Integrating Change Management into Scrum Agile Practice: Challenges, Tips, and Benefits
In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, organizations need to be agile and adaptive to remain competitive. Agile methodologies like Scrum have emerged as a popular approach for software development, helping teams to deliver high-quality products faster and with greater efficiency. However, incorporating change management practices into Scrum Agile can be challenging. This blog article aims to provide a comprehensive guide on how to integrate change management effectively into Scrum Agile. My experience with agile has been in the scrum agile application, so I've focused on that. Note that there are several other types of agile. First, some definitions.
Definition: Change management
Change management focuses on preparing, supporting, and helping individuals, teams, and organizations in making changes. More evocatively, change management measures the gap between a current state and a desired future state and determines the appropriate interventions to bridge the people successfully across the chasm between 'now' and 'then'.
Agile, is a way to manage a project by breaking it up into several phases. Scrum agile uses daily stand meetings, roles, and tools to help teams working on complex projects to collaborate and better structure and manage their workload. Scrum sprints are short, time-boxed periods when an agile scrum team works to complete a set amount of work.
The traditional approach to project delivery is known as the waterfall methodology. This project management approach emphasises linear progression from beginning to end of a project. Waterfall has a prolonged initiation and planning/design phase upfront. The solution design is locked down at an extremely granular level in the functional and non-functional requirement documents during planning and design. A disadvantage of this approach, is the potential lengthy delay between the lock down of the solution design and the delivery of the final product. On projects of size, this lag can be anything between 9 months to several years. In the interim, the business need can change substantially enough that the specified design solution no longer addresses the business need or fixes the current pain points. In our BANI world (Brittle, Anxious, NonLinear and Incomprehensible) we're all acutely aware of how different things can be from year to year! Waterfall attempts to manage these emergent scope changes through change requests. However, this is often a slow and costly way of iterating the design solution. Different change requests can undercut other change requests, and mean that the integrity of the original design is lost, ultimately diminishing the overall value of what is delivered.
In contrast, the agile approach emphasises rapid-fire flexibility and adaptability to change using an iterative design and development approach, often described as 'test and learn'. This in itself, is a useful commonality with change management practice as they both focus on an emergent view. However, in agile, the focus of this flexibility and adaptability to change is on the product produced out of the delivery cycle NOT the impact of the product on those who will receive what changes. Therefore, where the scrum agile delivery approach is used there are several key considerations that organizations must keep in mind to ensure people change is managed successfully.
The first step, is to ensure that a competent change agent is embedded into the scrum team. They are an integral part of the team participating in all the sprint activities (usually a two-week cycle), attending daily stand-ups and validating the progression of the change scope in the show case presentations at the end of each sprint cycle. The change agent is a valued member of the team, an active participant of the scrum team and has the ear of the scrum master AND the product owner (who has ultimate accountability for what is delivered by the scrum team).
The first key role of this change agent is to ensure that the organisation is aware and buys-in to what the agile project will deliver at the very start of the initiative. This is is a fundamental of all people change delivery, regardless of whether agile, or the more traditional waterfall project methodology is used. The change agent will assess the organisation's readiness to change and run a cultural diagnostic to formulate the interventions to ensure the organisation is prepared to receive the change for the best outcome. If agile is new to the organisation, there is often significant preparatory work to be done educating the organisation in what agile practice means and prepping the organisational support functions so that they are as responsive to the needs of running an agile project. Examples of where practices may need to change to match the nimbleness of agile, are expediting the recruitment delivery cycle and financial approval and procurement processes. Note that the standard recruitment timeframe for an organisation is often three months minimum, but an agile team may need a role recruited in a matter of weeks.
This preparation ensures that agile project success won't be stymied by a lack of agility in the wider organisation. Senior leaders may need to have a strong, highly visible role to sell the vision of the advantages a scrum agile approach will bring, to ensure organisational buy-in and support. By building buy-in across the entire organization, the project team can ensure that everyone is committed to the success of the project prior to undertaking the work. It also ensures the organisation fully understands the difference in how agile will deliver to the organisational need, compared with how the traditional waterfall projects have delivered in the past, and what the advantages will be.
The change impact assessment is the 'one ring to rule them all' for a change manager. For more on that pick up a copy of my new #1 Amazon bestselling book for change agents, 'Change Management that Sticks', Chapter 4 The Change Impact Assessment and WIIFMs. The impact assessment captures each thing that is changing, the gap between how it is done now and how it will be done in the future state, and the selling point or 'What's in it for me' (WIIFM) for each key stakeholder group receiving it. It also covers how that value will be sold and delivered to the change recipient (user or customer).
The change agent, embedded in the scrum team, needs an effective template with which to capture the change impacts arising out of each sprint. In waterfall, the change impact assessment is completed in one hit, usually to coincide with the final functional requirements. In agile, the impacts will emerge periodically out of the sprint cycles. This means the overall impact assessment must be built up out of each sprint. In consultation with the scrum team, the scrum master, and the product owner, the change agent must determine what change interventions, such as communications, learning, coaching, and leadership advocacy, must be triggered out of each sprint cycle, to keep the change recipients looped in to how the delivery is progressing and the impacts to them. The change agent must also make judgement calls on how things are positioned ongoing with the change recipients. As scrum agile works iteratively to develop the product solution, the edges of scope are not fully known upfront. They are part of the emergent view.
The change agent must manage the tension between this emerging view, or iterative context, and the end users need for a full contextual view, where the edges of scope are clearly known. Humans are relational creatures in how they understand the world around them and see themselves within it. To comprehend how something is changing, users need to have a view of how things currently work, related to how things will work in the future, and the difference between the two. As the picture of the future state builds iteratively in scrum agile, the change agent must set expectations upfront with the users as to how the overall context will emerge incrementally. They must arm the end user with the mindset and attitude to show resilience within the agile process, where final certainty cannot be given until the completion of the sprint cycles when there is full confirmation of the total scope.
This also means the change agent must take a fluid approach to the Change Plan. This document, covering what change interventions will be undertaken, when, how and to whom, will require ongoing adjustment. It can be useful to use a mini-change plan document to take what is delivered out of each sprint cycle, get it validated in the showcase presentation at the close of the sprint and execute the change interventions at this sprint level, whilst building up the contextual change-story that sits above each individual sprint delivery and sense-makes the overall context of the change.
Implementing changes incrementally out of the sprint cycle, when done well, can be a great advantage as it strengthens the end user adoption of the change. The incremental 'test and learn' approach of agile, means the end user is much closer to the development process.
Spotify: Spotify, the music streaming giant, adopted Agile methodology to create better collaboration and faster time-to-market. The company uses a modified version of Scrum Agile called the "Spotify Model" to manage its development process. This has helped Spotify to respond more quickly to customer feedback and launch new features more rapidly.
Siemens: Siemens, a multinational conglomerate, implemented Agile methodology to improve its software development process. The company used Scrum Agile to break down large projects into smaller sprints, which allowed for faster feedback loops and quicker iterations. This resulted in increased productivity, better quality, and faster delivery of software products.
These case studies show how rapid feedback on the quality of what is delivered and it's effectiveness to address the original business problem can enhance productivity. This safeguards against the 'uh-oh' factor that can kick-in at the end of a waterfall project, when the solution is finally unveiled, but fails to meet the business need.
Change Cat Cartoon - 'Emperors New Clothes', copy right Paige Clark, 2023
Where the change agent is embedded in the scrum team, they will potentially have much closer and more valuable access to the end user. Course corrections, not only to the product development, but also to the change approach, can be quickly identified and rapidly addressed. Scrum agile brings an increased responsiveness to the user need, through the iterative test and learn approach. The end user sees the results out of each sprint cycle and can therefore more closely and responsively participate in fine-tuning the solution. This can pay big dividends in ensuring the final solution closely meets the business need, is and well received for high buy-in and user adoption, and early and high realisation of business benefits. Here are some illustrative case studies from successful scrum agile projects.
NASA: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) adopted Scrum Agile methodology to manage its software development process for the Mars Rover. The project was divided into small, manageable sprints, allowing the team to iterate quickly and respond to changing requirements and technological advancements. This led to the successful launch of the Mars Rover, which is still sending data back to Earth today.
Salesforce: Salesforce, a cloud-based software company, uses Scrum Agile to manage its development process. The company adopted Agile methodology to improve collaboration between its development teams and customers, resulting in a better understanding of customer needs and faster delivery of new features. This has helped Salesforce to maintain its position as a market leader in customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Toyota: Toyota, the Japanese automotive manufacturer, used Scrum Agile methodology to transform its manufacturing process. The company implemented Agile principles to reduce waste and improve efficiency in its production lines. This led to a significant increase in productivity, reduced lead times, and improved quality of its vehicles.
This is in contrast to the waterfall approach, when the technical development team seemingly work behind a closed door for many months, only to emerge from their isolation at project go-live, when the chance that what is delivered will actually meet the business need is rendered more tenuous.
Summary - Key Tips
In summary, here are the key tips for embedding change management successfully into scrum agile for high adoption and meaningful results.
Have a dedicated change agent within the project.
Embed the change agent within the scrum team.
Prep the organisation, and crucially all the support functions. to effectively support rapid-fire agile delivery. This includes setting appropriate expectations with the business as to how agile is different from waterfall delivery, the advantages it offers, and how to work with it successfully.
Use a sprint specific impact assessment template to cover all change points out of each sprint cycle.
Maintain a sprint specific Change Plan, iterated with each sprint cycle and delivering incremental change interventions that ties into a cumulative change story.
Use the enhanced user feedback opportunities to apply the test and learn approach not only to the product solution, but the change approach. Clear goals and objectives must be formulated for change adoption and delivered to out of each sprint cycle.
Build an iterative collective change story out of each sprint, that provides an emerging comparative map to the differences between the current state and future state ongoing until final scope is qualified.
Regardless of the project development methodology used, change management is an essential component of any effective project delivery. Best results can be delivered using scrum agile when a dedicated change agent is embedded into the team and participates fully in the development sprints. This ensures the elements that will ensure change adoption are identified both at the micro sprint-specific level, but can also be assembled into a cumulative contextual change story to inform and sell the vision of the overall project success.
Bennett, Andrew L., (2019) An Empirical Longitudinal Analysis of Agile Methodologies and Firm Financial Performance - ProQuestl64K (proquest.com)
Clayton, Sarah Jensen, 2021, Harvard Business Review, An Agile Approach to Change Management
Conforto, E. C., Salum, F., Amaral, D. C., da Silva, S. L., & de Almeida, L. F. M. (2014). Can agile project management be adopted by industries other than software development?. Project Management Journal, 45(3), 21-34.
Hayes, J. (2018). Organizational Change Management for Agile and DevOps: A Practical Guide to Agile Adoption.
Barb Grant, the author, is a master change practitioner, the Director of Encompass Consulting, 'Bold Change' and author of the #1 Amazon bestselling book for change agents, 'Change Management that Sticks' which features cartoon Change Cat. Barb has worked in a range of agile environments, and was formerly the Digital Change Lead at ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation of New Zealand, a crown entity and the Digital Readiness Manager on ServiceIQ's Microsoft Dynamics service portal build project.
If you need help to evolve your organisation's change management practices to support agile, or have a complex business change need to address, then use the contact form below or email barb direct at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free no-obligation chat about your requirement.