I’m an agile coach who took a change management course, here’s what I have to say about it.

I’m an agile coach who took a change management course, here’s what I have to say about it.

In the past year I’ve been struggling to figure out in which direction I would like to grow as a practitioner. I’ve always been very fluid in how I’ve learned, I appreciate a lot of things in theory but for me to be really invested in learning it has to be something that’s actionable in the moment. That’s been my dilemma, I could study more frameworks, I could deepen my knowledge of Scrum and even branch off into differentiating Lean vs Lean thinking but I’d be hard pressed to find a problem in my day-to-day that is solved by being able to explain the Toyota Production System to anyone. Luckily I’ve gotten to speak to and learn a little bit from Change Managers who made me realize that its a whole discipline in itself. At that point in time all my exposure towards Change Management was just the book by John Kotter so I was curious to see if there is something underneath the iceberg.

I took an online course in Coursera called “Leading transformations: Manage change” by Macquarie University and having just finished it I feel like its the perfect time to write my thoughts. Let’s get started

Agile transformations are change initiatives 

It sounds silly when I say that because “transformation” is literally in the name of it but when you think about it how many agile practitioners know how to manage or even lead change? 

As agile practitioners we spend a lot of time deepening our knowledge base. We study frameworks, schools of thought and theories about agile ways of working. We spend our days practicing what we studied, teaching others then going to meet-ups to share our experiences with others and to learn from them as well. In those same meetups we go to, don’t we also get asked often “We have a Product Owner who isn’t prioritizing tickets, what do we do?”, “Management is asking us when this will be delivered? How do we know? What do we say?” or one of my favorites “should managers be part of this activity?”. This is typically answered through the lens of a framework that provides guidance on how people function in an organization. This is where the Scrum guide comes in handy for folks as they can point to it and say “It should be like this”.

This is where I start to think that this is really a change management problem. Frameworks and methodologies give us an aspirational state, a to-be state that we are trying to get to and what’s most valuable is not our understanding of the to-be state we want to get to but how do we bridge the gap from where we are today to where we want to be.

Agile adoptions fail for the same reasons change projects do (because it’s also a change project)

One of the biggest reasons change projects fail is that there is a lack of clarity on what the to-be state is supposed to be. Being agile, delivering faster, being more open and transparent are all great mothering statements but what does that mean for your organization? What does that look like for your leadership? What would I see in your teams day-to-day if they were “agile”. Most people would struggle with that because there is no clear vision on what the change really looks like.

We have a strong bias towards our rational thinking and make plans and playbooks how to transition but we could also be unaware of the social, political and emotional aspects of transitioning. We send off people to training, get their certificates, we set up a all the cadences and tell them “GO!”. You have the knowledge needed to do this, go do it. Are they emotionally prepared though? How does this change affect their status in the organization? They have the knowledge of what to do but do they have the skills to perform it?

Are we aware of the people and forces that are for or against the change? Do we have plans how to mitigate them? Do we inspect the transition as its happening? All questions that good change managers would be asking but we may be missing out on.

While it may sound like common sense, thinking of agile transformations or adoptions as change management initiatives is a good idea. In my head right now these are the questions I’d be asking if I had to onboard a new team to agile ways of working.

  • What does it look like for us if we’re agile? What does that look like to our leaders and teams?
  • Where are we now? How far are we from that ideal agile implementation? Who would be opposing these changes? How do people feel about the change?
  • How do we bridge the gap? What actions do we take first? How do we get feedback on the change as its happening? How do we know if we’re still moving in the right direction?

I am no expert in change management nor do I try to present myself one. It is just my hope that if I broaden my horizons I can go from an agile practitioner who can teach agile to an agile practitioner who leads successful agile transformations and this training I feel is a step in that direction.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash