An Agile Approach to Change Management

Enterprise Change Management (ECM) provides a framework that addresses a variety of factors responsible for large-scale IT initiative failures. Dr. Myles Bogner and David Elfanbaum discuss how organizations can leverage ECM practices in conjunction with their Agile development teams to foster IT delivery adoption.

Agile software development is designed to thrive within even the most dynamic business and technical environments. In fact, according to an article on the Web site of Martin Fowler, a well-known Agile industry leader, the name "Agile" was chosen because its founders viewed "adaptiveness and response to change" as the most essential concept of the methodology.

Figure 1 The Domains of Agile Methodology and Enterprise Change Management

All Agile methodologies include integrated practices and processes that manage evolving requirements to efficiently develop a continuous stream of new software capabilities. However, what Agile does not address are changes related to enterprise support of the Agile process or tasks that fall outside the scope of the project work, including:

• How to effectively manage an organization's internal personnel so that the appropriate stakeholders are available throughout the course of a project.

• How to gather and prioritize the most important features desired by the organization throughout the ongoing development cycle.

• How to adjust the notion of needing training in a continuous release environment.

• How to ensure customer team members are informed by the full breadth of stakeholders required for enterprise acceptance.

• How to secure timely approval of new technologies that a team would like to leverage.

• How to address stakeholder discomfort with cultural, business, social or other non-technical changes related to software implementation.

Each of these challenges is compounded when organizations operate multiple Agile projects simultaneously. Such unaddressed issues can cause IT projects to ultimately fail, even if executed perfectly within the scope of the development teams and meeting all project acceptance tests. On his blog, Jim Markowsky, an expert in change management, noted that the vast majority of large-scale IT initiative failures are actually caused by factors other than technology.

Enterprise Change Management (ECM) provides a framework that addresses many of these missing factors. This article focuses on how organizations can leverage ECM practices in conjunction with their Agile development teams to foster IT delivery adoption.

Enterprise Change Management (ECM)

Figure 2 Typical Stakeholder Gut Reactions to Change Initiatives

In their book titled: "The Heart of Change," John P. Kotter, a world-renowned speaker on leadership and the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, and co-author and consultant Dan S. Cohen, view the core pattern associated with successful change as "See-Feel-Change." To move stakeholders from the type of negative thoughts and feelings depicted in the image above, an ECM program must communicate a vision of the change that is compelling enough to not simply overcome negative preconceptions but also motivate positive participation.

Project and executive managers tend to treat those who will be impacted by software initiatives as if they were Vulcans, not humans. Of course, stakeholders are more like Kirk than Spock. Humans don't coldly and rationally evaluate information and form impressions based solely upon logic. Instead of withholding judgment on an impending change such as a new software initiative, people tend to make gut-level intuitive leaps that are often negative in nature, and resistant to new evidence to the contrary. This assumes, of course, that those impacted are even cognizant of upcoming changes. In "Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard," authors Chip and Dan Heath use the metaphor of "Rider, Elephant and Path" to describe three primary areas that must be addressed in change management.

The Rider is our inner Spock. A stakeholder cannot support a change until he or she can understand its purpose and the concrete changes that will likely occur. The type of 50-page technical documents and 100-element flowcharts that developers often create under a "waterfall" approach must be translated into clear, high-level infographics for non-technical stakeholders.
The Elephant represents our subconscious and emotional levels. ECM influences the elephant through communication that creates positive feelings and mitigates negative emotions such as mistrust, anxiety and anger. For instance, messaging may focus on how the change will solve an existing problem that vexes stakeholders.
The Path addresses the environment within which the change occurs, including changes to the physical environment such as the arrangement of office space, and processes or procedures such as kanban.

There are a number of formalized ECM models that have been developed to standardize change management within organizations, with processes and practices that support the entire lifecycle of a change initiative. The principles and activities described in this article can be adapted to any existing corporate ECM infrastructure. They can also be applied within organizations that do not yet have an established ECM process in place.

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