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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
We sat down with change whiz Ben Szonyi to understand his journey in deriving one view of change.
Ben is a senior change leader with extensive business improvement experience across the globe. Ben has also held program change lead roles, most recently at Bupa, where he was accountable for designing and delivering large scale, operating model change programs, which included introducing an enterprise view of change to enable strategic planning and decision-making.
Ben, tell us about what started the journey to derive the one view of change at Bupa? What was the pain you were trying to solve?
The main trigger for requiring an enterprise view of change was that the anecdotal evidence was suggesting our people were feeling change fatigue due to a large number of disassociated projects in train or on the roadmap, yet the impact on our people wasn’t a key criteria in the decision making process. To solve this we initially tried simple techniques like graphically displaying the projects we were running centrally from a program office on a Gannt style plan, however this didn’t enable us to see the change programs the business were doing to themselves. This meant at no point in time did we understood the current or future collective impact our people were facing, meaning we were at risk of overloading and ultimately failing to deliver the expected outcomes.
What process did you guys go through?
The first key step was gaining buy-in from our executive committees for the need to change.
Next, once we diagnosed the challenge outlined above, we went about investigating internal and external options for providing an enterprise view of change that also aligned to ur new change management framework. Our ideal solution was to include not only change impacts but also our peoples’ change readiness and not duplicate what was presented in existing PMO reports. Unfortunately we were not able to find this solution at the time and as a result put our focus into a pragmatic and viable internal solution that leveraged existing tools, i.e. SharePoint and MS Power BI. The idea was that once we had an internal solution made and the right operating model to support it, we would investigate more robust external solutions.
What worked well and met the business needs?
The part that worked best from an internal solution was leveraging existing tools meant people were familiar with them and they were cost effective. This also meant we had the ability to continually improve after each iteration based on the feedback of the users.
The other success was the buy-in from our business partners who were very responsive when it came to providing their data points and utilization of the reports.
What didn’t go so well?
The biggest challenge was gaining buy-in from the internal change team when it came to entering the baseline data (e.g. initiative, impact level by business area and key dates) from their detail change impact assessments as they didn’t see the benefit to them. Once they understood the benefit was for their business stakeholders, they started to get onboard.
Was there anything personally challenging from your perspective?
The most challenging aspect was the time and effort each month to run it, mainly the chasing of data and the manual effort to generate the extracts, load, analyse and report.
If you had to advise others who are about to take a similar journey what would you recommend?
With more developed products in the market now like The Change Compass, if I had my time again I would partner with one of these companies to not only get an off the shelf solution but also one that has learnt from other organisations’ mistakes. This would also mean that you could have a more automated solution. Also, don’t underestimate the time and effort required to gain buy-in from not only your stakeholders, but also your change managers/ agents by ensuring you have a clear WIIFM story.
Based on your experience, what do you see to be the next phase of development for change management?
After working in Marketing more recently, I feel that the key for change management is to treat change initiatives like marketing campaigns where you are clear about the target audience, their needs and measurable outcomes by use of data and a continuous improvement approach. The more we can make change a science and not just an art, we will gain more respect from our stakeholders by demonstrable positive impact.