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by the Elisabeth White | 4 Minute Read

The Need for Agility Through Change

Change is the only constant, as the old saying goes. Today, this has never been truer. Companies that can't adapt quickly get left behind. Period. 

Traditional change management approaches were built for business with relatively stable markets, multi-year business strategies and hierarchical organizations. But the way we work has changed dramatically. We have less time to accomplish twice as much.  

As leaders in 2024, it's critical that we have the ability to respond to our customers, the market, and industry with speed, accuracy, quality, and compliance. True change management is more important than ever, but traditional approaches aren’t achieving our necessary outcomes. Let’s explore why a shift is needed and discuss the benefits and key roles in an Agile change management.  

How Are Traditional and Agile Change Management Different?

Some key differences include: 

  • Plan-Driven vs. Feedback-Driven - In traditional change management, "the plan" is king and is developed in extensive detail up front. Agile takes a "plan-do-check-act" approach, treating plans more as hypotheses to evaluate and refine based on feedback loops. 
  • Process-Centric vs. People-Centric - Traditional change management tends to put more emphasis on following the prescribed process. Agile is more centered on empowering people and interactions to deliver fit-for-purpose solutions. 
  • Resistance-Focused vs. Engagement-Focused - Traditional approaches spend a lot of energy on overcoming resistance. Agile invests that energy in engaging stakeholders early and often to understand their needs and perspectives. 
  • Hierarchical vs. Network-Based - Traditional approaches operate through the hierarchy, with managers as the key levers of change. Agile operates more like a network, with change happening through self-organizing teams and peer-to-peer interaction at all levels. 
  • Documents & Milestones vs. Working Solutions – Within traditional change management, progress is measured by artifacts like design documents, communication plans, training materials, etc. Agile measures progress by working on the right strategic initiatives, at the right time, with the right people, based on financial guardrails. 

Why Should You Move Away from Traditional Change Management?

In a word - agility. Change is accelerating, driven by technological advances, globalization, and customer sophistication. The yearly strategic planning cycle and multi-year transformation projects can’t keep up. 

Some compelling reasons to shift to an Agile change management approach include: 

  • Faster Time-To-Value - By delivering in rapid cycles, Agile allows organizations to start realizing value faster vs. waiting for a big bang that may be out of date by the time it arrives. This is particularly critical in fast-moving domains like digital. 
  • Higher Engagement - The collaborative, people-centric nature of Agile tends to result in higher engagement and less resistance than top-down, process-heavy approaches. Change is done with people, not to them. 
  • Better Fit-For-Purpose - Solutions developed iteratively based on empirical feedback are much more likely to meet real needs vs. those based on upfront assumptions and analysis. You avoid the "ta da" reveal of a solution that turns out to be not quite right. 
  • Greater Agility - The lightweight, flexible nature of Agile makes it easier to course correct based on changing priorities or added information. Traditional models tend to have higher inertia and switching costs. 
  • Employee Empowerment - Agile pushes decision-making down to the team level, giving employees greater ownership and autonomy. This can unlock innovation and improve morale. 

Who is Involved in Agile Change Management?

Agile doesn't just change how we work; it changes how we organize to get work done. Some key roles in Agile change management include: 

  • Change Sponsor - Typically a senior executive who champions the change and secures resources. In Agile, the sponsor empowers the team, provides strategic context, and clears obstacles vs. micromanaging execution. 
  • Product Owner - Responsible for maximizing the value of the team's work, often by defining and prioritizing the backlog based on stakeholder needs. Serves as the voice of the customer to the team and vice versa. 
  • Scrum Master - Not a people manager, but a servant leader who coaches the team in Agile practices, facilitates events like planning and retrospectives, and works to enable the team's high performance. 
  • Cross-Functional Team - Agile teams have all the skills needed to deliver the end-to-end solution, e.g., design, development, testing, change management, etc. Specialists work together very collaboratively vs. operating in silos and handing off. 
  • Stakeholders & Customers - Actively engage in the change process from the beginning, providing input on their needs and feedback on working solutions. No more "ta da" moments of unveiling the solution at the end. 

Conclusion

We need to step up to the challenge of leading change in an Agile way. The days of multi-year, top-down, process-heavy change management are over. Success now requires empowering teams, delivering value incrementally, and adapting based on frequent feedback. 

Agile change management helps us realize value faster, engage employees more, delight customers, innovate, and build truly agile enterprises. By developing an Agile mindset and practices, we can navigate the turbulent waters of change with greater ease and effectiveness. 

But becoming Agile isn't a linear journey. Like Agile itself, it's an iterative process of trying practices, inspecting results, and adapting. The organizations that will thrive in the future will be those who embrace this "plan-do-check-act" approach on a grand scale. 

We have a choice. We can cling to traditional change management and get left behind. Or we can be truly Agile leaders and take our people and companies boldly into the future. Which path will you choose? 

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