario.   

Not a lot of projects conduct scenario planning, as scenario planning is typically conducted by strategy and planning functions.  However, undertaking scenario planning can help build in the right rail guards to safeguard against different scenarios before they emerge.  

Work with your project team and business stakeholders to undergo an annual scenario planning exercise in which to prepare the business for various environmental disruptions and challenges.  Scenario planning does not need to be a long, formal, drawn-out process.  It could be as simple as spending a day exploring what the future holds, having done the homework to prepare for what the data could be telling us.  After identifying various scenarios, ensure you name each scenario, with a meaningful analogy if needed so that it’s more meaningful and easier to remember for the team.  

You can also put in practice scenario planning on a smaller scale.  Within certain junctures of the project you can build in mini-scenarios of the various change outcomes that may occur, and build in the right tracking metrics and reporting to see which scenario is emerging.  

You can also use scenario planning to work through multiple changes across the projects and change landscape.  Use similar concepts to work-through options in sequencing and prioritisation and what this means to change implementation timelines and tactics.  For example, are there ways in which implementation may be combined across projects?  Or can releases be broken down into smaller change bites to aid adoption and cater for limited business capacity?

There are many ways in which you as a singular change manager can influence and drive significant agility changes within your organisation.  Here we outline 5 major ways in which you can do this.  Since disruption and ongoing change is not going away, this is the opportune time for change practitioners to grab this window of opportunity and work with the business to develop and design change agile organisations.  Not only will your project have a significant better chance of realising its targeted benefits, so will other projects in the pipeline.

What you didn’t know about change management in agile product delivery

What you didn’t know about change management in agile product delivery

In most agile project delivery methodologies there is a clear absence of the specific roles and deliverables of the change manager.  Almost every other function is clearly outlined.  Look at the work of the project manager, developers, DevOps, quality, business stakeholders, and testing. Not so for change management. This is because the agile change management methodology is not clearly developed.  Some even call out that the role of change management is diminishing within agile methodology.   

So what is the role that change managers play in the agile product delivery process?  What are the actions, approaches, deliverables and considerations required for change professionals in an agile environment? 

We will address these in this article.

What is agile product delivery?

According to Scaled Agile, agile product delivery is a “customer-centric approach to defining, building, and releasing a continuous flow of valuable products and services to customers and users”.

Agile product delivery forms a core part of agile project delivery.  Each project is delivering a particular product and this is concerned about delivering innovative products and services with the right solutions at the right time.  

The mechanics within each product delivery add up to determine the overall project outcome.  Therefore, the design of agile product delivery practices is absolutely crucial in achieving overall project goals.  Let’s now examine some of these practices in detail.

Customer centricity vs project centricity

In agile methodology the end customer is the number one focus.  In various organisations ‘customer’ may be used for various internal stakeholder groups.  Yes, often projects may be delivering solutions that are only benefiting internal employee groups.  However, the end goal for agile is focused on the end external customer.  

This means, whatever solutions or benefits that the project is bringing to the internal stakeholder group, ideally these would support the organisation’s work in benefiting the end customer.  In all aspects of prioritisation and discussions of solution design, the focus must always be on the end customer.

The role of the change manager in customer-centricity is to plan out and execute on the change process according to what supports the end customer.  If the change has a direct impact on the customer this means engaging the customer (as needed through marketing groups).  And if the impact is more on internal stakeholders, thinking still needs to be applied to facilitate the engagement, readiness, and adoption of the change so as to benefit the end customer.

Even when you’re working on internal stakeholders, being customer-centric means:

  • Putting yourself into the customers’ shoes – Using customer insights and data to inform insights
  • Focusing on the whole product vs individual features – Taking a holistic view of what is in the interest of customers, the design of the overall change should take into account how customers interact with the overall service or product
  • Designing change to the customer lifetime value – Most organisations would have a mapping of the value delivered to the customer across different phases across time. 

Develop on cadence in agile change management

Agile teams have ongoing, structured routines that help them develop solutions on a regular basis.  Within each iteration (a standard, fixed timebox where the team delivers incremental value) the team aims to deliver according to plan.  

The Change Manager needs to understand the broader plan and milestones of key outcomes delivered by the project, as well as when each iteration will occur.  From this project plan, a clear change plan detailing the overall approach in engaging stakeholders based on what will be delivered and the frequency and nature of communication should be formed.

Careful attention needs to be placed on setting the expectation with stakeholders on the readiness of developed solutions.  A lot of stakeholders may not be comfortable with how fast solutions may be iterated and that the solution outcome may not be known until, often, closer to the release date.  Addressing the stakeholder expectations of release cadence is critical to ensure that there is no misalignment.

Program Increments (PIs) informed the larger timebox of what will be delivered, whilst each iteration delivers a smaller set of solutions.  From a stakeholder engagement perspective, there needs to be a balance of painting a clear overall story of what will be delivered within the overall PI, balanced by particular details contained within each iteration.

Working in program increments

To add value as a change manager across a program increment it is critical that you examine the overall program as a whole system.  Across the work of each agile team and each iteration, the overall program solution starts to take shape.  Your job is to interpret what this means to stakeholders and decipher this into engagement and readiness activities.

Sequencing and planning

The schedule of agile releases is mainly determined based on agile team resourcing and delivery deadlines.  

Throughout the iterations, how do the release timings impact stakeholders against their existing business-as-usual demands as well as potential releases from other projects?  This is a key contribution of the Change Manager in ensuring that change impact release plans are optimised from the perspective of the receiving business.  How frequently should communication updates be undertaken for various stakeholder groups given the pace of the releases?  Again, the design of this forms a critical part of the overall change plan.

Change delivery also forms a central part of agile team delivery.  Change deliverables are often dependent on other agile team members.  For example, to deliver change impact assessment you need the finalised solution to be defined by the Business Analyst.  In order to deliver the right level of communication briefing to business stakeholders, you need to set the expectation of the timing and minimum information required.

Program Increment planning from Scaled Agile

Overall vision and narrative

Is there a clear overall vision and narrative from which individual release communications can build on top of?  It’s critical to paint a clear picture of what the end state looks like without the nuances of the mechanics of the solution (as these will not be known at the beginning of the program). 

Release on demand

Release on demand is a practice and a process whereby new functionality is deployed as needed based on stakeholder needs.  Depending on the change impact of the feature the change manager needs to be ready to send communications and updates as needed, sometimes within a short notice period. 

Note that not all releases necessarily require communications for users.  And depending on the type of change being released different formats of communication may be leveraged.  For example, system changes may benefit from within-app notifications versus emails or other forms of update.

Communications and engagement may also be bundled as necessary to provide a packet of updates to stakeholder groups versus constant and continuous updates.  The change manager needs to examine the nature of change impacts and stakeholder needs to determine the right tactic to be used.

Release design

Change impact sizing and design is a critical role taken by the change manager.  From change impact assessment, the change manager needs to consider the impact of the overall size of the change impact from a business stakeholder perspective.  Where possible, a packet of change may need to be de-scoped to be broken into smaller pieces of change if this is going to be easier for adoption in consultation with stakeholders.  On the other hand, many changes may also be bundled together into a larger change release, again based on optimal stakeholder adoption considerations.  This form a critical part of lean flow design.

Bugs in agile change management

The change manager has a role to play in setting expectations with stakeholders that with agile system releases that go fast and constant, that there should be an expectation that bugs are probably unavoidable.  Ensure that users are clear in terms of how to highlight bugs and how they will be kept in the loop as each bug is addressed.

On the other hand, bugs may be so disruptive that an effective roll-back approach must be in place in case the change did not land well.  Effective communication content and processes need to be in place to manage this risk. This is a critical part of ongoing agile change management.

BAU integration

With frequent releases, care needs to be given to how the change will be adopted and embedded within the impacted business as a part of business-as-usual.  For smaller changes, this may not be critical but for larger change impacts the change manager needs to weave each change into a coherent, overall change approach that includes post-release adoption strategies.  This includes embedding roles and responsibilities, tracking, and reporting mechanisms.

Automation in agile change management

A part of agile is about delivering fast as frequently as possible.  To support this automation of any part of the development process is encouraged where possible.  For the change manager, various digital tools should be leveraged to support the continuous deployment.  This includes scheduled digital communication, tracking of audience responses, knowledge article views, and digital versions of the single view of change.

Dashboard example from The Change Compass

Measurement in agile change management

Measurement is a critical part of agile change management.  Without the right metrics to indicate how the change is progressing it is difficult to know if the trajectory is heading in the right direction towards the end state.  A clear set of measurements needs to be in place to measure constant, and continuous change releases.

To read more on measuring change visit our Ultimate Guide to Measuring Change.

To read more on agile change management visit The Ultimate Guide to Agile for Change Managers.

Aversion to loss – Knowing how this works can prevent change resistance

Aversion to loss – Knowing how this works can prevent change resistance

Research on aversion to loss can explain why people don’t want to change. I spoke with senior fellow, anthropologist and ex-Inteller Tony Salvador.

It sounds completely illogical but true ….

People would be more concerned about losing something than gaining something. They would rather not lose $2 than to gain $5 for example.

This plays out in various facets of how people make decisions about choices … including in a change context.

This is just one of the many things I spoke with Tony Salvador about.

Lots of golden nuggets of wisdom takeaways for change practitioners from the man who spent 30+ years working for Intel researching about people behaviour and how they operate in social and technological environments.

Stay tuned for the full recording.

User onboarding is a process

User onboarding is a process

Traditionally in change management, there are key ‘events’ that we pin our change strategy on when it comes to getting users to use a new system. These include town halls, leader-led team sessions, and training sessions. We anticipate that after these events that users will come onboard and that all is well. After this we can leave the user and our job is completed.

Unfortunately this is not the case.

User communication and training are only a few steps along a process where many other steps need to occur to achieve the ultimate outcome of full user adoption. We need to look holistically at the whole system and the various players that contribute to the users’ full adoption.

These include:

  • User capability
  • User motivation
  • User capacity
  • Senior manager buy-in
  • Manager buy-in
  • Communication and awareness
  • Measurement and reinforcement
  • Strategic alignment

So you can see that all of these are examples of potential levers that need to be pulled to get the outcome.

Here is an example of the initial onboarding journey for The Change Compass. What onboarding journey do you use?


10 ways you can easily gamify your change interventions and get immediate results

10 ways you can easily gamify your change interventions and get immediate results

Gamification is the application of game elements to non-game activities.  Whilst gamification has been around for a long time, it is only recently that it has been formalised as a structured method to achieve specific outcomes.

We see the application of gamification all around us.  Yes most of the apps we use on our phones have game design elements.  However, more broadly, we can see this all around us.  Through gamification design, we can make significant behaviour changes.

Two of my favourite examples are:

1.Improving aim and decreasing spillage in urinals.

Amsterdam airport wanted to keep the urinals clean and reduce spillage.  They pinpointed the aimed spot within the urinal design where the least spillage happens.  What happened was that men would aim for the fly as a fun activity (or even aiming subconsciously), and thereby reducing spillage.

The fly acts as a target

2. Encouraging physical activity by taking steps vs. the escalator

In Sweden, they did an experiment to see if they could encourage people to take steps over the escalator by making it fun to use steps.  This was at Odenplan (where I used to frequent regularly on my way to bars in my younger days), a major subway stop in central Stockholm.  They turned the steps into a piano where stepping on a step would the be same as hitting a piano keyboard.  The result was that 66% of people chose the steps over the escalator.  Here is a video that shows the behaviour of people as they use the stairs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7frzYFcbqjc

You will notice that these elements are not necessarily about playing a ‘game’ per se.  Instead, they’ve borrowed elements of game design to engage people and make it more fun.  However, ultimately there is a very clear goal and clear behaviours to be achieved.

6-D model of gamification

The 6-D model of gamification is a very practical step-by-step framework to help you design an effective change intervention using gamification.  The value of this framework is that it ensures that there are clear objectives and focus before jumping into utilising one of the many gamification tactics.

These are the 6 steps to follow:

  1. Define Business Objectives – Define the goal you are aiming for.  Is it increasing stakeholder engagement scores?  Is it increasing the viewership of articles?  Or is it getting users to follow the new process?

  2. Delineate target behaviour – Define the target behaviours you are aiming to achieve.  Note that behaviours need to be discrete and concrete.  Then, decide how you are going to measure them.  For example, let’s say you want to get users to follow the new additional process steps.  What actions do you need users to perform?  How do we know if these processes have been performed?  Can the outcome of performing these steps be traced or observed?  Are these documented?  Are they easy to report on?

  3. Describe your players – How well do you know your target audience/users?  In this step, you need to clearly articulate and define exactly what they are like.  For example, what are their demographics?  How do they tend to behave?  Do they have a history of behaving in certain ways in certain situations?  If you need them to add more steps in a new process will they tend to ignore it?

  4. Devise activity loops – In this step, we are identifying the key motivations involved to sustain the desired behaviour.  Are there particular reinforcements required to sustain this behaviour?  Do we need to design feedback loops?  For example, if you need to ensure that the user performs 3 additional process steps, what triggers or reinforcements are required?  What notifications need to be in place to remind the user and motivate him/her to perform these steps?  And how do we reward those behaviours?

  5. Don’t forget the fun – This step may seem quite generic but nevertheless an important part of the design process.  People prefer to perform tasks that are more fun.  However, it is not always easy to determine what is considered fun.  It is about incorporating the element of interest and fun where possible to increase engagement.  For example, can the messaging or graphic design incorporate an element of fun?  Or can the notification or reward elements be designed to incorporate fun?

  6. Deploy appropriate tools – This is the action step.  It is about choosing the right gamification tactic to deploy your change.  There is a very long list of various gamification tactics to be leveraged.  Here, we will review 10 different tactics and demonstrate examples from The Change Compass.

Now that we understand the theory and steps required. Let’s put these into practice.

10 example of gamification elements and how The Change Compass has applied this

1.Onboarding tutorials 

The classic approach for change practitioners in implementing changes has tended to rely on training.  However, depending on the change being introduced there are more engaging ways to socialise the change.

For example, with a new system there are tools to create context-specific walk-throughs and detailed explanations that are more engaging.  These are not necessarily part of the tool design itself.  There are digital tools such as Stonly, Help Hero, as well as a myriad of others that may be leveraged to easily design context-specific onboarding.

Here are some examples how we use context-specific onboarding walk-throughs and information.

This is the context-specific guide to help users navigate the features

The Help button on the right is context-specific to provide detailed guides

The Help button expands providing detailed guidance to the user

2. Theme

At The Change Compass we love using the airport analogy because it explains the various components within the system that needs to hum for holistic portfolio change management.  Each plane is an initiative and how the airport is run is portfolio management.  The available runway is the business change capacity.  Stakeholders understand this because it’s a tangible analogy that they have experienced first-hand.  

We’ve embedded the airport theme in different parts of the application to create a sense of fun and visually more interesting.  For example, here are some examples of how we have done this.

The user experiencing the airport analogy when creating an initiative

Another example of using graphics/language to be on theme

3. Random rewards

This tactic is about creating excitement and unexpected reward to surprise users in a positive way.  Ideally, it would bring a smile to users since they were not expecting this pop-up or another form of reward.

For example, we have created various automation features to make it significantly faster for users to enter data.  And when the task is completed we surprise users with a pop-up that celebrates this task completion.

Here a pop-up animation provides a pleasant surprise/reward

4. Status/points/leaderboard

The leaderboard concept is quite a common tactic to generate engagement and in this case competition.  The idea is that those that have the highest points feel a sense of achievement and recognition.  Please note that it depends on the motivation of users and may not work in all contexts.

We have created a user community to promote sharing of practices.  In our platform there is a leaderboard that shows who has made the most comments.

5. Customisation

Customisation gives users the ability to tailor and customise their experience.  The more users spend time and effort to ‘create their space’ the more wedded and engaged they become.  Most people are familiar with the concept of using avatars as an expression of themselves.  This is another way of expressing who they are digitally.

In our application we allow users to upload their own avatars.  In keeping with the overall airport analogy, we have ready-made avatars of different airline characters for them to choose from.  Again, injection a bit of fun into the experience.

6. Challenges/quests

Challenges or quests keep users engaged and interested.  It could arouse their curiosity and through this increase their likelihood of undertaking a particular task.  It could be a question or a notification to let them know of a new feature.  It could also be quizzes or Q&A to challenge users and thereby increasing their knowledge.

7. Sharing knowledge

Building features to allow users to share knowledge and support one another can be a motivating feature for some users.  Helping others and building credibility can be intrinsic motivation for some.  After all, helping others makes one feel good.

Our Change Tribe community has been a great platform for users to exchange tips and experiences.  Different channels are setup to address different types of sharing.  For example, ‘Feedback and features’, ‘Sharing practices’, ‘What’s new’, ‘Community tips’.

There are various platforms available for you to build community for users.  It can be using your corporate Yammer platform, or others such as Slack or Tribe.

8. Voting/voice

Giving users the ability to have a voice and share their feedback can be powerful and engaging. However, depending on the platform you are using you may need to manage the types of feedback that are openly shared.  Giving users the ability to vote can also be quite powerful.

For example, at The Change Compass our features backlog is primarily determined by users and their feedback.  This ensures that users feel that they determine how the application is designed and therefore feel more invested.

9. Meaning/purpose

Having a clear and strong of meaning and purpose may seem like a no-brainer for change practitioners.  Yet this is a very important one for game design.  The most engaging games that instill a strong sense of purpose for the user, where the user feels emersed into executing on the purpose.

In the same way, designing meaning and purpose into all facets of the change intervention is critical.  Ideally, with every step of the change journey, the user can feel ingrained into carrying out steps towards the purpose of the change.

For example, in The Change Compass we have an Action Planning module where the application steps the user through the analysis of the data, key observations, patterns, and what actions to take to potentially package or re-sequence the change rollout.  This helps to directly address the overall purpose for the user in using the platform.

An excerpt from the Action Planning module to help walk users through analyses and recommendations

10. Social discovery

Social discovery is about enabling the support of users to find one another so that they can connect.  This helps to support those with shared interests or connections.  People are social creatures and we like to find others with whom we have shared interests.  Think about designing your change intervention in a way that supports social discovery and networking.

For example, The Change Compass is about sharing initiatives across the organisation and the impacts they have on different parts of the company.  Initiative drivers can discover other initiatives and how they may potentially impact the same stakeholders.  This leads to better alignment and shared understanding and therefore makes it easier to collaborate for a better business outcome.

Now it’s your turn! What are some of the gamification tactics that you will deploy to improve stakeholder engagement and ensure your change initiative is designed with a view to creating a deeply involving experience for users?

To read more articles about agile practices within change management please click here. Or, to read more about different change approaches click here.

Agile for Change Managers – Ultimate Guide

Agile for Change Managers – Ultimate Guide


The Ultimate Guide to Agile for Change Managers







So agile has been all the rage for a number of years.  Most organizations are implementing some form of agile methodology in how they manage initiatives, anywhere from the waterfall project methodology on one extreme end through to the pure agile project methodology on the other end. Yes, we know that agile may not be for every organization.  Projects where the output of the change is known clearly upfront and where requirements won’t change much throughout the project may not benefit from an agile approach.  On the other hand, those projects where the end design is not known, where innovation would be valued, would definitely benefit from an agile approach.


There are plenty of resources available for project managers on the mechanics of agile methodology. However, the same cannot be said for change managers.  Many even comment that the role of change management has ‘disappeared’ within the agile approach.  There are lots of examples of projects where there is significant change impact on employees and customers, where there is no change manager on the project.


What is the role of change managers in an agile project?  How will change work be modified to suit agile methodology?  How does the change manager create value in an agile environment?  This guide aims to answer these questions and provide a simple and practical guide to aid the work of change managers in an agile environment.  While the guide will not aim to cover anything and everything to do with agile, it will aim to call out aspects the change manager needs to consider in carrying out change work in an agile environment.


Read more about how change management principles are foundational to agile.


Let’s start with the basics of agile – the Agile Manifesto principles


When the agile ‘godfathers’ got together to come up with agile change principles all those years ago, they were quite certain that they wanted to focus more on principles than ‘methodology’ per se.  Since then the intent may have changed in how organizations have adopted this. Nevertheless, it is important to visit the core of what agile stands for.


These are the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto (from agilemanifesto.org)



  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
    preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress. Agile processes promote sustainable development.  The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  8. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  9. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  10. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  11. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.


Here are some key takeaways that the change manager should note about the agile manifesto, the core of what agile is trying to achieve:



Iterative change


Iterative change is more effective than big bang change.  This is because it reduces the risk of failure and increases the chances of success.  This is also how designers work – making incremental changes to ultimately come up with the right outcome.  This is because with these techniques the project team is getting feedback throughout the process. Therefore, the ‘test and learn’ and prototypes in design thinking are critical as a part of an agile approach. The emphasis on constant change is the core of agile.


Multi-disciplinary team


The power of the smallish and multi-disciplinary team.  Business, technical and specialists from other disciplines are encouraged to work together to come up with innovative solutions to address the problem.  Each discipline may approach the same problem differently, and therefore when we put people with different approaches together we start to get innovative ideas.  Smallish teams also tend to perform better in getting traction and delivering without getting bogged down by hierarchy.  Most agile experts agree that the right size for agile teams would be 6-7 people.


Early and continuous engagement


Another part of what is essential to agile is designing early and continuous engagement. Business representatives are included in the project from the beginning and continue to have strong involvement throughout the process.  This is particularly important as the solution being developed by the project team continues to evolve and change throughout a short period of time.


Key agile methodology terms and approaches


There are two main agile approaches that are popular in project management, scrum and kanban.  A lot of organizations also use a combination of both scrum and Kanban.  Let’s go through these to get a better understanding of what they are and how change fits into these methodologies.




Scrum is probably the most popular agile methodology used by project teams that are implementing agile. It starts with feedback or input from end users or customers on what the need is and the business requirements. These are then captured, analysed and defined into clear features.  They can also be in the form of ‘user stories’ that outline what the user goes through in the entire process.  User stories are simple descriptions of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the capability.  User stories are usually captured in post-it notes on a board (or digitally) to allow visualization of the journey/process.


The project team then goes through a series of ‘sprints’ where iterative work outputs are created under each sprint.  Each sprint is aimed to produce a discrete piece of work output that is tangible and can be used or tested in some form.  Each sprint goes for 1-4 weeks and is managed by the scrum master who’s role is to do anything that optimises the team’s performance.  This is not a manager role who is tasked to ‘approve’ or ‘sign off’ on the work of the team, but more of an enabler and facilitator.  In an agile team, the team is self-managed and empowered to come up with unique ideas to form the ultimate solution to address the user/customer needs.




So what is the role of the change manager in scrum?  The role of a change manager does not really change significantly in an agile setting. Yes, the change manager needs to understand the why and how an agile team works.  However, the fundamentals of the value of change management stay the same. If a project is creating change impacts on the user or the customer, then this is where the change manager steps in. This is not dissimilar to other non-agile project settings.


Let’s dissect the work of the change manager to better understand his/her role in a greater level of detail:



Initial scoping


When we have a high level of understanding of what the project is and what it is trying to accomplish, the change manager would help to scope and size the amount of change impact in concern, the level of complexity involved, and come up with a high level estimation of how much change management support would be needed on this project.  This does not change in an agile project, compared to waterfall projects.



High-level change approach 


After the features have been identified and the product owner has a clear idea of what the change is and what it involves then it is time to start on devising the high-level change approach.  At this stage, we still do not know exactly what the solution is, though we have a few likely options to consider.  Through taking a few assumptions we can devise a high-level view of what change approach would work.  A key part of this approach would involve understanding which stakeholders will be impacted.


Agile projects are focused on producing output and solutions and there is significantly less focus on documentation.  However, this is not to say that documentation is not required.  Instead, documentation tends to be more summarised and slimmed down versus the significant longer documentation required under waterfall methodology.  In this phase, the two key documents are the high-level change approach and high-level change impact assessment document. Some even use a ‘change on a page’ similar to a ‘plan on a page’.  The high-level change impact assessment could also be a one-pager that calls out key stakeholder groups impacted and the nature of the impacts.



Design and planning phase


When we get to the design and planning phase of the project the key focus starts to shift into detailed articulation of what the change is.  In this phase, the approach in change work is again no different than under waterfall. However, the difference is that there may be more unknowns as the solution is being developed and shaped iteratively and continues to evolve over each iteration or sprint.


The change manager needs to determine when there is sufficient information to start to work on the detailed change impact assessment.  And this impact assessment will undoubtedly need to be reviewed and potentially updated as the solution changes.  Other key deliverables such as stakeholder matrix, engagement and communication plan, change plan (including measurement) and risk assessment should also be captured, depending on the level of change complexity.


The role of the change manager is to partner closely with the team to flesh out and define what the change is and what the change approach is throughout each sprint.  Some may call out that this may sound quite messy since with each iteration the change approach could change.  In practice, a lot of the impacts and change approach are fleshed out and captured before or during the sprint planning.  With each scrum and iteration, the solution becomes more and more defined, and only tweaking would be needed on the change approach.


Early and continuous engagement is a key agile principle and therefore the change manager has a critical role to play in engaging the various stakeholder groups.  Depending on the nature of the change, business and stakeholder engagement may need to occur prior and during each iteration.  For example, business stakeholders may need to engaged on what the new system is, and how/what it will do for them, and how they will be impacted. Then, when we are closer to having developed a full solution with system screens being defined, we can show our frontline employees what the system looks like.  Throughout the iteration process, subject matter experts and business representations, and even change champions groups have critical roles to play in providing valuable business feedback.


Another key agile principle is focused on getting end user or end customer feedback early, and continuously throughout the development process.  The change manager needs to work with the business to carefully the right end users to provide feedback (versus managers who may not know the intimate details of business requirements).  The change manager also needs to balance the needs to the business in being engaged on the what/why/how of the change early on, and incorporate more details of the solution throughout the iterative process.



Implementation and post-implementation


Since agile produces change at a faster pace than waterfall approaches, there are a few things that the change manager needs to adapt to.  One of the key challenges for the change manager within an agile team is not to lose sight of the fundamentals of managing change.  Within the series of iterations, keeping the business engaged and involved is key.  On top of this, understanding and agreeing with the business the most optimal go-live and implementation period would is critical.  Just because the change is ready technically, it does not mean this is the right time for the business to accept the change.  On the other hand, there could be complexity or technical challenges that delay the anticipated go-live (like most projects, in any methodology).  This needs to be managed effectively and there needs to be clear identification of the next ‘window for change’ from the business perspective from the perspective of the business having the capacity to digest the change.


Some propose that the change manager should ‘adopt’ agile way of implementing ‘test and learn’ in implementing change.  Whilst this is valid there are a few considerations.  Implementing agile does not mean that how our employees respond to change will suddenly change.  From previous experiences in implementing changes, the change manager should leverage what has or has not worked and not start from zero.  For example, how was the reception from a particular business unit to online learning of new products?  What has worked well in terms of how this group was engaged previously? If there is little experience in change within a particular part of the organization, then it makes sense to conduct pilots to test.  However, again, leverage from previous experiences where possible before starting ‘new’ tests.


Post implementation and benefit realisation are still applicable from the perspective of the change manager.  Planning for effective embedment and measurement of change and that the benefits are realized through the users adopting the right behaviours are still valid under agile.


Read about the 5 things Eames taught me about agile project delivery.






Kanban is a simple agile methodology that was developed from a manufacturing background (i.e. Toyota). It is not time-based, unlike Scrum. Instead, it is based on ordering a set of prioritised activities through the funnel of ‘To do’, ‘Doing’ through to ‘Done’.  The list of activities is prioritised meaning that after one task is completed and moved to ‘Done’ the next activity on the list may be undertaken.  This overall list of activities can be seen as a ‘backlog’ where a set of activities have been determined to be necessary to complete the project.


This kanban board needs to be real time and constantly updated so that the team members can easily visualize the progress they are making and how much work is outstanding. This is a great way of understanding the pace of execution and output achieved.  The cycle time of measuring how long it takes tasks to move from ‘To Do’ to ‘Done’ helps to forecast the delivery of future work.  The kanban board acts as the single source of truth for the agile team.





All of the previous comments regarding scrum and implications on the work of the change manager apply to kanban as well.  The change manager, working along-side other agile team members, would also need to adapt to the faster pace of change, and work within the team to identify any obstacles to the overall workflow.  Change management work activities would also contribute to the overall kanban board and flow through this process.



Building the change environment for agile


There are significant opportunities for the change manager to add value in creating the right change environment for agile initiatives to land successfully.  Some of these include:



  • Helping business leaders, including sponsors and business owners to understand their role in leading change within an agile setting
  • Support the design and dynamics of the agile team to really flourish, to generate innovative ideas and to leverage diversity of thought
  • Work with business stakeholders to prepare them for iterative agile changes where the end state is not always clear from the beginning. The challenge of crafting a clear vision of change without the necessary details
  • Helping to build the overall culture of the organization in adopting agile principles, itself a separate cultural change exercise. For organizations that are risk-averse the challenge may be to instill the value of ‘safe to fail’



The ultimate dilemma for the change manager


One of the ultimate challenges of preparing the organization for an agile environment is to understand the environment itself.  When there are numerous agile projects going on in organizations, each with continuous iterative change, there lies the challenge.  How does the business get visibility of all of these chunk-sized changes and be able to prepare for them collectively?  Without a clear oversight of a collection of changes that are constantly moving it is almost impossible to effectively lead and embed changes effectively.





The solution is to adopt agile principles in preparing the organization for multiple agile changes. Think – visualization, measurement, reporting, collaboration, flow, and continuous delivery.  The change manager needs to support the view of change by working with agile teams to make visible the changes being planned for at any given time.  One set of changes from one project may seem simple enough to articulate.  With multiple projects, this starts to become complex and difficult to make clear to business stakeholders.  Without clarity and understanding, it is hard to be ready for change.


With the right data on what is changing, when, to what parts of the organization, the change manager or business leader can better plan for change.  This insight can be utilised to better empower the business to understand their own change capability at a given point in time.  On the other hand, this also helps the agile project teams to better understand what other changes are being released into the business. This collaborative sharing of information helps with planning across projects.  For example, if a project is going to be delayed in its release, a clear visualization of the change slate within the business can help with identifying other time slots where the runway is clearer for the business to better digest the change.


Read more about how to manage a peak change period resulting from Agile.


Examples of visualization of change impact data from The Change Compass



In the new and exciting world of agile there are those who trumpet the end of change management as change roles are not specifically called out in agile methodologies. However, it is quite the contrary as outlined in this guide.  The challenge for the change manager is not only to understand agile and find his/her place in this approach but also to add additional value by helping the organization to deal with all the various impacts of agile.  These include cultural, leadership, ways of working, roles and responsibilities, process and operational planning perspectives.  This could be lead to the next phase of development for change management.


Read our ultimate guide to change portfolio management.




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