Any self-respecting professional likely thinks of themselves as being ‘good at change management’, but what does that mean exactly—especially in the context of an Agile project? Blending effective change management practices with Agile principles and practices can save organizations tremendous amounts of resources in both time and money, but incorporating the two requires precision, efficiency, focus, and flexibility. Here are some insights into how to practice effective change management in an Agile project.
What is Change Management?
Change management is the process of requesting, evaluating, planning, implementing, and measuring the impact of changes to a system. Change management activities are executed by four distinct roles:
- Customer: Requests a change due to problems encountered or new functionality requirements (can be internal or external).
- Project manager: Responsible for the project (serves as project ‘owner’) that the change request concerns. Sometimes, a change manager is appointed to serve in this role.
- Change committee: Responsible for deciding whether a change request will be implemented or not.
- Change builder: Responsible for planning and implementing the change.
It’s widely utilized by IT organizations, as system maintenance (and change management) is often more expensive than the initial creation of a system. Two of Lehman’s laws of software evolution help to explain the necessity of change management in IT organizations:
- The law of continuing change: Systems that are used must change, or else automatically become less useful.
- The law of increasing complexity: Through changes, the structure of a system becomes ever more complex, and more resources are required to simplify it.
So, in order to remain useful, software must continue to change. And as it changes, software becomes more complex and expensive to maintain and simplify. This explains why IT organizations are so motivated to adapt strong change management practices as well as flexibility-focused workflow management methods like Agile.
Change Management in Agile Transformations
Before teams can begin practicing change management in Agile projects, they have to experience the transition to Agile, during what is called the Agile transformation process. The ”change management” part of this transformation includes:
- Structuring the transition to Agile
- Stakeholder engagement in the move to Agile
- Competencies required in the transition to Agile
- Resistance to transitioning to Agile
- Sustaining Agile
Often, organizations will employ Agile coaches to operate as change practitioners during this time. In addition to the tasks above, they will share, promote, and enforce Agile methods and ways of thinking with teams.
Agile Iteration and Change Management
What’s interesting about change management in Agile is that most organizations who employ traditional change management practices do not share many of the ideals of Agile organizations. The iterative nature of the Agile development process doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to the disciplined, structured change management process. This means that in order to practice effective change management in an Agile project, change management practices—you guessed it—have to change.
To adapt to an Agile environment, change management practices must:
- Become iterative
- Result in plans that are designed to be adapted as conditions change
- Require more upfront work
- Be done in less time and at a faster pace
The rapid pace of Agile projects means that change management practitioners have to become more precise and efficient in their work, knowing when to bend traditional rules and when to enforce them.
Good Practices for Change Management
As an iterative approach, Agile is not typically described as having best practices (no room for iteration!), but the following practices have been reported as contributing to successful change management in Agile projects.
In a survey on Agile change management conducted by ProSci, researchers discovered four specific contributors to success:
- Early engagement of change manager/committee;
- Consistent communication;
- Senior leader engagement; and
- Early wins.
Engagement between the change manager/committee and the team responsible for the work is crucial throughout the process to ensure that technical needs are balanced with people needs. Consistent communication (including celebrating small wins throughout the process) is the best way to stay in sync and on track across teams. Finally, support from senior leadership—both of the initiative and the Agile methodology—is key to the sustainability of any Agile initiative. Agile transformations (and change management in general) cannot be successful without buy-in across the organization. In fact, ProSci found that:
“Major obstacles faced when applying change management in Agile were often symptoms of ineffectively building support and buy-in for Agile in the first place.”
The iterative nature of Agile can help organizations tackle new initiatives with more flexibility and make a greater impact in an ever-changing environment. Within Agile projects, change management can support the adoption and usage required to achieve ambitious goals. However, to match the pace and rigor of Agile projects, change management has to change. Change practitioners have to be more precise, efficient, and focused and communicate more openly and frequently than ever before in order to be effective within projects practicing iterative development.
To learn more about change management in Agile projects, we recommend checking out the Lean and Agile Delivery section of our Resource Center.