Agile Change Management 101: A Crash Course

Agile Change Management 101: A Crash Course
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Agile change management is a new concept, one that carries great benefits for anyone involved in organizational change.

By combining the principles of agile software development with change management best practices, we can get the best of both worlds.

Below, we’ll explore the basics of agile and change management. Then we’ll see how they are being combined into agile change management, an approach that brings a lot to the table … especially in today’s digital-first economy.

Let’s go over the basics, starting with agile, an approach to software development.

To begin, we will look at the “old” way of doing things, which is quickly falling out of fashion.

The Waterfall Approach

The waterfall approach to development is the traditional route to developing products.

With stakeholders, product teams design a product, plan it, then roll it out over the course of weeks, months, or years.

A hallmark of this style – and its greatest weakness – is its inflexibility.

Rather than responding to customer demands, needs, or feedback, it simply follows the blueprint laid out.

Today, the digital economy is driven by change, making this approach nearly unsustainable.

A Few Key Concepts of Agile

The Agile Manifesto was perhaps created as a response to the waterfall approach.

And, as these key concepts demonstrate, it looks almost exactly the opposite:

  • People First – Agile focuses on “individuals and interactions” above processes and tools. This makes agile a very customer-driven approach.
  • Responding to Change – Rather than following a predefined plan, agile emphasizes flexibility and the ability to react quickly.
  • Collaboration – Developers stay in constant contact with customers and other business members, enabling flexibility and responsiveness. The core development team also regularly meets, usually in scrum meetings, to touch base and plan the day’s moves.
  • Workable Software – The agile workflow also demands workability, early and often. The Agile Manifesto points out that “working software is the primary measure of progress.”

As you can see, the name agile is quite fitting.

And, in today’s change-driven economy, it is also very appropriate.

It allows software teams to stay nimble and responsive, something very necessary in today’s competitive digital world.

Agile Change Management 101: A Few Best Practices

For the purposes of this article, we’ll look at IT services change management. This is the type of change management handled by ITIL, which is distinct from organizational change.

IT services change management standardizes how IT service change requests are handled. It’s also the approach that would best be taken whenever there are changes to a project.

In this context, agile change management means: managing, processing, and handling changes to the project itself.

In other words, how well does your project respond to change?

Regardless of the size of a project, there are a few ways to apply agile thinking to change management. Following steps like these will ensure that your project is staying lean, nimble, and agile … and that it can respond to changes when they arise.

Consider unfreezing requirements for each iteration. This approach allows your project to respond more quickly to changes, but it requires your developers to be more comfortable with unstable requirements.

Never model too far ahead. The further you model ahead, the less responsive your design will be to change requests. However, this need must be balanced with the availability of stakeholders.

Collaborate and adjust frequently. First, collaborate with customers, because they drive your products. Then, collaborate with stakeholders and other teams as necessary.

Make sure you have a change process that is lean and fast. This is the baseline for your agile change management workflow. If you have no system in place for changing your project, then it isn’t really agile … let alone agile change management.

Think “change efficiency” instead of “change control.” In agile, change is desirable and natural. This perspective change is one of the most important when it comes to making your change management process more efficient.

Establish regular, rule-based processes for all of the above. There is a reason why scrum is held daily — it works. Establishing routines, habits, and systems ensures that policies get followed. Create documentation for and do the same for all of the above, including collaboration, change processes, and so on.

As we can see, agile change management is really about being agile with changes to the project scope, product features, and other aspects of a project.

Conclusion: Is Agile Change Management Right for You?

Taking an agile change management approach offers a few benefits.

By facilitating change, instead of controlling it, you are enabling agility and adaptability in any project.

This helps any project become more agile, especially as you focus on shrinking the timespan of customer-feedback loops. The more you free your team to respond to changes and react accordingy, the faster and more efficiently you’ll be able to deliver.

Naturally, agile change management comes with challenges.

Stability can be a problem, as can stakeholder consensus or availability.

However, with the right balance of stability and speed, agile change management can ensure your project stays competitive and profitable.

Christopher Smith
Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.
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