Big Themes

Change Management meets Agile, how does that work?

The Project Management landscape is changing quickly as companies increasingly combine Agile and Change Management.
How do you combine these project and initiative-level approaches? Let us explore how.

Agile and Change Management follow different rhythms

Both Agile and Change Management are project or initiative-led approaches used in managing projects. The increasing adoption of Agile in project management has prompted Prosci® to study how Change Management can (best?) support it. Both require adaptation when introduced into an existing environment.

Managing a project with Agile

Agile is an approach used by project managers to obtain better results for their projects by favoring incremental changes, collaboration and interactive work in a sequence of sessions known as Sprints. In Agile, stages of a project are cyclical and iterative.




Test & Review

Traditional Change Management (within the waterfall approach)

The application of processes and tools to manage the people side of change from a current state to a new future state so that the desired results of the change (and expected return on investment) are achieved.

The milestones of a Change Management project follow a linear and sequential flow.

Business Need Concept and Design Implementation Post Implementation

  • Awareness

  • Desire

  • Knowledge

  • Ability

  • Reinforcement

Agile and Waterfall at a glance

Agile approach

  • A continuous improvement, project approach
  • Centered originally around software development
  • Iterative
  • Emphasizes adaptation along the project lifecycle

Waterfall approach

  • Consists of linear phases and requires preliminary planning
  • Typically used for types and sizes of projects
  • Sequential
  • Emphasizes milestones to determine if a project is moving forward

The Agile approach, explained

Let’s take a deeper look at Agile, whose genesis dates back to 2001, when seventeen software developers met at a resort in Utah to discuss lightweight development methods and then define the Agile Manifesto based on:

Four main values

  1. Individuals & interactions over processes & tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

Twelve principles

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in the development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

The Agile approach creates a new mindset

In a complex and uncertain world,

issues must be divided into small pieces and performed by cross-functional autonomous teams working in short iterations, to get an immediate feedback from customers and end users.

The challenges of Agile

Agile certainly appears to be an improvement on previous project management approaches, but still:

  1. It's often top-down
  2. It pays insufficient attention to the individuals affected by the change

In such a scenario, we cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect different results.

The whole organization has to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, with the entire organization re-imagined as an interactive network, not a top-down bureaucracy with just a few teams implementing Agile.

The Agile approach is driven by

Customer centricity

Users and customers hold the key, organizations need to be passionate about creating instant and personal value, anywhere, anytime and on any device.


Agile can help innovation because it too is iterative. Companies continuously check the value of their activities and focus on a collective leadership and distributed decision-making.

Nurturing culture

Organizations build and support entrepreneurial mindsets and behavior throughout their activities. This type of culture will help using Agile be more successful.


Agile can release more creativity. People use their talents in new and exciting ways to benefit others economically and personally.

Performance Focus

An organization with a performance focus can embody that in their Agile approach, because Agile drives measurement and measurement is the food of performance.

How do Agile and Change Management interact?

Let's now consider the relationship between the two approaches or, more accurately, the circumstances in which you will introduce Agile.

There are three possible scenarios:

  • When you do not use either Change Management or Agile;
  • When you already use Agile and want to introduce Change Management;
  • When you already use Change Management and wish to introduce Agile.

Prosci® Research focuses on two situations:

  1. Introducing Agile to the organization
  2. Introducing Change Management with an Agile approach

Severity of resistance to the transition to Agile

  • No resistance 13%
  • Not very severe 7%
  • Slightly severe 20%
  • Moderately severe 47%
  • Very severe 13%

Prosci® Research of Change Management and Agile shows that when the move to Agile was managed poorly, there was greater resistance to Agile overall, and more obstacles are encountered when attempting to integrate Change Management in Agile projects.

%: percentage of respondents

Source: Prosci® Research of Change Management and Agile

Introducing Agile to the Organization

This degree of resistance supports our realization that introducing Agile necessitates Change Management.

Specifically the largest adaptations made to accommodate Agile were identified as:

  • Focus on iterative Change Management
  • Redefine success measures
  • Test new approaches

Driving successful change in an Agile environment

Agile’s iterative development nature drives Change Management to:

  • Also become iterative
  • Create adaptive, living, plans
  • Require more upfront work
  • Work to increase the pace of change

And what we have discovered with our clients is that:

  • The Communication load increases
  • The need for sponsor involvement increases
  • Change Management work becomes more widespread (more CM team members)
  • Helps integrate the people side with the technical side of changes
  • Takes more attention from all levels

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

S. Hawking

The Agile approach to Change Management

Let’s try to merge the graphical depictions shown at the start of our exploration, to see how Agile and Change Management interact.

Awareness and Desire

start before the sprints, accompanying the formation of an Epic. Throughout the Epic, an overall Result accompanies the whole process.

Knowledge (Concept and Design)

Ability (Implementation)

Reinforcement (Post Implementation)



Overall Reinforcement

About the people side


The greatest contributors to successfully managing the people-side in an Agile environment are:

  • Early engagement of the change
  • Consistent communication
  • Senior leader engagement
  • Achievement of early wins


Consistent obstacles to success identified when applying Change Management in an Agile environment were:

  • Lack of understanding of CM
  • Organizational resistance to Agile
  • High volume of incremental change
  • Increased pace
  • Middle manager resistance

Driving successful change with Agile

The 3 main actions that you need to take when managing a change in an Agile environment are:

  • First

    Educate the organization on Agile

  • Second

    Engage sponsors more effectively

  • Third

    Test new approaches

With 7 top contributors

Prosci® research has identified the key drivers of successful Change Management and how, according to their research, you need to modify them in order to effectively accommodate Agile.

Change Management practice areas evaluated

  • Sponsorship

  • Structured approach

  • Dedicated resources

  • Integration with project management

  • Employee engagement

  • Communications

  • Manager engagement

Prosci® has also identified the key Change Management interventions to deploy successful change with Agile: Training, Resistance management and Reinforcement.

The research has also highlighted the Change Management practice areas that are most frequently adapted for Agile, as shown in the graph below.

Areas most frequently adapted in Agile environments

  • Integrated project management 70%
  • Communication 68%
  • Structured approach 66%
  • Delivering training 61%
  • Engaging employees 60%
  • Engaging managers 59%
  • Sponsorship 54%
  • Dedicated resources 52%
  • Reinforcing the change 48%
  • Managing resistance 42%

%: percentage of respondents

Source: Prosci® Research of Change Management and Agile


With this better understanding of the impact of Agile, you may want to adapt your Change Management practices to optimize Agile in your organization. Because every organization is unique, how you do this is unique, but together with our and Change™ partners, we can help you.

Contact us to learn more or find out how we can help you specifically.


  1. Ideally, the organization must adopt an entrepreneurial mindset with everyone involved working as a network, in order to actively implement Agile at all levels.
  2. There are two possible aspects that need consideration when both Agile and Change Management are used: introducing Agile to the organization or introducing Change Management in Agile.
  3. Some areas are more relevant when driving successful change with Agile. These top contributors can be found in sponsorship (obviously), a structured approach and dedicated resources, an integration with project management, employee engagement and communications, and management engagement.

Solutions for Individuals and Teams