Adapting Change Management to an Agile Approach

Over the years, I have heard the word Agile many times as I worked in the project world at my company.  In some years, it was a hot topic in our project toolkit and in others it was barely mentioned before it finally went dormant. Fast forward a few years, and Agile has once again become front and center.

Like many, I grew up in the waterfall world for projects. You finish one segment, then move to the next and so on and so on. It would take us months if not years to get things done, even the small things. When I would create my project plans and use my tools for Change Management, I would have version after version as my dates would constantly change due to the various stages of waterfall being missed and in many cases the scope of the effort changed. As a Change Management Practitioner, I had a very difficult time preparing users for change when I never knew when the change would actually happen and what it would be. While in the end my toolkit always worked well and we achieved our goals, I never became a great fan of the waterfall approach.

I finally got my feet wet with Agile just short of two years ago. I had a project effort that was moving to Agile and I will not lie, I was hesitant. Having worked with waterfall for so long, I was unsure how to first change my practice, then how to help my end users prepare for change. 

I started at the beginning to fully understand Agile. I had a class years before but since it was never practiced, I lost my skills and understanding. So I found resources at my company to become reacquainted, then I began to look outside. One of my best learning experiences was when I attended the ACMP Conference in Florida in 2019. At the conference I was able to connect with many, many change professionals and was able to ask about adapting to Agile for my practice.

The conference attendees shared with me their journeys and obstacles they faced and overcame. Some of these include much of what I was thinking, including that I would have to change everything that I did in my practice in order to work in Agile. This was so untrue. Despite Agile being a faster way to deliver, I did not need to throw everything I had learned over the years away. I could continue to leverage my tools, and would just use them in a different way.

When I first started, I used every tool in my change management tool kit. My sponsorship roadmap, communications plan, coaching plan, resistance management plan, training plan and more. It was a lot of work and I was redoing these tools about every six weeks. As I learned more about Agile, how each of the sprints would work, and gained my confidence, I started to streamline how I worked. I began working more with the Product Owner, SMEs and Stakeholders to learn about what they were looking at for enhancements and changes. As we would build out stories and define our backlog, I was there adding my recommendations to each of the various groups, and we all worked collectively.

Eventually, I had my own Change Management stories for each sprint, and I have been able to better understand changes and prepare my stakeholders and end users for success. Feedback has been nothing but positive and I still use all of my toolkit, just in a different way.

As for now, I fluctuate between projects that are waterfall and agile and I will say, agile is now my favorite. I was so hesitant that I would have to start all over when moving to an agile approach and I was so wrong. With all of my learnings from adapting to Agile, I have been able to apply that to my waterfall projects and have been able to adjust how I work. Despite changing timelines and scope, I find that I am more adaptable, and I break things down to smaller pieces similar to my sprints. I have also found that this approach is more digestible to end users.

Change in our world is accelerating every single day. How people react to change, and how we help them is the same, regardless of how our organizations implement those changes. 

Authored by: Kristin Smolski, ACMP NE Board Member

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