Using Agile Practices with ADKAR

Four months into a transformation, I asked a new team if they knew they could get help with Agile practices through weekly Lean Coffee sessions the transformation team was running. They heard we were ‘going Agile’, but didn’t know they had this opportunity to get help.

Then I asked if they knew we had all the pilot teams participating in a monthly retrospective so teams could learn from other teams and have their issues raised. They didn’t know about that either.

This team was aware what was happening; we were “going Agile”, and they had the desire to be a pilot team but they didn’t have the knowledge, ability or reinforcement to move forward.

For my change management friends, you’ll know I’m referencing ADKAR®. For my Agile friends, that might be something new to you.

ADKAR® is a model created by Prosci, and it’s one of the most, if not the most, popular change management models today. The model itself is fairly simple, however, Prosci’s supporting documents and templates speak to how complex change is.

I’ll briefly describe what it is and how you can apply Agile practices within ADKAR® to kickoff and manage a change initiative.

  • Awareness: How aware are people of the need to change?
  • Desire: What is the desire for people to support and participate in the change?
  • Knowledge: Do people feel they have the knowledge of how to change?
  • Ability: Can people implement the required skills and behaviour?
  • Reinforcement: How is the change going to be sustainable?

As an example, without Awareness, there can be no desire, therefore, the change fails. That said, Awareness doesn’t guarantee Desire will follow. Procsi also warns that starting with training may not be the right thing to do as Awareness and Desire have not been realized at the start of a change program.

Now let’s look at how to kickoff and maintain a change initiative by sticking ADKAR® and Agile into a blender!

Step 1 – Creating Awareness:

Like it or not, your change starts when the rumours about the change start flying. The change doesn’t start when the start-date on your gantt chart says it does. Use these activities to start creating Awareness about the change…you’ll be amazed the insights you collect by doing these activities!

  1. Start with designing a canvas that describes the who, what, when and why of the change. The change team and the executives create this canvas together.
  2. Take this canvas to the people affected by the change and run a lean coffee session so you can make them aware of the strategy and get their input.
  3. Create a landing page on your intranet, no not that useless framework diagram, or strategic pillars or other business speak that no one reads, but a simple landing page where people can subscribe to get updates about the change. *Hint* – if no one signs up, no one cares!!
  4. Post signs around the building making people “aware” (pun intended!) of the mailing list sign-up, and lean coffee sessions.
  5. Post your canvas in a public area and leave some sticky notes and markers beside it for people to give anonymous feedback about.
  6. Run an ADKAR® survey. You can do this before, or after the other activities, depending on what progress you want to track. If you want to see if these activities increased awareness, run the ADKAR survey first, do the activities and then run another ADKAR® survey.

If your organization is small, you can probably get away with one or two lean coffee sessions; otherwise it can take a month or two to get this feedback. Here are some specific Agile tips for executing these steps:

  1. use a “time-box” which is part of Scrum and decide how long you want to run your Awareness campaign.
  2. lean coffee is an approach that is extremely popular in Agile circles
  3. building a landing page instead of a full-blown change management intranet site is an example of incremental delivery…build only what is necessary until you get feedback that you need to do more.

Step 2 – Build Desire

After you’ve done the activities in step 1, you will have identified some early adopters. Create a change champions team with these people. Those will be the people who signed up for the mailing list and/or attended the lean coffee sessions. Those early adopters are the people infected with the change virus who will go back into the general population and answer this question for those pesky resisters and laggards:


My experiences as a coach and consultant have led me to the conclusion that people are more likely to listen to other members of the herd over some high priced, and devastatingly handsome, consultant. One, both or none of those attributes apply depending on how you look at it.

Once you have those early adopters, try these actions:

  1. Have the teams or departments affected by the change create their tactical canvas, which is facilitated by your newly infected change agents.
  2. Limit the number of change champions to increase Desire and weed out the Nosy Nellys. Exclusivity breeds demand.
  3. In the context of the strategy canvas, run a Moving Motivator session with the people affected by the change to understand their intrinsic motivators. This is an Agile Management practice from the book, and course, Management 3.0.

Step 3 – Create Knowledge

Now it’s time for training. Not death-by-powerpoint training, experiential training. Of course, that will depend on the change you’re doing. In my world, the change is usually the transition from traditional software processes to Agile ones. Experiential training works much better here.

  1. Teach managers how to become servant leaders
  2. Use gamification to make learning fun!
  3. Book study groups
  4. Communities of practice
  5. Keep in mind, while these steps are laid out in a linear way, as you create Knowledge, you will likely increase (or decrease!) Desire. Once people start to attach meaning to what they’re learning, early adopters will be more motivated to support, and participate in the change.

Step 4 – Create Ability

This step is about practice. All the training in the world is useless if people don’t have time to practice the new skills they’ve learned. In the Agile world, there is a concept called sustainable pace. That means build deliberate slack time into daily work, so people have the opportunity to practice their new skills. Without a sustainable pace, people burn out. In the change world, this is often called change fatigue.

  1. Use slack time, or fedex days to give people explicit time to practice new skills. If you *can’t* do this, forget the training and forget your change. It simply won’t work.
  2. Develop change and coaching capability with your change champions. I don’t believe managers should be coaches, but people will need coaching in order to deal with the psychological and physical reaction to change.

Step 5 – Reinforce the change

But I’ve already told you that!!” I’ve heard this so many times from people in organizations with respect to change. They feel that because one meeting informed people about the change, that’s all that is necessary. The change will be reinforced when people attach meaning to it. In order to do that, telling people 10 times isn’t going to work. They need to experience what it feels like to work through the change first. Then, it’s the change team’s responsibility to reinforce the why behind the change.

  1. Agile retrospectives: keep the dialogue happening
  2. Update your canvas quarterly
  3. Allow people to rate how effective they feel management is supporting the change through an anonymous NPS survey
  4. Build a kudo wall to celebrate wins

Apply Agile Techniques to Change Management

I sprinkled many techniques that emerged from the Agile community throughout these 5 steps. I’m sure that’s a lot to absorb in one post! To simplify, here are 3 of the core ideas in Agile that you, as a change agent, can apply to your change program:

  • Shorten Feedback Loops:
    • Agile: The longer you wait to show your customer usable software, the more likely you’ll build the wrong thing.
    • Change Management: The longer you plan your change in isolation, the bigger the cognitive gap between you and the people affected by the change will be. That means, you’ll have attached meaning to the change from your perspective, and it’ll take time for the people affected by the change as long, if not longer, to catchup. The tendency here is to label those people as resisters.
  • Respond to Change over Following a Plan:
    • Agile: This is one of the 4 Agile values. It means that it’s more important to respond to change in scope, market conditions and other factors versus following a plan that is no longer relevant. It does not mean don’t plan, it means plan responsibly and change the plan when necessary.
    • Change Management: Change programs are more complex than software. Instead of changing bits, you’re trying to change behaviour, which is, relatively speaking, more complex. Plan more frequently, but in smaller chunks and use the feedback from the organizational system as input into the evolution of your change.
  • Limit Work in Progress:
    • Agile: This is a core practice in Agile. Focus on limiting how much work you do simultaneously. You’ll finish small pieces of work faster which will help the team focus, and it’ll help the team get feedback from customers sooner.
    • Change Management: Limit the number of changes you introduce to the organization. People need time to adjust to changes. Throwing too many changes at them leads to thrashing and change fatigue. Avoid the temptation to keep the change team busy.

This post is an example of how to apply ideas from the Agile community to change management. My upcoming book, Lean Change Management, is filled with more ideas about how change agents can apply ideas from many communities to help them more effectively introduce and manage change in organizations.

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