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Agile Transformation Through Effective Change Management Part-2

Last month’s article presented ways in which the first four stages of Dr. Kotter’s eight-stage change process model can be applied when attempting to institutionalize agile approaches, and this sequel covers the remaining steps.

If you’ve used some of the tips I had provided in the previous article, you should have key stakeholders embracing the immediate need for this transformation and have a well-defined end state vision. In addition, you’ll have defined a strategic plan to achieve that vision, and have effectively and frequently communicated the rationale for moving to agile methods and what the end state will look like.

So what’s next?

Empowering broad-based action

It does no good to train staff and then expect them to start managing projects in an agile manner if there are impediments in place which would prevent this.

Performance measurement systems are one example of this. If the objectives and measures defined for project team members are still based on silo-based role accountabilities which incent them to only focus on their area of specialization you are unlikely to get their full engagement in becoming generalizing specialists who are expected to put team success ahead of individual success.

Another example is over-prescriptive governance practices. While properly implemented agile approaches are more disciplined than most standard methodologies, teams are encouraged to utilize and adapt those working patterns which are best suited to their being able to maintain good velocity and high quality. If they are constrained with regards to how they complete work items, this is likely to be a source of reduced productivity.

It is important to do a holistic identification of what organizational, policy, process or cultural blockers might exist which would prevent successful agile adoption and to develop a plan to overcome these.

Generating short-term wins

It’s surprising how often agile implementations are attempted on multiple fronts with projects that might not be the best fit even in highly mature agile organizations.

Agile transformations, like any other process improvement initiative, aren’t free and the return on investment is likely to take a year or two. To avoid flagging interest and funding support, it is important to achieve some quick wins.

Part of the planning for the transformation needs to include the identification of a handful of projects which would be the focus of the initial implementation. Only one or two of these projects should be active at a time to enable the transformation team to closely monitor and learn from those project teams’ experiences.

Consolidating gains and producing more change

While it is important to focus on achieving quick wins with a few small projects, it is a mistake to declare victory too early as it is easy for staff to devolve from being agile to doing agile.

To avoid backsliding, the roadmap of agile projects should include progressively larger or more complex initiatives to help overcome doubts that the approach is only suited to small or low complexity projects.

As there are likely organizational blockers which will take a while to overcome, there needs to be continued, incremental effort towards resolving those.

It is also critical to recognize and promote those who are actively supporting the end state vision – often times, the team members on the first one or two agile projects make the best change advocates within their respective functional areas, and they should be provided the tools and encouragement to help with dissemination and sustainment of the behavioral changes.

It is also important to recognize that not everyone will be thrilled with the changes and while every attempt should be made to coach them to overcome their doubts and fears, they should also be monitored closely to ensure they are not sabotaging change efforts.

Hiring approaches should be reviewed to ensure that candidates are evaluated based on their fit with the developing culture and the desired end state.

Anchoring new approaches in the culture

The final step requires that the principles are firmly embedded in the culture of the organization such that leadership succession or other changes such as the acquisition or integration of other companies doesn’t result in the agile investment being marginalized over time.

To achieve this, it requires an undeniable track record – multiple projects of different levels of complexity need to have been successfully delivered using agile methods. It also requires ongoing reinforcement at all levels of the right kinds of behaviors. Finally, continued emphasis on hiring the right people, especially those in leadership positions will be crucial to sustaining the change.

Dr. Kotter’s quotation from Leading Change perfectly summarizes the effort required to successfully institutionalize agile delivery approaches. “…if shared values are the product of many years of experience in a firm, years of a different kind of experience are often needed to create any change. And that is why cultural change comes at the end of a transformation, not the beginning.”

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