3 Trends in Agile & Change Management

Proactive change management is emerging as the key to success in Agile-based projects or organizations


The capability for organizations to adapt and change is closely synonymous with business agility.

When the Agile Manifesto emerged in 2001 to advocate for a more nimble and responsive approach to software development, it aspired to refocus companies on the aspects that can produce better software solutions more quickly – and all in 68 words.

Today, Agile frameworks (like Scrum, Kanban, and dozens of other frameworks) build off of the concept and are well documented and globally practiced. The core philosophies share noteworthy overlap with Lean, Kaizen and other process improvement approaches that emphasize continuous improvement and welcome change, furthering the interest and adoption in businesses of all sizes.

The sole path to business agility is not through Agile, but its acceptance within and beyond software and product development makes it the center of the conversation. Waterfall is not expected to be completely replaced by Agile, and projects with clear outcomes are suited for Waterfall project management. But Agile’s recognition is drawing interest from industries beyond technology.

While Agile is a process or project management philosophy that embraces change, it focuses entirely on implementing a solution. If that solution relies on behavior change, Agile is elevated by the application of change management.

Trends in Agile and change management are centered around increased alignment and the capability to rapidly respond to and manage change. In other words, bringing together Agile and change management is the core of business agility.

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Narrowing the conversation on change management and Agile

Conversations about Agile and change management are blurred by the different perspectives of the discussion:

  • Change management for Agile: Change management to improve the acceptance and adoption of an organizational Agile approach.
  • Agile change management: Incorporating an iterative and responsive philosophy within a change management methodology.
  • Agile and change management: In projects managed by an Agile approach, change management is relied on to gain the acceptance and adoption of any changes.

In addition, while “Agile” refers to the philosophy, “agile” is the adjective.

Change management for Agile

Change management for Agile is a change project itself. It requires new strategic deployment, processes, language, culture and expectations for leaders and employees.

Companies that have been successful with their Agile approaches have often been designed from the ground up to leverage a scrum-based structure and self-organizing decision-making abilities. They were founded as Agile organizations.

Companies that have struggled with their Agile approaches have often attempted to integrate Agile into aspects of the organization, but decision-making is retained as a Waterfall or executive leadership approach. For these organizations to succeed with Agile, behavior change is necessary.

Organizing projects by cycles, sprints or epics is not a radical shift for project managers. It is the traditional leadership and decision-making style that tends to break an Agile approach. Better described as “Watergile” (an often-ill-defined combination of Waterfall and Agile), work is being done at the ground level using a Scrum framework, but leaders still default to using Waterfall practices. The change in culture, decision making, and expectations necessitates change management.

Agile change management

A change management methodology is described as “agile” when it has the ability to respond to unexpected or unplanned changes.

By incorporating iterative and responsive aspects that are the core of Agile and Lean philosophies, agile change management enables organizations to welcome ongoing change. It can be applied to a single project or across an organization, regardless of the project management approach or corporate culture. An agile change management methodology can be applied outside an Agile project or organization.

Agile and change management

For projects or organizations that apply an Agile approach, change management can be integrated to improve the acceptance and adoption of a product or solution if behavior change is expected or necessary for success.

An agile change management methodology can fit within an Agile framework but relying on iteration is only the first step. The organization’s culture and decision-making structure need to be aligned on the core principles of Agile and the change management methodology that is being used.

Managed Change is an agile change management methodology that fits in Agile projects or other project management or process frameworks, including Waterfall or Lean. It is an iterative approach used to identify and manage risks related to the acceptance and adoption of any behavior changes, and it isolates the critical aspects necessary for success.

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Trends in Agile & change management

Agile’s recognition around the world speaks to its influence on innovation.

But many organizations that introduce an Agile philosophy fail to capture the necessary acceptance and adoption of the products, services or solutions that are being created. For organizations transitioning to an Agile way of working, a lack of buy-in from leaders and employees is a barrier to full implementation. In this case, Agile is considered a project management tool instead of a philosophy to inform decisions and culture.

Change management is the approach to overcome these failures and barriers. The trends in Agile and change management contribute to achieving the desired outcomes within an Agile-based project or organization.

1. Improved integration between change management methodologies and Agile frameworks

Change management methodologies originated when work was mostly done in top-down leadership structures. Company cultures were a reflection of this way of doing business.

The methodologies were – and still are – effective at the project level. But when projects are broken down into scrum or sprint levels, the pace can be furious and time to capture and assess data is limited.

Fortunately, changes within most sprints are not dramatic or complex. But the culmination of change through a series of cycles can be radical.

Change management methodologies have evolved to be scalable. LaMarsh Global’s methodology is purposeful about gathering the information necessary to manage the change within the present cycle. As the project progresses and more information is evaluated, change plans expand and reprioritize the focus on the most important risks.

2. Change management enables the speed that is desired from Agile

Traditional change management was designed to function within the structure and culture of organizations at that time. It was viewed (often accurately) as bulky and time-consuming.

Proactive change management no longer slows projects down. Instead, it can have the opposite effect: change management identifies risks to the acceptance and adoption of a solution as soon as possible so those risks can be managed, mitigated, or accepted. This minimizes the time or expense to react to risks (not to mention the costs of the complete failure of a project).

Although change management methodologies are dynamic and can match the speed of Agile, it remains important to bring the project and change team resources together at the start for the initial visioning.

3. Characteristics of scrum masters match the qualities of effective change management leaders

The characteristics of product owners, scrum masters or whatever they are called and structured within the project reflect the characteristics of effective change leaders. At the core, they are both focused on high-level goals and advocate for alignment of people, clarity of purpose, communication, and reporting. Even within self-directed teams, product owners or scrum masters demonstrate qualities that are desirable for leaders in a centralized structure.

This does not mean that scrum masters should also be the change practitioners of the same project, but it fosters a culture of effective leadership and shared values among critical roles.

Alignment between Agile and change management leaders is more evident when compared with the leadership styles in some traditional or Watergile organizations. Too often, these leaders lack an understanding of what is actually necessary for successful Agile or change management.

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Managed Change and Agile

Managed Change offers a complete approach to help organizations change more effectively. It is agile in nature, integrates into Agile projects and has been used to transition organizations into Agile ways of working.

Iteratively identify and manage risks

Managed Change naturally works with Agile because it is cyclical and iterative, and it strives to clarify what is essential to the success of a change as a project progresses.

Cycles to identify risk, implement a change plan and monitor metrics until business results are achieved resemble Agile sprints. Just as scrum teams break down complexity into defined pieces, change teams use Managed Change to continuously identify and mitigate the most important or pressing risks to the acceptance and adoption of the change.

When there is alignment between change teams and projects teams on the pace and milestones of the project, Managed Change seamlessly integrates without adding bloat or delays. It allows change practitioners to focus on the critical aspects in every cycle while seeding important conversations and building up data and plans.

Use the parts that you need

Managed Change features a comprehensive methodology and toolkit. Depending on the type of change, various tools can be selected and applied according to the risks identified. This versatility allows it to be applied to all sizes of projects across various project management approaches.

Similar to how Agile software development identifies the core aspects that are necessary for a minimal viable product, Managed Change identifies the risks that require attention at the current stage. As a project progresses or evolves, Managed Change continues to work alongside Agile to consider and manage the myriad of impacts of a change.

Managed Change is designed to be used just enough to gain the amount of acceptance and adoption that is necessary at that stage.

Focus on leaders

The skill and willingness of leaders is the most important factor of any organizational change. Especially under more traditional decision-making structures, the support and alignment of leaders is the foundation to successful changes and cascades through the company’s culture. Managed Change focuses on executive leadership and managers to drive the acceptance and adoption of a change in the people they are responsible for.

Organizations with a true Agile structure have a different decision-making structure and culture. There is the potential these organizations avoid the pitfalls we observe when there is a strong reliance on Waterfall-type decision making.

Managed Change recognizes when the decision-making structure – whether decentralized or centralized – will contribute to a successful change or if it requires attention.

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Get started with Managed Change

No matter the organizational philosophy or project management approach, Managed Change is scalable and adaptable. If your project relies on behavior change for success, contact us to talk with a change management expert from LaMarsh Global to discuss the best approach for you and your organization.


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