Top 4 Challenges with Using Agile Change Management

Feb 25, 2022 | Agile

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The increasing pressure to change and evolve continues to challenge the very existence and design of every organisation.  After waves of change and disruption from industry competition, technology evolvements, customer preferences, surge in commodity prices, and Covid, change is, more than ever, a constant. To meet with this rapid and increased intensity of change, organisations are resorting to agile ways of implementing change management to keep up.  

Agile ways of implementing change often times mean that the outcome may be reached faster, and sometimes with fewer resources than previously.  With these promises, there are very few organisations that are not jumping along the agile bandwagon.

So what are the challenges of using agile change management?

1. Agile change may not suit every change scenario

Agile ways of change management may be great when we are developing a new product, a technical solution, a new process or a new way of working.  However, not every change scenario.  If the change setting requires strict adherence to complex regulations and standards, significant documentation, testing and quality assurance, full agile may not be the most suitable.  Pharmaceutical companies would not use a pure agile approach in developing new drugs simply due to the level of regulatory and industry standards required to be met in the process.

However, this does not mean aspects of agile practices may not be incorporated.  For example, pharmaceutical companies have been incorporating practices of involving customers in product design and marketing communication.  The trick is to balance those agile aspects which would benefit the overall solution and outcome, versus others that may be less applicable due to organisational and industry challenges.

On the other hand, if the project is concerned with developing changes to meet a new government regulatory requirement for customer product disclosure, an agile change approach may be more suitable.  Change iterations can be designed to form the solution required to both meet regulatory requirements and not negatively impact customer experience.  

2. There are significant capability requirements in implementing agile changes

Implementing agile changes does not just mean using agile techniques in the project team.  Every team involved needs to be able to build up agile capabilities.  This includes not just the technical teams, quality and testing teams, but also business stakeholders, and depending on the change, customer advisory teams as well.  

Project teams may be used to agile techniques after several projects.  However, these may be foreign for business stakeholders.  Sufficient education and capability building may be required in impacted businesses to undergo the change process.  This is because without this experience, the impacted businesses may not sufficiently buy-in to how the change was designed and implemented.  Moreover, without adopting agile practices, the impacted business teams may not be able to adopt the changes at the rate expected in agile environments.

3. The agile methodology has not clearly specified change management elements

Agile project management methodology clearly lays out the roles of the various members of the agile team, including the project manager, business owner, quality and testing, developer, etc.  However, a big hole exists for change management.  The clear role for change management has been left out.  For example, methodology and training providers such as Scaled Agile.  In a seemingly detailed and comprehensive treatment of all parts of agile methodology, the specific details of the role for change managers are not mentioned anywhere.

To tackle this big gap, there are various attempts to try and close this gap such as Jason Little’s Agile Change Management approach that is possibly less comprehensive than those detailed by Scaled Agile.  

Why is it that the role of the change manager is clearly omitted?  It is not that the role of change manager is becoming obsolete.  The increasing popularity of agile is matched by the increasing demand for change management professionals.  There has been a consistent growth in the recruitment for change professionals year after year.  It could only be that perhaps those in charge of documenting agile methodology don’t have a background in change management and subsequently have not ventured to detail any requirements within the methodology.

Imagine a world where change professionals won’t need to tip-toe and educate others about how their roles fit within an agile setting.  Given the importance of change management is it not a gap that cannot continue forward? Perhaps we can garner the change community to drive this through in the 2020s? 

4. Oversight of multiple agile changes is more critical than ever

One of the key challenges of using an agile approach is that often the end change outcome or the solution of the change is not clearly known at the commencement.  With each iteration, agile changes become more and more defined.  Or at times, the solution may continue to evolve and pilot as required according to project requirements.

What this means is that at any one-time business stakeholders are dealing with multiple projects that are constantly evolving.  The impact of those projects may or may not be known depending on the development of the specific agile iterations.  This could make it a nightmare to plan and get ready for multiple changes from a business unit perspective.

The solution is to develop oversight of the entire group of change initiatives.   With constant oversight, the business is much more capable of preparing for change overall.  And with the shifting iterations of agile across initiatives, the picture continues to evolve so that the business can keep a pulse on the changing nature of change.  This includes not just the volume of impacts, but types of changes, role impacts, timing, change pace, readiness, etc.  Utilise digital change management solutions to support your stakeholders as they continue down the agile change journey.

How will you support your business stakeholders as they charter through the ever-increasing environment of change and disruption?  What digital tools are you adopting within this digital world to get ready for increasingly agile changes?  Just like the agile principle of including and integrating multiple disciplines to promote collaboration, leveraging digital tools to aid change readiness and collaboration is key to future change outcome success.

To read more about agile change management articles visit our Knowledge Centre where we have articles such as:

Agile for Change Managers – The Ultimate Guide

Five agile change toolkits

As a Change Manager How do I Improve my Organisation’s Agility

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