Saana Ström: Where did change curve disappear in agile?

Reacting to change is one key principle that we often remember from agile. It is a valid point that we should carefully observe the environment and react if we notice that what we are currently doing no longer serves us. This is fairly easy when we are developing a software with a small group of people. We can easily sit in a round table and decide together what to change, update or maybe even delete from the solution. Then we build what we have decided and implement it. But how does this agile way of developing works when we are developing new culture, mindset, ways of working or something else that requires changes in people behaviour?  

When you are developing an IT solution its quite simple to implement the latest change or update to the solution (keep on reading IT guys, I have a point here 😊). There is no lead time between completed new feature and the implementation. We could even simplify and say that implementation happens by pushing a button. (Remember that if we are really agile we should not have 6 months testing period or other queues before the release.) Now, if we are carrying out a development project let’s say about ways of working, it requires people to start doing thigs differently. So here we have a lead time between the completed idea: “This is the new way of working” and its implementation: people really act differently in their everyday life. This lead time is called a change curve.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve

As the curve shows the adoption of the change does not happen in a second like releasing a new feature. People go through different phases before they are ready to act in a new way and implement the change to their everyday habits. This requires time.

The user adoption process explains the same point: There are several steps people go through before they really start acting in a new way. In the beginning it’s important to get awareness that something is going on and then understand what is going to happen, especially from the person’s point of view. Only after that you can start adopting and changing the way you act.

The learning of this story is that if we are dealing with people we should take into account the change curve and user adoption process if we want the implementation to happen. In agile world we want to implement new things often. But if we are dealing with people, every time we get a new idea, there is a lead time between our idea and its implementation. So, we should be careful how often we tune the design of our ways of working. The moment we decide to do something a little bit differently we need to remember that implementation of that updated way of working requires first communication and after that starts the change curve inside each person. This happens every time we introduce something new. If we keep on changing the direction too often the organization cannot follow and we end up creating a mess. The result is that at the end we are changing nothing. In addition, we can see the results of our new idea only after some time. Only after some time we can say did it work or not. Although, agile guides us to fail fast, we should ensure before making any conclusions or our failure or success, that we really succeeded in the implementation. Especially in big organizations the implementation takes time. The bigger the organization is, the more time the implementation requires because the basic communication that creates awareness takes surprisingly lots of time inside a big organization. It’s important to find the suitable pace for introducing new ideas inside your company.

There is tough something you can do to speed up the implementation. The way to shorten the lead time or even get rid of the lead time is to do the change together with people. When you cooperate with the people who will be affected by the change, the user adoption and change curve phases already start during the ideation/development work. If the ideas for the change come from people themselves maybe the first steps of both change curve and user adoption might even disappear. However, in big organizations you can probably never reach the point where you could do the change together closely with 2000 or even 10000 people at the same time. Thus, there will always be people who will start the change curve and user adoption from the beginning after the first communication.

So, remember to ensure the communication, engagement, coaching, training and other support for the people touched by the change in a project executed with agile way. This is how you shorten the lead time that we would, of course, like to be as short as possible in agile. That is how you also ensure that the implementation will at the end really happen. This is what we call people driven change in CCEA.