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Faced with resistance to change, agile can be your antidote

Think of a time when you’ve been confronted with change at work. How did you respond? If you resisted, you won’t be alone. People’s reluctance to engage with and support change is one of the most common challenges change leaders face. And if change has been imposed from outside, the resistance they must deal with can be even stronger.

This is exactly what we experienced on a recent, complex IT transformation. New regulation meant our client, a major financial services organisation, needed to digitise one of the industry’s key processes. Our task was to get multiple banks ready to work with the new digital process within a tight, and immovable, deadline.

Many of our stakeholders couldn’t see the point of the change. And, if it had to happen, they wanted it implemented in a way they felt comfortable with – even if that wasn’t necessarily a way that would get the programme over the finishing line on time.

Ultimately, we delivered the transformation successfully, enabling our client to cut the time the process took by two-thirds, and to meet the deadline for new regulation. To do this, we had to take on and resolve our stakeholders’ reluctance to change. Here’s how we did it.

Being pragmatic about methodology

With its faster development and learning cycles, Agile is a great methodology for speeding up programme delivery. But if the programme itself is large and complex, introducing a whole new delivery methodology simultaneously can be a source of tension and resistance. It can also generate even more complexity for the programme team to deal with.

For this programme, we decided to continue with the waterfall methodology already established for earlier phases and to apply Agile where it would have the most impact.  This combined approach not only helped us get stakeholders on board. It meant we could get the programme moving at the pace it needed to, even within the constraints of a waterfall environment.

As an example, we used Agile to manage and accelerate software development. We worked on different components of the solution (like image sourcing, rule setting and archiving) simultaneously. And we reviewed progress frequently with stakeholders to make sure what we were developing would meet their needs. This was about creating a basic, working solution fast, rather than keeping everyone waiting for the ultimate solution with a full array of features.

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Empowering stakeholders with the right support

With its unique vocabulary and distinctive concepts, Agile can be challenging and even disorientating for anyone who’s new to it. The methodology asks people to work in a completely different way. Handled wrongly, introducing Agile can be seen by stakeholders as another unnecessary change on top of the change created by the programme itself.

We know that making sure people get the right support is key to introducing Agile successfully. So we made sure everyone affected by the programme got this support. That included coaching for leaders and practical training for people actually doing the work. Making this training consistent across all the stakeholder organisations meant everyone was talking the same language and working to the same goals.

Communicating to win heart and minds

When all eyes are focused on delivery, it can be easy to overlook the need to get stakeholders engaged. But leaving stakeholders out of the loop can lead to confusion and disengagement. To win hearts and minds, we launched a campaign of clear and effective communication.

This included regular, informal ‘town hall’ meetings to update everyone on progress and celebrate success. At these events, we encouraged questions and conversation, and always followed up on actions. Honesty and transparency, including recognising mistakes, were key to developing trust between the programme team and everyone the programme affected. This trust, in turn, became the foundation for securing the stakeholder engagement so vital to successful delivery.

Strategies for success

These three strategies – being pragmatic about methodology, providing the right support and communicating openly – were key to overcoming stakeholder resistance and helping us bring the programme in on time. If your organisation finds itself facing change driven from the outside, we believe giving these activities priority will help you achieve success. 

Contact the author

Contact the Agile team

Sam Bunting

Sam Bunting

Mark Griep

Mark Griep

Mitzi Geisler

Mitzi Geisler

Tina Hjort Ejlertsen

Tina Hjort Ejlertsen

Ali Rana

Ali Rana


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