Agile change management
With the emergence of collaborative tools and digital technology, traditional approaches to change management – designed in a highly top-down and planned manner – seem more than ever to be reaching the limits of their applicability.
A study shows that 66% of people who experience change in their company regret not being able to exchange and express themselves about the transformations that concern them directly.
Furthermore, according to Jason Little, author of the book “Lean change management”
It is in this context that the agile approach invites us to rethink change management.
Change management: a traditional approach vs an agile approach
The Agile approach refers to a group of practices used to manage and roll out projects. They are generally recognized as being more flexible than traditional methods. For example, this approach aims to involve the customer as much as possible in the development of products or services and to allow for greater responsiveness to their demands.
Similarly, traditional change management is based on a linear approach: a series of different stages. One of the best-known models was developed by PROSCI, which was promoted under the acronym ADKAR and is based on a succession of steps. The principle is first to create Awareness, then Desire, Knowledge, Ability and finally Reinforcement. This model has its limitations insofar unexpected events impact the change project or when objectives are not achieved at the end of the cycle.
In 2015, Autissier and Moutot identified 4 principles on which traditional change management and agile change management are opposed.
Principle of traditional change management
Sense of urgency
Préparation au changement
Principle of agile change management
- The first major difference concerns the principle of the traditional approach where the outcomes of change are defined in advance by management. In an agile change approach, the entire plan is not defined. Employees are involved in creating the outline of the possible outcomes. Agile change management is therefore co-constructed and relies on the collaboration of all individuals impacted by the change to define the goals to be achieved.
- The second point concerns the shift from a sense of urgency to a collaborative approach. Representatives of the traditional approach such as Kanter and Kotter have put forward the principle of the ‘burning platform’. It aims to present change to employees as an absolute necessity, an imperative for survival. However, this type of discourse can lead to fatigue and even demotivation if it is perceived as an attempt at manipulation. Even if the threats are genuine, the agile approach pleads more for an approach which highlights the opportunities for progress thanks to the change in order to encourage mobilisation and collaboration around the project.
- The third principle aims to replace instrumentalisation with experimentation. Talking about the risks of not changing and communicating the expected results of the project are not enough to mobilise employees in the long term. Agile change is more about experimenting. It is centred on the implementation of change actions and capitalisation on feedback provided to improve the following experiments.
- The final distinction regards the questioning used to prepare the change in contrast to the anchoring principle. According to the agile change approach, it is not so much the intention to change that needs to be addressed as the act of change itself. For this reason, the anchoring principle should be of primary interest, where the understanding of resistance to change and the means to remedy it take precedence over the principle of explaining the ‘why’ behind the change.
Hence the agile approach proposes a change of perspective. Change management no longer consists solely of informing and training the teams, who will be affected by the change. It is important that they are involved by setting up experiments and collecting feedback. By positioning the teams as actors in the change, appropriation becomes more automatic, and acceptance is reinforced.
Iteration: another key principle of agility
Agile development is characterised by a sequence of time-bound actions called sprints. These sprints originally allowed software development teams to quickly test parts of a solution and integrate customer feedback. The aim is to develop a product with the greatest added value for the end user.
As part of an agile change project, it will therefore be necessary to define the required experiments and to implement them on a small scale with a target audience and collect feedback to check whether they are as appropriate as initially thought. Once proven valid, they can then be rolled out on a larger scale.
For Autissier and Moutot, the anchoring of change can mainly be achieved thanks to the actions that are carried out daily by the affected teams with support from local managers. Experimentation can be carried out through participative workshops, where employees can take ownership of the change and provide feedback (whether it is a project to create a new workspace, modify procedures or implement a new system). Iterations allow different change actions to be tested and the effects to be simulated, so that only those that are successful are rolled out on a larger scale.
More visual monitoring of change actions
Another important principle is to track change actions in a visual way. The use of canvases has become increasingly popular since the appearance of the “Business Model Canvas” (A. Osterwalder). This makes it possible to immediately visualise the main components of a business model. Since then, this canvas has been widely used in the world of start-ups to help them explain their concept to investors. Visualising change actions makes it easy to communicate them to all levels: a global view for the management and more operational views for the different teams impacted. Visualisation strengthens the agile culture, as the experiments, which are shorter in nature, can be followed in a structured way by teams that do not necessarily work together on a daily basis.
Towards more sustainable, vibrant and impactful approaches
The idea of going beyond traditional change management approaches is also aimed at encouraging a shift to a “delivery” mode. It is a question of favouring action and experimentation to obtain faster results by focusing on concrete acts of transformation.
In short, agile change aims to make change management processes more vibrant, impactful and sustainable. Vibrant, because the stakeholders are integrated into the change experience and participate in its construction. Impactful, because the objective of agile change is to move forward quickly and leave room for experimentation. Sustainable, because by involving the teams more and by building experiences together, their capacity to continuously adapt is developed.
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 Autissier D., Moutot J-M. (2015), Le changement agile : se transformer rapidement et durablement, Dunod, 192 p.
 Autissier D., Moutot J-M. (2015), Agir en mode Delivery, Dunod, 196 p.
 Kanter R., Stein B.A., Jick T.D. (1992), The challenge of organizational change: How companies experience it and guide it, Free Press.
 Kotter J. (1996), Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press.
 Little J. (2018), Lean Change Management: Innovative practices for managing organizational change, Hmexpress, 180 p.
 Osterwalder A., Pigneur Y., (2010), Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, Broché.