The new rules of engagement for an Agile environment
Change can mean excitement, anxiety and opposition. That’s why traditional change management approaches – whether for small scale projects, or organisation-wide transformations – emphasise the importance of a group of change leaders who sponsor the change to lead the way.
But in an Agile environment, where pace is everything and plans are flexed, I’ve found that a conventional approach to engaging and enabling your people just won’t work. Agile programmes feature regular incremental delivery, so the pace of communications and training must be faster. In Agile delivery users are a fundamental part of the team designing and delivering the change – not just passive recipients. How can you design user-centric, deliver short-cycle change activities, keep your stakeholders on-board and ‘change fatigue’ at bay, all without impacting delivery of critical business as usual services?
Agile is about keeping your options open as this allows the team bringing about the change to get to the best outcome over time. Priorities change in-line with business needs, and as features or user stories become “blocked” from progressing. In combination, these factors make it impossible to predict exactly which areas of the business will be affected, how and when.
So when it comes to engaging the business, you need to turn conventional good communications practice on its head. We usually target communications as carefully as we can – so we avoid raising expectations or sharing information too early. In an agile environment, change managers need to start with a broad audience and communicate a high-level vision that still gives a clear sense of direction and desired outcomes. Once the details of where, what and when become clearer, communications can become more detailed and more focused.
Product Owners from the business who represent users’ interests, set direction and make day-to-day decisions about delivery are critical members of the Agile team. Having them work shoulder-to-shoulder with the team developing the changes ensures ownership and buy-in from the outset, and ensures the team are designing the right thing.
Involving additional business representatives in the delivery team – and encouraging them to provide regular feedback – will significantly magnify these positive results. At one government client I set up a network of over 400 ‘Change Champions’ who were vital to the design, development and delivery of the agile transformation. Building this wider team of people who contribute to the design, understand the change and are prepared to champion it across the business helps to reduce any negative impact on productivity or engagement that change often has. Subject matter experts, Change Champions and trainers should be treated as extended team members, building advocacy and speeding the pace of adoption. They should know what the solution is, what it looks like and how it works before the first release is delivered.
Can old dogs learn ingenious new tricks?
The iterative nature of Agile means the same team or business area can come face to face with an improvement or change as often as every fortnight. But who wants to draft, approve and issue communications twice a month? And what business area can keep operations going (and meet tight service level agreements) if employees need to be allowed time for training every two weeks?
A better way is to focus on creating short, bite-sized communication and learning, delivered through digital channels to be as immediate as possible. This helps keep the organisation up to speed as the delivery develops and encourages better feedback. At the government client I used short videos to share both the overall vision and details of the solution. And sharing prototypes on internal social media and allowing users to post feedback gives employees a chance to become familiar with the solution, new process or new ways of working before they are even delivered.
Engaging and enabling people is key to the successful delivery of any transformation programme. When that delivery is Agile, stakeholder engagement needs to reflect the fast-paced, constantly changing and unpredictable nature of this approach. But Agile gives you a head-start as it has business change built in. Taking an agile approach has helped us to get engagement right and establish a credible and proactive feedback loop. I’ve seen it release enthusiasm for the change and help to create a culture where – rather than being seen as a negative – change is welcomed as a positive way of ensuring the right thing is designed and delivered.