At the Intersection of Agile and Change Management

Email Monday, training Tuesday, change Wednesday–that’s how quickly some people think change happens. But organizational change is ultimately a human process, regardless of whether the enterprise is experiencing the change or the individuals that comprise it. The change management industry has been focused on making change more “sticky” and that’s why SolutionsIQ is excited to be participating at Change Management 2017 this year — to further our sharing of knowledge in both directions.

In our Agile Amped podcast, “CIO Tim Creasey at the Intersection of Agile and Change Management,” Tim points out that change management aims to “prepare, equip and support people to be successful in the changes” requested of them, and that process needs to time to take effect. Tim shares his thoughts of how companies who undergo an enterprise-wide change like an Agile transformation fail to invest adequately in the change management aspects. And then, if the company is successful in transforming to Agile, they don’t know how to deal with the pace of change. A clear example of this is the stark difference between the rate of change in customer-facing technologies and internal technologies implemented by a company’s IT department. Tim also shows how a change model like ADKAR can work in a Scrum environment.

Dan Fuller: Hello everyone and thanks again for joining us for another Agile Amped podcast. This is your all-access pass to the latest and greatest Agile content from industry thought leaders at events across the country. We’re here this week at the Gaylord Texan resort in Dallas talking to people at the Change Management conference. So, I’m here today with Tim Creasey. He’s the chief innovation officer from an organization named Prosci. So, thanks for joining us again, Tim.

Tim Creasey: Thanks for having me.

DF: Today we’re going to talk about two topics that we believe are kind of the intersection between Agile and change management. The first topic, which you and I have talked about a little bit already, in our experience a lot of organizations are going through what we call an Agile transformation. So, this is a radical way of transforming the way that they partner with the business to create software. What we have found is that a lot of organizations under-invest in traditional change management practices that have been tried and true in helping organizations deal with large-scale change. What’s been your experience in that so far, Tim?

TC: Yeah, I think there’s an exciting transformation happening in terms of organizations really getting smarter around how they’re bringing about change, and I think Agile along with a number of the other improvement approaches we’re seeing out there are a part of that. Now change management, and we kind of define it — I’ll give you a definition so we have kind of that context. It’s “How do I prepare equip and support people to be successful in the changes that I’m asking them to make?” What I’m finding is that when an organization tries to bring Agile to life, there is the change to Agile — so, “how do we actually move from a waterfall mindset and toolset to a more Agile iterative approach?” And then there’s “how do we manage the people side of change inside of an Agile rollout?” A lot of times we missed that first one. I use the notion of we send an email on Monday for training on Tuesday that we’re going to be an Agile shop on Wednesday. And that’s just not the way to prepare and equip and support people to be effective in this new interactive, iterative sort of approach to bringing change to life. So, I’d absolutely agree that if we don’t make that first move, then all of the rest of the waves become much more challenging because we haven’t primed the organization to be ready to be successful in an Agile environment.

DF: We’ve had similar experiences. We’ve noticed that a lot of organizations think it’s as simple as “Let’s just train everybody in Scrum.” And although that’s an important part of a change management approach for an Agile transformation, we found that we also need to make sure that we’re working with leadership to change leadership behavior, we need to make sure that we’re addressing fundamental reward structures that will encourage behavior, we need to make sure there’s a communication plan that communicates what we’re changing, why we’re changing, and making sure that the organization has a clear vision that the organization is aligned to. And what we’ve also found is that we need to use some tried-and-true change management frameworks and techniques. You know, ADKAR’s one that we often use with our clients. But under-investing in those types of aspects of organization change for an Agile transformation, what we found is it runs the risk of it not being sticky. You know, we get some short-term success but then people revert back to the way they used to do things.

TC: There’s been so many cases of “this too shall pass.” You know, Agile potentially being viewed as the next fad. “If I just wait it out, this will go back to the way we used to do things.” And that happens when we don’t get leaders engaged, when we don’t communicate why, when we don’t connect it to real business outcomes and results. I think you’re right: there’s some good solid change management that will help us set the tone, so that being Agile is more likely to be successful.

DF: Okay, great. So, if we use a little bit better change management practices and actually invest in that, we’re more likely to actually get to the point where we’ve now become an Agile organization. Now we’re at that point that we wanted to get to, where we’re now delivering shorter cycles, creating value quicker and getting that value up to the market or to our end-users faster. Now what?

TC: Yeah, and I think the interesting thing here is, we’d call this Reinforcement at the end of the ADKAR model, it’s phase 3 in our organizational change management process — and it’s because, you know, it is our natural and psychological and physiological tendency to go back to what we used to know how to do. Fascinating research that it takes the brain more glucose to process things in a new way than an old way, which means it literally hurts your brain to do something different. And so, if we are not intentional and thoughtful around those sustainment mechanisms, I think we run the risk of being left with the toolset of Agile without the mindset shift that we need.


DF: Yes.

TC: And that’s, you know, celebrating successes, a job well done, senior leaders saying, “This is the impact we were able to derive because where we ended up.” Metrics and measurement is huge to be able to show feedback into the organization that loop that comes back and says, “This made a difference…”

DF: Yes.

TC: “…when we made this change.” And I don’t think it has to be grandiose. It can very much be a walking down the hall and just saying, “That was awesome when you guys stepped up and went the extra mile so that we could shorten that down to two weeks, because I know it was hard on you.”

DF: Yes.

TC: That goes a long way to help human being stay in that new way of doing things.

DF: Yep. Now, the second area where we’ve observed organizations don’t really think through, in terms of change management when we’re trying to adopt Agile: we’ve now successfully done an Agile transformation and our teams are now delivering a rapid amount of change to the organization or to our end-user customers. What types of change management practices do we need to do differently in order to actually deal with that constant rate of change that we’re now creating?

TC: Yeah, I think this is — and I’ve been doing some work here. Because that first shift was that move to Agile, while the other has moved inside of Agile to the change management approach. So, what we’re working with clients to do right now is to say, let’s take ADKAR as an example: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement. That’s our individual change model. There’s project-level and Scrum-level exercises. And so we would say building Awareness and Desire for the need for change, awareness of the need, desire to participate and support — tends to happen at the project level. And that’s really around priming the system. Knowledge and Ability become very focused on each Scrum, and then with a little bit of Reinforcement and then we get Reinforcement back at the end release. So, we’ve taken ADKAR and started to split it out across, you know, up to the project itself and down to the Scrum. We’ve done the same thing with the five change management plans that Prosci uses. So, the communication plan: we’ll have a project level and we’ll have Scrum level. Training plan tends to primarily be a Scrum-level activity. Resistance management tends to go both ways. Sponsorship tends to be a project-level with a little bit of Reinforcement at each Scrum. And then coaching tends to happen across the board. And so, I just think it’s being a little bit more thoughtful about the toolset we have, and saying, “How does it look a little bit different?” And I’ll tend to draw this on a flip chart and say, “What goes to the project level, what goes to the Scrum level? And let’s start to split out the work we’re going to do around change management.”

DF: Ok, well, that’s interesting. I think you and I both have an agreement there that there’s a lot of synergy between what the Agile community needs in terms of change management, and what the change management community can provide in terms of thoughtful solutions for how we can get there.

TC: Well, yeah, absolutely. I think that’s, I mean, this is where success lies — is when we can help Andy and Becky and Charlie and Debbie be successful in their job and in the changes we’re asking them to make. A lot of times it’s around establishing that expectation with the end-user base or the customer base that things are going to be coming in at a much more rapid pace. Now, I do think things like this (referring to smart phone) have changed the expectation, right? Because if an app breaks, now I expect to get a feed in two days of the updated app that’s not going to crash on me. That’s created an interesting expectation with inside business, because now inside business, I expect things to be served up like they are to my phone when they’re not working.

DF: Yeah.

TC: That can be hard for an IT shop. Because if they’ve not started to embrace Agile, this could be three to six months for us to finally get our acts together to make that one fix that everyone’s now expecting to happen like that. Because customer technology is updating in a much more rapid pace than a lot of times IT.

DF: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.

TC: And I think it comes down to that smart phone in my pocket.

DF: Yeah. All right well thanks again for your time Tim. We’ve really enjoyed talking to you at the change management conference. So, thanks for joining us for another Agile Amped podcast. Subscribe now to receive real-time updates of future episodes. We’ll be at other events across the country, so look for us there. You can find our podcast available on YouTube, ITunes, or the website.