Agile Transformation with Lean Change

Ask 10 people what Agile Transformation is and you’re likely to get 10 drastically different answers.  Some say you must change your organization’s culture.  Some say you must adopt less-disruptive processes and let change unfold naturally.  Some say you must rip off the bandaid and reorganize your organization to support cross-functional teams.

Which approach will work for you?

Your organization is going to react differently to an Agile Transformation than other organizations, yet both organizations will process the change in a similar way.  Early on change is exciting, especially Agile change.  Focusing on aligning your organization with the Agile Manifesto feels good when you start talking about how awesome things will be when your cross-functional teams are kicking ass and you’re living the values and principles.    Of course, over time, this excitement level drops for a whole bunch of reasons.  I call this the Wave of Excitement.

The Wave of Excitement

Let’s say you’ve chosen to start with Kanban which focuses on evolutionary change over big bang change.  The excitement level early on is still high for anyone who thinks that approach will work best.  Without going too far into the brain-science behind change, when you feel good about a change, your brain is flooded with dopamine (the happy chemical) and this is where intrinsic motivation comes into play.  By contrast, the people who appear to be resisting the change experience the opposite phenomena.  Cortisol (the stress chemical) is released into the brain because they don’t feel this is the right change to make.  That’s an intentional over-simplification with the point being some weird stuff is going on in people’s brains when change is introduced.

Over time, excitement starts to drop as results aren’t realized as quickly as you might have thought they would be.  Now a couple more change triggers can be introduced as a reaction to the reduction in traction for “Agile”.  Those triggers could be firing the consultant who was brought in or a re-org.  It could also be you tried implementing Agile it on your own without a consultant and now you’ve decided to hire one.

Each time you trigger change in your organization you’ll get un-predictable results but it’s normal for excitement to go rise and fall over time and it’s normal to feel like you have to react when uncertainty grows.

How can Lean Change help with this?

For starters, Lean Change isn’t focused on being a destination like Agile Transformation often is.  Lean Change is a different approach to change that relies on you understanding the dynamics of your organization so you can better choose approaches that are more likely to work.   One approach is to start off with a Strategy Board.   Again, Agile Transformation is a trigger for change, not a destination but there is power using Agile terminology.  On the flip side, using Agile terminology might undermine your transformation if many people have a had a negative experience with Agile in a previous organization.


Here’s an example of how to get started using a strategy board along with some questions you can ask to create it:

1) Define long, mid and short-term goals

– have progress indicators for each (IE: long term: raise employee engagement from X% to Y%.  Short-term: ship Product Z on time!!)
– evolve your progress indicators as you learn
– how do you currently create and communicate goals in your organization?

2) Create MVC’s

– what needs to happen to contribute to the long, mid and short term goals?
– what areas of the organization are affected?
– what are the constraints for this MVC?  Time? Budget?

3) Communicate Intent

– have a company town hall and un-veil the Strategy Board before implementing anything
put the strategy board in an open area or on the homepage of your intranet

4) Collect Feedback to Validate (or Invalidate) Your Assumptions

– use Agile retrospectives and Perspective Mapping.
– use surveys (Gallup’s 12 Questions, OCAI cultural assessment etc)

5) Revise Your Change Plan

– update your MVC’s
– update your Strategy Board
– involve the early adopters (the folks riding the Wave of Excitement)

Feedback-Driven over Plan-Driven

There are no shortage of change management processes.  Many will cite Kotter’s 8-Steps, Prosci’s ADKAR or McKinsey’s 7S approach to change and each of those have great ideas about how to approach change but it’s silly to think applying the same change framework in any situation can work.

Here’s an example.  Kotters first step is “establish urgency”.  But how do you do that?  You do that through collecting Insights via Lean Change to help you understand what the problems in your organization are in the first place.  Collecting Insights, from different perspectives, helps you rely on feedback in your organization over having a change advisory board that is disconnected from the realities in your organization.

Remember, people don’t want to feel like they’re being fixed.

Lean Change takes the customer development aspect of Lean Startup and merges ideas from the Agile world and the traditional change management and organizational development worlds to help you figure out what is most likely to work in your organization.  Change is constant, with Lean Change you’ll learn how to change within your own context.  If you think Agile Transformation is the key, you’ve got a pretty big assumption you need to validate.  Lean Change will help you do that.

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