First-hand experiences of integration

Last November we gathered some of the change practitioners in our network, to garner insights about the much-discussed relationship between Agile and Change Management and its impact of organisations and people.

Practitioners and partners from South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and China attended our very first Breakfast Session both virtually and phisically.
The Breakfast Session format will hopefully help us get a better hands-on understanding of what’s happening in the Change Management world when it interacts with evolving environments.

What happened during the Session

For our first meet-up we wanted to ensure that we explored direct experiences on how Agile and Change Management were implemented in organisations with different approaches to innovation.
Agile and Change Management Seminar guests included change practitioners, managers and project managers, coming from different industries, such as Banking, Mining, Petrochemical, Aviation and Energy.

Our first speaker was Jane Davies, a consultant and Agile coach who has worked in an Agile-ready environment: a marketing company based in Malta.
The second speaker, Bryan Botha, is the IT director of one of the leading South African banks, who had to introduce Agile in a more formal environment.
Lastly, our own Tom Marsicano explained Prosci®’s research on Agile and Change Management through data and personal experiences.

Change for Agile in the Digital Era

Jane Davies implemented Agile at Catenamedia, a provider of high-value online leads mainly working with iGaming companies. Catenamedia was born 6 years ago in Malta, and has grown to become the best place to work in Malta (2017), with revenues of 23.9 mln euros in the first quarter of 2018.

Jane integrated Agile and Change Management in a smart, Google-like environment, presenting Agile as a culture shift. She had to face several cultural challenges within the organisation, like:

  • Different development hubs
  • Different cultures in each company location (across the globe)
  • No structured communication and information disseminated informally
  • Little understanding for the need of a structured environment

Adapting to an informal and laid-back environment

Jane encountered a background where there was no common understanding of Agile and different levels of Agile maturity. The peculiarities of the environment required «faster responses, small pieces of information and a less formal approach», while normal Change Management plans were «too slow for the Agile pace».

The Agile solutions for a smart, worldwide team had to be informal and engaging for everyone, so Jane focused on:

  • Communication of Product, IT and Architectural strategies, eg. hubs of expertise
  • A series of short, Agile-focused training sessions and on-the-job coaching
  • An Agile Slack channel
  • WhatsApp groups
  • Individual coaching sessions
  • Providing qualitative KPIs
  • Friday afternoon chat sessions

As a result, the whole team started feeling more informed and contributed constructively.

«Agile requires a fundamental change in culture and that’s why it involves so many change experts.»

The Dinosaur versus the Cockroach

As an independent consultant, Jane has encountered environments with different levels of adaptability to change. In her previous experiences in South Africa, mainly in the Banking industry, she saw a more formal environment, larger workforces and slow-paced changes. These are to be considered as strong disadvantages in the Digital Era, where the next big (and faster) thing is always just around the corner.

That’s why she quoted the Dinosaur vs Cockroach Training Model: it’s not the strongest that survives, but the one with more brains, guts and forward thinking.

What we learned from Jane Davies

Jane’s speech gave us some suggestions to understand the relationship between Agile and Change Management:

  • There’s more than one Agile way
  • Sponsors are not equal, they’re leader
  • Your communication channels change a lot
  • Keep stand-ups short to stay in the time box and to ensure people are engaged
  • Work on people’s soft skills (e.g. collaboration, motivation, accountability, self-organisation, trust and respect, equality)
  • Provide lots of coaching and training
  • There are many practices, but always mould them to your organisation
  • The relationship between the scrum master and the project manager is important, work to build this relationship

Life after an Agile Transformation – becoming effective, not just efficient

Bryan Botha brings Change Management principles in everything he does. He’s an IT director in the Banking industry and he explained how he adapted both Change Management and Agile to accommodate all the factors involved: work environment, his company culture and all the people who work with him.

Before starting the transformation, Bryan faced several issues in his company:

  • It took 700 days to deliver a change
  • More than 40 documents were produced to submit at decision points to pass through as part of the delivery (only one was important: the requirements document)
  • More or less 80% of the effort focused on the process
  • Standardisation was the focus in a non-standardised system
  • Rework was the norm

What does a good change look like?

The transformation started from a re-organisation that involved a visual and transparent management, the co-location of key people (or at least a daily call), a shift of focus from governance to facilitating flow and creating value, team’s autonomy, social contracts, quality check through feedback loops and the awareness that Agile is not just about IT.

Becoming effective, in Bryan’s experience, means:

  • Never underestimate the power of visualisation («No more meetings, everything was communicated through visualisation, even budgets and failures»)
  • Create trust and, as a leader, let people fail so that they can learn faster
  • Methodologies are a framework to follow, a guide to reach the goal, don’t be obsessed by the framework itself
  • Value is determined by your customers, not by your interpretation of their needs
  • The only measure that matters is whether your customers are happy and whether your company is making  money
  • Focus on output, quality and flow
  • The more you implement Agile, the less space there will be for performance management: it’s difficult to evaluate the outcome of individuals and teams, as goals and outcomes are strictly related to teams; however, you can evaluate the behavioural aspect of performance management

What we (and Bryan Botha) learned

  • The path each organisation follows is unique, so you must allow the space for it to evolve
  • Traditional management practices inhibit the transformation
  • People have a great ability to transform, even those we underestimate
  • Those who don’t do the work, don’t have all the answers
  • Define principles about “What good looks like” for your teams to follow
  • If you’re a leader, you must be aware you need to get dirty


Change Management and Agile, a Prosci® Research

Our founder, Director and Master Certified Prosci® Instructor closed the seminar with an overview of the latest Prosci® Research on Change Management and Agile.

As a change manager, the traditional 12 principles of Agile can be seen under two perspectives: the ROI and Change.

To achieve ROI the following are key principles:

  • Satisfy the Customer
  • Deliver Frequently
  • Motivated Individuals
  • Measure of Progress Through Working Product
  • Promote Sustainable Development

Change is related to:

  • Welcome Changing Requirements
  • Collaborate Daily
  • Face-to-face Conversation
  • Continuous Attention to Technical Excellence
  • Simplicity is Essential
  • Self-organising Teams
  • Regular Reflections on Continuous Improvement

The Research highlights two dimensions of Change Management related to Agile:

  1. When Change Management is applied in an Agile environment
  2. Change Management when an organisation moves from waterfall to Agile

In the first scenario there are both contributors and obstacles to deliver a successful change in Agile environments, and the fundamentals of Change Management are the same: the leadership role, the role of Change Management (what changes is how practitioners do it) and the ADKAR™ Model.
However, there are some challenges to expect:

  • There are more reasons to resist, as people will likely resist the change and the new method itself
  • Agile implies multiple cycles of transitions and features

In the second scenario — going from waterfall to Agile — we explored the motivations for change, which include the need for a better product in less time, customer satisfaction and engagement in the process, more efficiency and flexibility. According to Prosci®’s research, the first step in the process is structuring the transition, whose success mainly depends on sponsors, a formal project and a dedicated budget.
The second step is sustaining the transition by communicating value, providing continuous training, keeping sponsors engaged and set Agile as an organisational requirement.

What we learned from Tom Marsicano

While implementing Agile, you should focus on the higher ROI project. Continuous improvement is great, but it should be applied to what really matters to your organisation.

«In Agile environments, we as Change Managers become part of Agile. We need to engage every affected and non affected group. In that way we’re aligning the culture.»

The big questions we should all ask ourselves

This Breakfast Session gave us the chance to get valuable insights and a number of questions we should all reflect on:

  1. What determines the success of Agile, from the point of view of stories, Epic, scrums and sprints?
  2. How do we measure success in an Agile way? Like Bryan Botha suggested, are you delivering to the Customer? Is she/he happy with the result? Is that making money for your organisation?
  3. How do you manage Agile in environments like Government and Para-Statals?

Do you want to learn more about Change Management and Agile? read our Big Theme Change Management meets Agile, how does that work?


Featured photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash