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Building a bridge as you cross it

Agile change is exciting, but can feel like a journey in to the unknown. So how do you take people on a change management journey in an agile environment?

Agile change is exciting, but can feel like a journey in to the unknown. So how do you take people on a change management journey in an agile environment?

By Pramal Lad, Handpicked Society member

Ever felt like you’re in a project which is taking off and moving without actually doing enough ground work or preparation? Agile is often described as “building the bridge as you walk across it” and often brings up a host of emotions and fears for project teams.

Whilst the challenges of Agile are real, companies are increasingly tempted by the promise of speed and effectiveness. Many are evaluating their positions, fearing that disruptive technology could impact their business models.  For example, the clinical trial process has been the same for decades. With the advent of personalised medicine and wearables, giants like Apple could become serious contenders in pharmaceuticals. Established brands are feeling the pressure to change and do so quickly. More of them are turning to approaches like Agile, but are these companies equipped to reap of the rewards of Agile and avoid the pitfalls?

Basic building blocks towards Agility in managing change 

Technical innovation is driving desire for rapid change in industries like pharmaceuticals.

Technical innovation is driving desire for rapid change in industries like pharmaceuticals.

I have worked for over a decade in project, programme and change management and observed Agile experts deliver incredible value. I’ve also felt the pain of poorly structured programmes. There’s plenty of places to learn methodology (SAFe, Prosci or APM) and find the latest research, but observation and experience provides some additional insights.  

Well, here is what I’ve learned:

1.    Consistent Communication

What Bob Hoskins said all those years ago couldn’t be more closer to the truth: “it’s good to talk”. The very principles upon which Agile methodologies are designed promote the use of regular, frequent and honest communication; your daily stand-ups, scrums and sprint reviews will all help to create a flow of information that provides the necessary awareness of change. 

2.    Ugh… Agile?

Recent experience helping Handpicked Society clients re-iterated to me that people still don’t know what the word ‘agile’ means – still expecting a finished product and not realising it’s just a taster! How did we overcome this? We used clear and simple messaging around the Agile journey and its benefit, customised to user groups (highlighting the fact that you get something sooner, more relevant and play an active role in shaping it).

3.    Early wins matter

Share good news and value the participation of users in the development. We have invested a lot of time and effort in identifying and engaging suitable representatives from the end user population. As we began to provide rewards and recognition, it encouraged a flurry of volunteers who wanted to participate in our project. 

Sharing good news allows the whole team to participate in the excitement of an agile project.

4.    Be prepared to ‘fail fast’ and get creative in engaging

Another buzz word in agile circles, this is around learning quickly and evolving not just in a product build but in our approaches and engagement.  We have used newsletters, videos, coffee mornings, drop-in clinics, social learning, and lots more to see what works best to engage business communities in adopting change.  At most of my clients, we have established ‘change champion’ networks to transfer ownership into the business to drive the change into teams using their own approaches alongside central suggestions. 

5.    Plan for Progress not Perfection

Detailed MS Project plans don’t work so easily in low maturity change environments.  That’s not a license to have uncontrolled milestones and poor governance.  However, it does mean that you need to invest time early on to plan the roadmap for upcoming months, drilling down the detail for the forthcoming ‘Program Increment (PI) Planning’ which is usually a 3-month block. I have found it helpful to prepare a simple plan on a page which clearly shows the key milestones and can be used on repeatedly to explain to anyone in the business what is coming when, with the caveat of re-prioritisation at PI planning events.

6.    Leaders matter even more

Getting senior leaders to own and act as ambassadors for the change is even more critical as you’re probably going to get even more uncertainty asking people to adopt something new for which very little is known. At a recent client, we had a focussed network created to get buy-in from the top 100 leaders of the organisation and empowering them with the messaging and resources to champion the change within their business units. 

7.    Change Managers need to step up

We need to be even more flexible, responsive and adaptable, letting go of the need to be so precise in favour of more effective communication with project teams and business stakeholders.  For example, we couldn’t do a detailed Change Impact Assessment and so had to settle for a lighter touch version which was easy to digest and from which we planned and built change interventions that were ultimately more effective.

These are just a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way and I’m sure there are many more.  We would love to hear your ideas and wisdom around managing organisational change in agile environments.

Pramal Lad, Handpicked Society member

Pramal on an 1,800km Tuk-Tuk challenges across India, successfully completed.

Pramal on an 1,800km Tuk-Tuk challenges across India, successfully completed.

Pramal built his experience through a successful career at some of the best traditional consultancy firms. There he practiced in and developed many models and methodologies, as well leading training programmes in change management, project management, PMO and portfolio management. He is now a freelance member of Handpicked Society, using his expertise to benefit clients in areas such as change management, business transformation, operating model implementation and strategic communications. When he’s not driving change you might find him driving a Tuk-TUk, VLOG-ing about his experiences, or putting his professional photography and videography skills, to good use.

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