Surbhi Dewan

Management Consultant

  • Agile

18 Jan, 2021

Managing Change In An Agile Environment

In the first article Change Management, Meet Agile I talked about why change needs to be managed differently on an Agile delivery, such as Scrum and in this article I will explore how that that be done.

Note that, there are multiple different types of Agile delivery frameworks such as Scrum, Kanban, XP etc that offer a different approach and may be better suited to a project or be a better fit from an organisational standpoint. However, for the purpose of this article we will utilise concepts of Scrum to explore the how.

To manage change effectively in an Agile environment, change practitioners will need to adapt their approach in three important ways:

  1. Accelerate pace of managing change by planning ahead
  2. Embed into the Scrum delivery team and manage change in real-time
  3. Adopt an Agile mindset


1. Accelerate change management by planning ahead

As we’ve seen, the Agile practice of rapidly iterating MVPs means Change management must respond faster and engage more frequently in order to manage adoption effectively.

The secret to sustaining this pace is in careful planning ahead of the sprint.

Understand the scope and role of change based on Agile maturity

If we take the Scrum framework as an example, we see that there are already clearly-defined roles integrated into the framework. Organisations where Agile practices are mature and well embedded will use established Agile roles such as Product Owners (POs) and Scrum Masters (SMs)) to undertake activities that may intersect and overlap with the sorts of activities traditionally undertaken by Change practitioners. This makes it critical to understand the scope and role of change relative to the Scrum team itself early on and come to a clear agreement between the PO and the Customer as to where and how change management will be adding value from the outset. Co-defining ways of working is key.

Coach leaders on Agile ways of working

Coaching leaders on Agile ways of working and setting expectations around their own level and frequency of involvement prior to the sprint is a powerful way of accelerating change within an Agile environment. Creating re-usable and repeatable Change deliverables requires an ongoing commitment from leaders; if we can use coaching to encourage adoption of agile ways of working and buy-in at a senior level, it will cascade through the rest of the organisation.

Coaching will also help in identifying Agile catalysers or Change champions at leadership level who can act as role models for employees and champion the right behaviours.

Assess the impact of user stories

Change practitioners need to understand the impact of (user stories in) the sprint on stakeholders and on end users. They should conduct a sprint impact assessment by understanding the user stories being delivered before the sprint begins. This should give them enough time to plan Change activities ahead of the sprint.

Plans will of course need to be sufficiently flexible to support and reflect Agile ways of working. They should be able to iterate and pivot seamlessly, with Change deliverables becoming living and breathing documents that evolve alongside the project they support.

Participate in use-case development

Use cases capture all the possible ways the user and system can interact that result in the user achieving the goal. The use case development process allows Change practitioners to determine what interventions (communication, engagement, coaching, training) are needed to manage the impact of each use case on stakeholders and end users and ensure the user story is consumed seamlessly.

If Change delivery is too frequent, it risks overwhelming end users every 3-4 weeks with new functionalities which in turn results in Change fatigue. One way to combat this is to disable new features for end users at the end of every sprint, and instead release them after every 4 or so sprints as an example. Whilst not strictly true to agile, it does allow changes to be packaged and delivered to end users in a more manageable way, ensuring they have the right information and skill set or capability at the time of use, and for Change practitioners to better manage adoption.

2. Embed into the Scrum delivery team itself and manage change in real-time

Change practitioners need to be embedded into Scrum teams to ensure real-time and continuous delivery of the change effort. Engaging stakeholders in real-time gives us access to just-in-time feedback, allowing us to tweak the adoption approach accordingly.

Managing change in real-time means change practitioners playing an active role in Scrum ceremonies. This can be the following (but not limited to):

Sprint Planning Meeting – Change practitioners need to understand sprint goals, the time frame and articulate the impact of (user stories in) the sprint backlog on stakeholders and end-users. The Change practitioner must also determine change milestones of the sprint and then actively track progress deliver on them throughout the sprint.

Daily Stand-up – Monitor the impact of user stories on stakeholders ​and provide input/update on change activities being conducted and feedback on their effectiveness.

Sprint Review and Demo – Participating in showcases and demos allows Change practitioners to assess adoption and track feedback in real-time.

Backlog Refinement – Although not a separate agile ceremony, it is important for Change practitioners to participate in backlog refinement so they can re-prioritise Change activities accordingly.

Sprint Retrospective – To discuss wins and areas of improvement and update the Change approach accordingly.

3. Adopt an Agile mindset

An Agile mindset encompasses those values and behaviours that support Agile ways of working at an enterprise level. Adopting an Agile mindset is an absolute precondition to achieving either of the preceding two goals.

To successfully manage change on an Agile delivery such as Scrum, change practitioners must become comfortable with ambiguity.

Unlike traditional Waterfall projects, where the Change requirements, outcome and plan are all set from the beginning, the Agile approach is far less fixed. All team members, not just Change practitioners, need to become more flexible and comfortable with changing requirements and evolving plans. For the Change “traditionalist” this entails letting go of the “picture perfect” Change approach and embracing ambiguity, as well as being able to know when and how to relax their Change management rigour.

A big part of this is adjusting mentally to the rhythm of continuous delivery. It means spending a lot more of your time responding to change, outside of the comforting structure of heavily pre-determined plans.

Is your change team ready to manage adoption in an agile environment? Contact Chaucer today to learn more about how we can assist.

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