Auli Packalén: How do you lead change in agile mode?

Who wouldn’t want to be or become lean and agile? Everyone is thrilled about the idea of delivering value continuously and more effectively, but who has considered what agile development means from the people change management perspective?

At the moment Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) seems to be the agile framework that many enterprises are piloting or already widely using when aiming at achieving the benefits of Lean-Agile development at enterprise scale.

Even though the SAFe framework pretty well covers nearly all the aspects of leading an enterprise, development portfolio, programs and teams, it lacks the angle of leading change. And now I’m not talking about agile transformation i.e. implementing a change to agile mode of operation, which can be immense. I’m referring to leading and managing changes and impacts that programs have on people and their daily work. With the impact I mean work, effort and behavioral changes that are needed in order to gain the aimed benefits.

So if you’re aiming at becoming lean and agile, how do you make it possible for people to adapt changes continuously and more effectively?

Based on my experience, I see two steps to start with:

1) Include a Change Manager in the Program-level Management and the stakeholder and impact analysis and activity planning in the key program-level ceremonies. The responsibility of the Change Manager is to identify the impacts of the planned program increment and sprint content, to prepare and iterate change implementation action plan, and to execute the planned activities to pave the way for stakeholders to adopt the changes to their daily life and habits.

2) Include a Portfolio Change Manager in the Portfolio-level Management, start the continuous analysis of the organizational capacity (or velocity in agile terms) and maintain the portfolio level view on stakeholder impacts over time. Naturally this will require regular interaction with the change managers of the individual programs. The responsibility of the Portfolio Change Manager is to identify the impacts that implementation of certain item (epics in SAFe terms) has on customers and/or people working in the business organization. Additionally, it should be up to him or her to continuously estimate capacity of the stakeholders to adapt new ways of working, solutions, services, systems, features etc.

For short-term gains in leading change successfully, it pays off to start with the program level. For long term benefits and enabling the agile adaptation of new services, systems etc., the portfolio-level set-up is a must. Otherwise it will be tough to see the forest from the trees and lead the change with the approach that serves the customers and business stakeholders instead of burdening them.

PS. My apologies for including so many SAFe terms in this text. If you’re not so familiar with the framework, please visit the SAFe site. By clicking the parts of the picture you will get a description of each part of the framework.

The writer is a certified SAFe Agilist who works as a Principal consultant at CCEA. Read more about Auli or follow her on Twitter.