How agile is your Transformation Management?

To achieve project goals safely and quickly, many transformation managers rely on agile principles. How can you adopt agile practices in your change project? Here are five key aspects.

Transformation management is itself undergoing a transformation. Many companies have become more agile in recent years. Accordingly, the demands on how transformation should be implemented are changing. The move from traditional to agile transformation management rarely happens overnight. It’s not a turnaround, but rather a gradual evolution. Many aspects of agile transformation management seem familiar at first glance: It’s about planning milestones, involving employees, and consolidating new behaviors. These and other basic features of transformation management remain unchanged. The core distinctions can be found in other aspects: the generation of ideas, decision-making, and the implementation of measures.

How can you assess the degree of agility of a change project? In our experience, agility is reflected in the following five aspects:

 

1. Evolution trumps creation

In the past, project managers would lock themselves away for weeks to fine-tune their change plan. They would define each individual step for months or even years to come. If something unexpected came up – such as a reorganization – they had to abandon the elaborate plan. Or even worse, maybe: They would stick to it because so much time and money had already been invested.

This approach was designed for perfection and is now practically obsolete. Transformation plans are considered living documents. In an agile world, change isn’t a thing you achieve in one great effort, but in an ongoing process. Particular measures are put to the test quickly and don’t need to be elaborated down to the last detail. Stakeholders will react to them, and based on their feedback the project team will evaluate, improve, or discard their measures. Such work cycles (iterations) will be repeated until a satisfactory result is achieved. If something doesn’t work, it will be discarded as quickly as possible, according to the agile principle of “fast failure” – saving both time and resources.

Typical features of agile planning are the following:

  • Thinking in two- to four-week periods, so-called sprints
  • Involving stakeholders in setting the goals for upcoming sprints
  • Reviews at the end of sprints help to determine next steps

 

2. Ideation: diversity wins

In many project situations, creative thinking is required. To solve problems in a classic approach, it will be primarily managers who sit down together. On contrast, agile teams will broaden their perspective early on: people with different tasks from the departments involved are invited to contribute their ideas. Expertise and motivation are more important than one’s place on the organizational chart.

Examples of agile formats:

  • Barcamp – an open meeting where the participants initially develop topics they want to work on in the course of the event
  • Design Thinking Workshop – a multi-stage creative process that solves complex problems by involving the stakeholders
  • Community of Practice – an (open) group in which, e.g., transformation managers from different areas can exchange ideas and share their knowledge

 

3. It’s the team that rules

Leadership remains important in agile projects, but it is changing its focus. The core leadership task is to develop team members, to motivate them, and encourage them to take the initiative. Operationally, the team should manage itself: planning the next sprint together, dividing up tasks according to expertise and capacity, and coordinating on a short track. This goes hand in hand with greater transparency. E.g., documents can be viewed at any time – so that everyone can contribute their feedback.

Sample methods of agile teams:

  • Daily stand-up meetings, providing an overview of current tasks, potential bottlenecks and other obstacles
  • Kanban boards, e.g. Microsoft Planner, creating transparency, for example, about planned tasks of a sprint and their status

 

4. Criticism as a driving force

Agile projects tolerate preliminary gaps, putting speed above perfection. This will deliver better results in the end, provided that stakeholders critically support all measures. In an agile world, they will participate intensively in changes, giving the project their feedback on every relevant step. Typically, this happens in reviews at the end of sprints, which involve a group of interested stakeholders.

Other formats engage a larger group of people, for example:

  • Pulse checks – By using dedicated tools, internal opinions can be captured more easily and more frequently compared to traditional internal surveys.
  • Votings – Stakeholders are invited to rate alternative proposals online and determine their favorites, e.g. the topics of a review.

 

5. Making use of mistakes

It’s not only external criticism that plays a major role in agile transformation management, but also self-reflection. Retrospectives are part of everyday project work: at regular intervals, the team will discuss what went really well, and what can still be improved. It’s important not to gloss over shortcomings, but to address them frankly in order to learn from mishaps and omissions. Such a critical culture is not about blaming individuals. The focus of criticism is on the approach and cooperation within the team.

Many companies regularly give failures a stage:

  • So-called fuck-up or failure nights invite supervisors and employees to present their biggest flops and what they have learned from them.

 

In principle, transformation management can only be as agile as the organizational environment permits. In any case, it’s worth taking a closer look: Which agile principles can possibly be tested in transformation management, and maybe extended to other areas in the next step? Some authors suggest that companies are only simulating agility as long as they haven’t undergone a fundamental mind shift. However, we think that companies can definitely proceed pragmatically. Even small steps are useful. Projects can achieve their goals more effectively and faster, and the team and stakeholders will be more satisfied. If transformation management uses agility even in small doses, it can give the organization an agile boost.

 

06.09.2021, Grosse-Hornke

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