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Effective Change Management is Critical When Helping Organizations to Become Agile!

With ever new year comes well intentioned change resolutions so perhaps your company has agile transformation as a key resolution. While agile is no longer a fad, there continue to be organizations which struggle with transitioning from traditional project management approaches. This can unfortunately result in a “been there, done that, never again!” outcome.

I’m neither an agile fanatic nor a Luddite.

I’ve always encouraged using or adapting the most appropriate approach, practices and tools given the context of a project and the culture within the organization and team. Having witnessed the tangible benefits which can be realized when an organization effectively embraces agile approaches, I am an advocate who would like to see fewer failures.

Here are some ideas on how Dr. Kotter’s eight-stage change process can be used to institutionalize sustainable agile practices.

Establishing a Sense of Urgency

Are your leaders, mid-level managers, and team members satisfied with the speed at which business value is being realized from project investments using traditional approaches? If so, how will you overcome this complacency?

You could bring the outside in, by benchmarking your organization’s performance against the best-in-class within your industry. If it turns out that you are already on par with those, research the companies which are the most-likely disruptors in your market and gauge their delivery performance.

You could also create healthy tension by conducting impromptu interviews with business partners to learn if they are content with the speed or quality of current delivery and share their unfiltered, candid feedback with delivery areas.

Creating the Guiding Coalition

It isn’t sufficient to have one or two key executives support the transformation if there isn’t buy-in from business partners and the functional heads of other departments which contribute to project delivery. Eventually, your organization might eliminate the functional structures which have been in place for years to better support the existence of teams which persist from project to project but in the interim, if there isn’t support from key contributing functional managers, they will find a thousand ways to cripple your initiative.

Executives come and go so you need to have a coalition in place which can survive even if one or two of them take on new roles. Engage your key sponsor in identifying and engaging like-minded leaders – the focus should be on those stakeholders who have the greatest influence and visibility within their departments.

Developing a Vision and Strategy

How will stakeholders’ lives be better once the transformation is complete? What does better speed to market mean to them? How is being part of a self-managing team a good thing? Why would I as a business customer WANT to spend more time with project team members?

It does little good to communicate the expected benefits of the transition to agile if you haven’t developed a compelling vision to enable each person involved in the change to understand why it is not only important, but urgent and critical that they support it.

Vision without execution is hallucination.

This is where an agile transformation consultant can help – while they won’t possess the organizational awareness you have, but their experience can help steer you clear of those strategies which are unlikely to succeed. Your consultant has to be an agile pragmatist – while a purist approach may be achievable in the long term, your strategies will fail if they don’t incorporate the hard constraints (e.g. budget limitations or regulatory requirements) which exist within your organization.

Communicating the Change Vision

If you think you are over-communicating the benefits of agile and the need and urgency for change, you are probably still not communicating enough. It is not enough to hold a town hall meeting, present some flashy multimedia content and demand that managers and team members be agile. Staff have grown cynical with such superficial initiative launches and while you may get them cheering during the meeting, there is unlikely to be follow-through afterwards.

Search for opportunities in all interactions which the members of the guiding coalition have with their constituents to draw connections to the vision. Leaders will also need to watch their own behavior – if they are talking agile, but are slaves to process and bureaucracy, it undermines the impact of their messaging.

But this shouldn’t mean that they paint an artificial picture of how easy or quick the transition is going to be. They need to effectively communicate the necessary compromises and constraints which will prevent rapid transition to a purist agile model. By doing this, they will demonstrate that they possess the necessary pragmatism to gain credibility and buy-in from their staff.

The first four stages help to establish the foundation for the transformation, Next month we’ll cover the balance. Till then, remember to be agile and don’t just do agile!

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