A Change Management Approach to Agile Adoption

A Change Management Approach to Agile Adoption

Insights | 13 October 2016

Agile adoption doesn’t have to be painful, nor does it mean businesses have to suddenly transform themselves from top to bottom. That said, introducing agile methods without a singular focus on change management risks widespread resistance or worse, failure.

A core objective of agile thinking is to instill the culture of rapid iteration and innovation that is required to compete in today’s global marketplace. Yet, despite the fact that agile essentially embraces change at its very core as articulated in the 2001 agile manifesto (“responding to change versus following a plan”), its implementation requires a great deal of thoughtful, upfront planning.

Agile is in fact a journey more and more companies are undertaking. According to the 10th Annual State of Agile survey (2015), agile continues to gain momentum across the globe. Polling nearly 4,000 respondents, 43% of people now work in development organisations where the majority of their teams are adopting and thinking in an agile way.

With that, barriers to successful adoption remain challenging. According to the above mentioned survey, the main issues to overcome are around organisational culture, a resistance to/lack of ability to change and management support.

Our experience has shown us that some of the challenges can be addressed by:

Dropping The Jargon

Upon researching, you are likely to find out there are roughly 125 unique agile phrases and acronyms, many of which would not be easily parsed by anyone new to the practice. This presents both barriers as well as opportunity; do you really need to know a timebox from a Scrum of Scrums on day one? Probably not.

Enthusiasm for a new way of thinking is a fantastic thing, however, ensure everyone on the team knows that agile adoption does not necessarily have to be accompanied by an overwhelming wave of new words and concepts – focus on what people need to know and at what stage they’ll need to know it.

Unravelling Misconceptions

There is a common misbelief that moving to agile requires everyone to adopt new ways of doing meetings, reports, lingo…everything, however, organisations are implementing agile in innovative ways that allow for integration alongside existing frameworks and approaches. Almost every organisation that adopts agile, either in whole or part, is aiming for the same end goal: to avoid ‘investing in failure’ by instead putting communication, learning and validation into every step of the process – there is more than just one way to do that.

Knowing Agile Can’t Solve Everything

Writing in CIO magazine, Dr. Myles Bogner and David Elfanbaum rightly point out some of the challenges during agile adoption which are common reasons why change management is so critical to implementation success.

Things commonly overlooked, they say:

  • New training needed to function in a continuous release environment
  • Fostering of enterprise-wide acceptance
  • Addressing issues of “discomfort with non-technical changes relating to software implementation”

Aligning Reality and Emotion

In their influential book, “The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organisations”, John Kotter, a professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, and consultant Dan Cohen, identified a change framework they call “see-feel-change” which can run counter to what many of us may have been taught.

That, they describe as “analyse, think and change.” It’s simply not effective, they infer.

“People change what they do because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings,” they write. “This is especially so in large-scale organisational change, where you are dealing with new technologies, cultural transformation, globalization and e-business. In an age of turbulence, when you handle this reality well, you win.”

Driving Business Agility Through Change Management

Gone are the days when an organisation would be considered agile because it responded quickly to change. Today, being truly agile involves getting ahead of changes and positioning the business to benefit from – not just withstand – disruption and market forces.

To give you an idea of the costs of ignoring true business agility, Ray Wang makes a strong case in a recent edition of D!gitalist magazine under the category of “CIO Knowledge.” Wang points out that since 2000, 52% of companies listed in the U.S. Fortune 500 have “either gone bankrupt, been acquired or merged, or ceased to exist.” Such organisations, Wang writes, “failed to respond quickly to the pace of change. In fact, the lack of business agility led to their demise.”

Understanding Change Management vs. Programme Management

Moving to a more mature process can also be a competitive advantage. Our recent Australian PMO Survey revealed two out of every three “transformational PMOs”, or those PMOs tasked with overseeing business transformations, have defined programme management processes, yet the majority of those PMOs (83%) described these processes as still immature

That number nearly flips, however, for those PMOs who have a defined organisational change management methodology in place. Among those responders, 80% believe their process are mature. The operative takeaway: A change-centered methodology works.

Leading From Above

Finally, the need for agile to be championed by strong leadership from the top has never been greater. The same research from our PMO survey report makes the case for a new kind of PMO called “The Emergent PMO” who can make that final shift from process control to collaboration and iterative methodologies.

This Emergent PMO understands how to:

  • Add value to the business
  • Align a project portfolio to business objectives
  • Foster a collaborative environment
  • Identify problems early
  • Continuously adapt
  • Create new capabilities

In other words, exactly the profile of people who can create a lasting bridge between an agile environment and fostering true business agility.


  • Veracode’s 10th Annual State of Agile Report 
  • PM-Partners Group 2015 PMO Report
  • Agile Manifesto 
  • An Agile Approach to Change Management: Dr. Myles Bogner & David Elfanbaum 
  • The Heart of Change 
  • D!gitalist Magazine (The “!” in the name is correct) 
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