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The Role Of Agile In Lean Change Management

July 4, 2024

Shifting an organisation – of any size and in any industry – from a traditional Waterfall approach to project management towards a more dynamic Agile approach demands fundamental changes in the ways people work.

As the 14th Annual State of Agile Report noted: “Agile adoption improves key capabilities needed to respond to current business challenges, especially those resulting from the pandemic. With 60% of survey respondents saying Agile has helped increase speed to market, 41% agreeing they are better able to manage distributed teams, and 58% saying they have improved team productivity it is clear these practices are invaluable during these challenging times.”

In many ways, the key educational challenge we face is delivering a mindset change across the entire organisation. Failing to recognise and realise this change in mindset is one of the key reasons why 47% of Agile Transformations fail. It’s easy to talk about implementing an agile lean change approach, but harder to make it work unless you do.

Don’t Run Before You Can Walk

Importantly, unlike many Agile coaches and Agile training programmes, our teams of Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Skilled Engineers all come from a project delivery background. Our team’s combined experience of overcoming the barriers to agility in the lean change management model on numerous projects gives us a deep understanding of how to apply agile methods, tooling and technologies in ways that are fully appropriate for each client’s context.

Role of Agile in Lean Change Management

For example, in many large organisations, it is simply unfeasible to suggest that senior managers, already overwhelmed (with up to 100+ reports) meet up with all of their project delivery teams on a bi-weekly basis. The senior execs that we work with in banks, financial organisations and asset management firms are massively time-poor, operating in lean resource environments. Yet we still see many attempts by coaches trying to introduce Agile frameworks into large multimodal organisations with globally-distributed teams fall at this first hurdle.

Instead, using a lean change approach, we incrementally introduce the elements of an agile framework that make the most sense for where an organisation is at. This is what we mean when we talk about a ‘contextual’ introduction of agile working practices and collaboration approaches. Particularly in organisations that are still tied to fairly traditional Waterfall project management methodologies and ways of thinking.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

Those traditional methods that map out projects into distinct and sequential phases are very often heavily focused on teams working linearly towards a perceived ‘perfect’ end goal. They are marked by a separation of concerns, with business teams spending an inordinate amount of time planning an ‘end product’, writing out requirements documents and then handing these over to a technical or project team to go away and deliver.

What is Lean Change?

An Agile approach turns this on its head and constantly stresses that perfect is the enemy of good. We introduce an Agile mindset using the pilot and aircraft metaphor. It doesn’t matter how amazing your aircraft (or your delivery team) is, if the pilot (the business) leaves the plane it probably won’t make it to its destination.

Similarly, just as absent or disengaged (or unqualified) pilots spell disaster, we ask the teams we work with: how many programmes have failed due to a lack of business engagement?

Instead of planning this ideal or perfect end product and working towards that, Agile brings together the business and the project teams as one single, cross-functional team. It encourages the planning of smaller deliverables in shorter sprints (typically weeks, rather than months or years).

This means that at the end of each sprint you can retrospectively change or adapt as necessary. Delivering considerably more transparency and results for the business and its lean change management practices.

Role of Agile in Lean Change Management

Introducing this iterative delivery arc model, structured collaboration and complete transparency between teams supercharges the ability to learn, adapt and change direction. We understand and break down one of the enduring illusions of Waterfall: that the business is able to clearly and specifically define its requirements and then throw these over the wall to the technical teams, with the (false) assumption those teams will deliver on those requirements to a given budget, within an agreed timeframe.

Adding Agile to Lean Change

Agile, in contrast, offers a far more honest, risk-averse and transparent approach. Agile teams still agree on a project roadmap, but on the vitally important understanding that the business and market needs are (almost inevitably) going to change within the course of the project timeline. So instead of promising a final deliverable in six to eighteen months’ time, agile project delivery moves in the direction of the agreed project roadmap, and starts to deliver things on the way.

This is why, no matter how turbulent or fast-moving the business or market may be, creating transparency is essential. It is also crucial to ensure that the project team is composed of engaged cross-functional business and technical roles to establish the correct mix of skill sets and an Agile mindset throughout the organisation. That agility properly delivers value to the business that is repeatable, reliable, safe, and rapid.


Looking for more guidance? Check out Fractal Systems - Agile Training & Consulting 

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