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Can You Define Agile Change Management?

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Agile change management is a term that is picking up momentum. It describes the alignment of Agile delivery mechanisms that create change, and change management activities that create and embed new ways of working.

Agile means different things to different people

Agile is a buzzword that everyone is talking about, but which is interpreted differently depending who you talk to. When I am in the boardroom, Agile is perceived as a mechanism for implementing change faster and getting ideas to market ahead of the competition. It is seen as a competitive advantage and strategically important. However, at a senior level the problem is that it is regarded as a mechanism, when it is a cultural change, because it is not a set of processes, it is a way of thinking and behaving.

For my clients in IT development and delivery, Agile is represented by a collection of methodologies including Scrum®, SAFe® and AgilePM®. However, whilst this group follow the principles and techniques of Agile, too often they don’t have the clout to implement the cultural change needed to gain wide adoption of their approach.

For my clients in project and change management, Agile is too often a way to deliver change, but without the rigour offered by framing it as an initiative. Therefore, they are working with project teams who want to get on and deliver, and who have little patience for producing the business case, the strategies for managing people, quality and approach.

Why are Agile methods so popular?

The world is an uncertain place, which means that the certainty needed to plan any initiative in detail at the start and manage that plan over several years is no longer appropriate. It is better to begin with an idea of the capability you want to achieve but remain flexible as to how it becomes a reality. In this way, it is possible to respond to shifts and changes in markets, customer and supplier requirements, innovations in systems and the use of data.

I think the adoption of Agile approaches has grown exponentially as it is a logical answer to this uncertainty. Start small, don’t plan everything at once and expect changes. Do not commit all your resources to a solution that might not be the right answer. Create part of the solution, try it out and get the feedback from those affected as to how effective it is before deciding what element of the overall solution to deliver next.

What is Agile change management?

Agile methods are concerned with iterative delivery, delivering early in the lifecycle to create return on investment as soon as possible. This early return on investment helps to fund more deliveries that take place frequently throughout the life of the change initiative.

This is a description of Agile development, most commonly used by IT, but also applies to agile marketing campaigns, training programmes and implementations of new products and services. Agile is different to more traditional methods (often referred to as a waterfall style) because they do not wait until every aspect of the initiative has been completed before the deliverables are handed over to users.

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Source: Melanie Franklin 2019

In these traditional projects, as change comes at the end of a significant amount of work, and is packaged as one change, only one wave of change management activities is needed. However, the change might be significant and need a lot of explaining, with many amendments and innovations to business as usual.

In an Agile approach, change is frequent, therefore, it is assumed that each of the changes create only a small amount of change to business as usual. However, there is need to be able to manage multiple waves of change.

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Source: Melanie Franklin 2019

Agile change management is a natural extension of Agile development methodologies which set out how best to create a ‘production line’ that frequently delivers tangible change in the form of new features and functionality.

Agile change management partners the change management activities with the incremental delivery from each of the sprints and/or increments of Agile development.

How to achieve Agile change management

With frequent changes being experienced by the business, it is helpful to package all of the change activities together into a seamless approach for creating new ways of working. This package of work can then be applied as each change is delivered from each Sprint or Increment.

This package of change management activities is shown in this diagram:

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Source: Melanie Franklin 2019

Scope – clarifying what will and will not change as a result of the project deliverables. What needs to change will affect who needs to be involved and what changes they will have to make, so it is important that in Agile change management there is a lot of sharing of information between those responsible for project delivery and those responsible for creating new ways of working.

Stakeholder Analysis and Impact Assessment – identify who must change their ways of working in response to the tangible changes being delivered and carry out a tactical impact assessment that examines what processes, standards, metrics and data must change as a result.

Change Message - ask basic questions about how much customers or suppliers need to know about this change and decide on the key messages about the change that staff must be given.

Change Plan - identify all the change activities that enable those impacted to participate in the change and capture these in the Change plan.

Provide the necessary training and coaching as people transition to new ways of working, and partner this with Readiness Assessments to check that all preparations have been completed.

How to resource change management activities

As Agile methods grow in popularity, organizations are realizing that the only way they can resource these change activities is to upskill those who are impacted by the changes. It makes sense that those who have to work in new ways take responsibility for identifying, designing, developing and adopting new ways of working.

However, they are not the only ones that need to know about change management. Project Managers and Programme Managers have an important role to play in ensuring that all of the change management activities are identified and included in their project plans. Whilst the project team members are not responsible for this work, recognizing that it is taking place alongside the project tasks shows the full scale of the disruption to business as usual, and the amount of resource needed to make the changes a reality.

Although extra staff are not hired to carry out the package of change activities described above, it is helpful to allocate funds for temporary resources to backfill key staff from the business, freeing them up to spend some of their time managing change on behalf of their colleagues.

Conclusion

Agile delivery has significantly increased the volume of change experienced in our organizations. The Return on Investment that justifies using an Agile approach for project delivery will not be realized unless the project deliverables are adopted as new ways of working, so Agile cannot work without change management. Agile Change Management is the name for this new and powerful partnership.