Agile and Change Management: Tips for Today’s Biggest Challenge-EN

Picture of Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred Maeso Aztarain

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Today everything is Agile. The current market imposes a pace of innovation and need for cost efficiency that is very difficult to achieve with traditional management methods. All organizations are immersed, to a greater or lesser extent, in an agile transformation. It is impossible to have a conversation about the evolution of business without including the word or concept of Agile. But what is Agile?

Agile is not the adoption of one or several construction frameworks that are more or less known. Agile represents the will to accept and embrace change at all levels in the organization. Change is the new normal. Some might argue with me that agile is also the reduction of waste and increase in transparency and focus on value… of course! I agree, but this explains the how; adaptation to change is the what.

Assuming this reality, the biggest challenge in organizations today is the management of change. Change management has become not just another discipline, but THE discipline.

In his book, Our Iceberg is Melting, Kotter explains the story of a community of penguins that lived on an iceberg for several generations. (Spoiler alert!) They face an unexpected change: they realize that their iceberg is melting, and they must migrate to another iceberg. Their success comes when they understand that the important thing is not to simply reach a new iceberg, because the same thing will just happen again, but to change as a community. So, they became nomads.

I always think about this book when working with different organizations on changing their ways of working. For example, promoting the adoption of management frameworks such as PRINCE2, or product construction such as Scrum, or even applying business analysis. The success of the change does not lie so much in a good initial implementation, but in getting the organization to work in a continuous improvement mode. By this, I mean the ability to constantly evolve ways of working to the changing needs of the organization. Adaptation, continuous learning, flexibility… if organizations and their people don’t embrace this mindset, then any new way of working will be obsolete. And that, in short, is to be Agile.

The most important change in an agile transformation is the change of organizational culture to become nomadic. And the management of that cultural change is the most important factor of success in that transformation. When we talk about cultural change, the focus is on people, on the interactions and behaviors of everyone in the organization.

With this consensus, approaches to and practices of change management standards have been emerging and becoming more formalized in the past decade. Some of them, and perhaps the best known, are:

  • The ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) is a non-profit organization created in 2009 with the mission of becoming an independent reference of best practices in change management and leadership. They have created the Standard for Change Management and offer the CCMP (Certified Change Management Professional) certification, one of the most recognized in the world. The approach to its standard is not geared specifically to Agile because of its generalist point of view, although it is applicable to any transformational change.
  • The CMI (Change Management Institute) is also a global organization with the purpose of defining best practices in change management. Their approach is detailed in The Effective Change Manager: The Change Management Body of Knowledge (CMBoK), and it includes a three-level certification scheme. APMG, based on the contents of CMBoK, offers CMI’s Change Management certifications (see our Foundation and Practitioner level certification class).
  • Less formal and structured, Lean Change Management, by Happy Melly, created by Jason Little, offers a set of practices, techniques, and mindsets associated with agile change management.
  • The latest to arrive, AgileSHIFT from AXELOS, is not a formal change management approach but one of organizational agility. In AgileSHIFT’s words, it is “a solution for organizational agility, created to prepare all people in the organization for transformational changes, providing them with knowledge and guides to adapt to the changes, embracing Lean and Agile ways of working”.

All of these approaches are valid to use when facing transformational changes in our organization, whether the change is an agile transformation or not.

I would like to end this article with some tips that arise from experience applying these good practices in situations of real change:

  1. Adapt whatever approach or framework you are using. There is no one thing that serves all organizations in the same way. Each organization is unique and must find its own way to face a transformational change.
  2. Provide resources for change and change management beyond a specific project or related projects. The activities associated with change management will require the time and effort of people, even beyond the completion of projects.
  3. Create a cross-functional and empowered change team with the ability to adapt the approach of change to how it evolves and make the right decisions at all times.
  4. Address the elephants in the room. As soon as possible, discuss the things that tarnish attitudes towards change. These elements are often so embedded in our current culture that nobody talks about them. Visualizing them will allow people to stay away from them.
  5. Reduce fear of failure. Experiment, test in limited environments, obtain feedback, and act on it.
  6. Involve the people at the highest level as soon as possible. Leaders have a key role in any cultural change. They must lead by example.
  7. Culture-hack. That is, seek to clearly and visually expose current dysfunctions in order to enable a positive attitude towards change.
  8. Persist, adapt, and change the change. Everything is change; even within change, we’re going to have to change. If problems arise, people must face it and not look back.

In response to the growing need for organizations and teams to adopt industry standards, we have developed a complete catalog of courses for agile management and innovation. Our Agile and Digital Innovation courses are designed to adapt to the needs of agile teams and organizations and to help them embrace change at all levels.


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Picture of Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred Maeso Aztarain

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