Pair your agile transformation with a change management framework

Recently, they published the 14th State of Agile Report. The sheer amount of information this report shares with the reader is astounding. For the sake of processing it, I filtered some key insights. 

agile transformation
14th State of Agile Report

One of these insights struck me the most: the main reason for agile transformation failure is the general organization’s resistance to change. It stuck with me because I think this is an addressable issue. There are many clear frameworks that, when properly applied, make change stick while minimizing the resistance. The team’s discomfort and frustration are not necessarily a byproduct of an agile transformation.

A model for leading change

Dr Kotter shares his model for leading change in organizations in a book called Our Iceberg is Melting. A great book he wrote with Holger Rathgeber, that uses a colony of penguins as a metaphor of an organization. The challenge they face: the iceberg they call home is melting and will crack, putting at risk the survival of the colony. A very relevant and contemporary situation, taking into account the distress the COVID-19 pandemic generated. Many organizations went bankrupt due to the fast-paced disruption towards their business, combined with a not fast enough reaction.

agile organizations
Leading change in organizations

The model that Dr Kotter and Holger Rathgeber share consists of 8-steps. I will introduce each one of them. 

Create a sense of urgency

The ties to the status quo are strong; human brains get used to something and stick to it. It’s how we are wired, the energy-efficient way. But there is something else our brain is very good at achieving: surviving. This is why, by being dramatic and creating a sense of urgency, you will untap the creative potential of your organization.

Build a guiding coalition

You need a team of effective, multidisciplinary people – from the organization itself – to guide, coordinate, and communicate change-related activities.

Form a strategic vision and initiatives

Clarify how the future will be different from the past and how you can make that future a reality. Through initiatives linked directly to the vision, and show the planned roadmap to your team and organization in general. It is important to align the vision and roadmap with team members but also with directors. This generates commitment, alignment and is very effective at managing expectations.

Enlist a volunteer army

You need people to drive the change you are aiming for. The organization itself has to change from within. And for that to happen, you need to have inspired, committed people that work closely with the guiding coalition; that are going to bring and execute the proposed initiatives. You should aim to have all levels of the organization represented. 

Enable action by removing barriers

Removing barriers, such as inefficient processes and hierarchies, provides the necessary freedom to work across silos and generate real impact; your change initiatives should be focused on breaking down impediments. Every time you hit resistance, ask yourself the reason. There may be a barrier towards change you didn’t take into account. E.g. a performance metric, a hidden report, non-visible incoming workstream.

Generate short-term wins

Plan for short-term wins. Include them in your roadmap. Recognize, collect and communicate when you achieve these wins. Do it often: it will help you track progress, roadshow the change initiative and energize volunteers to persist.

Sustain acceleration

Keep pushing, don’t become complacent. Keep having ambitious goals. Generate accountability. Have skin in the game. Capitalize your wins (the ones you communicated in step 6) to put pressure in the areas that are resisting the ongoing change. 

Institute change

Implement routines and artifacts that are related to the change you want to generate. Link this to the organization success you should be achieving if the planned direction of the change was the correct one. Closely guide the execution of the routines and the use of the artifacts until they become the default way of working. When sharing organizational or department results, link them to the changes made.

Working method

This method works; it is applied in organizational growth, M&A integrations, culture change, technology transformations, operational efficiency and leadership development.

I always apply at least a couple of these steps when working on implementing agile ways of working with clients. It’s my go-to model because it’s straightforward and has clear defined steps. 

As an agile coach, I’m part of the guiding coalition and I collaborate with the sponsor. I also usually try to include the Product Owner.

agile transformation
A turning point in organizational growth

Implementing agile ways of working with clients

If I am called in at the beginning of the agile transformation, the volunteers from point 4 are the team members of the first pilots we run. I then distribute them to other teams. If this is not possible, I ask them to do a “show and tell” session to explain how they worked and how agile ways of working benefited the team or project. Something that works very well but is sometimes hard to implement in an agile transformation, is to invite team members of the new teams to existing agile teams for them to see how they work. 

When building the roadmap think about quick wins. What can you achieve fast? As soon as you can show an improvement, do it and back it up with metrics. One of my first steps, when I’m called in, is to generate baselines of all relevant metrics. E.g. time to market, team and customer satisfaction, cycle time, number of bugs, release frequency, etc.

Work in a public way; you shouldn’t implement change behind the curtains: broadcast what you are doing, communicate frequently what you are doing: the ongoing initiatives, the progress being done; make change part of the organization, organize sessions with Stakeholders and people affected by the change. Topics of the session: feedback, Q&A and refinement. Include them when deciding to change initiative order.

agile transformation
Let’s challenge the status quo

For improving the world of work you need to challenge the status quo. And for that, you need a comprehensive framework that addresses every aspect of the change. The simplistic approach of pushing change from top to bottom is doomed to fail. 

I love to discuss these topics and brainstorm together ways to implement improvements and initiatives in different environments. If you want to discuss any further or you have any questions, leave a comment or contact me at!

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Pair your agile transformation with a change management framework

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