What do change managers do who work agile principles?


So I’m at Agile Australia* at the moment. Agile continues to be a growth trend for organisational change practitioners with companies and clients wanting to know what your Agile chops are. Not having done any agile training or certification, I think that I work with Agile principles, but wasn’t too sure.

A couple of years ago, I asked Jenny VanDyke to guest blog a post on the difference between change management in waterfall projects and agile projects and her analogy of cooking is worth a read. I certainly resonated with that.

After Day 1 of the conference, I’m pretty comfortable that what I do is very aligned with Agile practice, and having worked in Business Improvement teams and companies that use Lean and Kaizen, I have obviously been influenced in this regard.

I’ve just sat through the second day keynote – the noted Linda Rising on the Myths and Patterns of Organisational Change. She was very good. The content reflected traditional organisational change practice, not necessarily applied to Agile (or anything different or new in organisational change management). If you are new to projects or change, then definitely do put her on your reading list!

But this presentation and the other presentations and conversations from yesterday prompted me to articulate what it is that I do these days that I consider “agile” in my change management practice – and I’d invite Agile practitioners and other change practitioners to chime in in the comments and share your thoughts on what agile change management is.

1) It’s International Work Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) and increasingly I look for opportunities to Work Out Loud. Working out loud requires a commitment to transparency and taking risks. In a previous post I shared a change strategy developed through #wol. Working out loud amplifies the opportunity for collaboration, communication and buy in.


2) I live by the practice of get the artifact / idea to 70% complete and share and ask for others to make it better. At this point there is shared ownership in the artifact (change communications, training material, presentations, plans). Done is better than perfect.



3) I use simple visual management to generate conversations of understanding and influence. This image is of a simple change scorecard I am using at the moment. It’s A3, sits above my desk on my current engagement and see the creases? I pull it down and take it with me to meetings. See the red? Very effective for getting attention – your business unit is red because there is not demonstrable change leadership yet. It gets updated on a monthly basis before the steering committee and is purely subjective. It’s ok if some-one disagrees with me on how I have rated the elements – it creates a conversation on why and I can either learn more and change (see the scribbled red in the top right corner)  or share more information with the stakeholder as to why it is that way and how we can get it to amber or green. Some of these will be red by virtue of not started, but it communicates what has to be done.


4) Communicate, communicate, communicate – ironically (given my background) this is the hardest to do even with the disciplines of “scrums”. We get busy doing. We forget to catch our own teams up with the latest stakeholder issues. But do it we must.


5) I use change roadmaps over change plans – they are easier to change, and more suitable for A3 visual management. A stakeholder will look at a roadmap, they won’t look at a 400 line plan. It is easy for a stakeholder to “insert” themselves in the roadmap, the change plan can shut them out as it is too overwhelming.


6) I play the role of guardian – I guard the language of collaboration (call out non inclusive language), I guard the “personas” in design workshops (they are the people of change) and I guard the value proposition of the project, because this is the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM). It is the change managers role to protect these three attributes and not let the design of the change overlook these attributes.


7) I rely on active feedback loops (or the social architecture of the organisation) and testing (transparency) – we see our change activities as iterations. This is one of the trickiest, because we need to balance the need to include the feedback and the need to know what is the right thing to do from a change management perspective. One person’s co-creation can be another persons “tail wagging dog” or reluctance to embrace the change. Having said that, a true feedback loop permits you to find out why they are reluctant and iterate again consistent with the value proposition..


8) So much of agile change management is thinking on our feet – we are not wed to processes, frameworks and artifacts, but respectful of all. The time it takes us to write a 40 page change strategy and plan is time we could be having conversations of change with the leadership who need to champion the change. One of the speakers delivered the joke “Methodologies give people with no ideas something to do” . There is some truth in this, yesterday, I got asked many times do I follow [x] methodology and on saying no, was asked how do I know what to do? Agile change management is common sense – you need to be good at triaging, prioritising, nimble, use enough of a process or framework to get momentum, and know when to step away and do something completely different. In the previous post Jenny Vandyke notes that change managers need deep expertise. To a certain extent rigid application of processes is great for people with no expertise in change – in the absence of nothing, thank goodness for the methodology! But to know when to step away, you do need the expertise and learning.


So that’s my impression at this stage, still several presentations to go. For those change managers working agile – what are your unique practices that make you an “agile change manager”. And for the bona fide agile practitioners, what makes a good change manager to you?


* For the record , it is handsdown one of the best conferences I have been to internationally.  It is a lot like change management conferences though, the awkward clashes of newbies and experienced hands, the definitional dramas of what is Agile, along with argy bargy of which methodology to use. Good fun! Kudos to Slattery IT 



Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.


  1. Kate McAree says:

    Jennifer great article and perspective of the conference & I’ve worked in a few organisations that have had both Lean and Agile introduction as a foundation of working. It was a really good way of speaking with the groups on change initiatives as it was easy to access groups through daily stand-ups. The visual progression on groups/teams Agile boards meant the teams were able to check and move through their progress and other areas could see this as well.

    The challenge people experienced was embedding the new approaches and needs Agile coaches to help guide the way. On the other hand I think frameworks/methodologies have their place as it gives organisations a level of comfort that the change manager has an approach and not making it up a they go. The challenge with the methodologies are they should be used as an approach and guide as each organisation and change is situationally different and as practitioner we need to be able to recognise what will work best.

    Your point of 70% completion of artefacts and circulate for feedback is so true as we need others to contribute as well. I use roadmaps often to express ideas as and loved the change scorecard such a great way to show areas of where are and how they can contribute to the change leadership.


  2. Jason says:

    Hey Jen, you’ll discover quickly that much of what is talked about at Agile conferences is the reshaping of ideas that have existed in OD and CM for decades. Early on, Agile practiioners latched onto the good feeling of the Agile Manifesto and learned over the last 15 years that it isn’t enough to bring about meaningful change.

    Now they’re looking at ‘traditional’ change and OD practices (Kotter, Lewin, Competing Values Framework, Situational Leadership etc etc) to get a ‘leg up’ in the Agile consulting world by bringing in elements from other communities. It’s funny that what is new and shiny to Agile folks is outdated and irrelevant for some OD/CM people and vice versa. That said, both communities want the same thing: more resilient organizations with happier people.

    I largely agree with your 7 points. Agile is about iterative delivery, participatory creation, cross-functional teams, multi-skilled people and respect for people.

  3. Great post Jen! Agile and Change Management can go so well together. I am particularly passionate about the opportunities Agile offers to show business value early. I love the communicate, communicate, communicate too. Agile creates situations where people are forced to collaborate and share ideas rather than working isolated silos for a long time that are impossible to integrate later.
    I went to Linda Rising’s workshop in Melbourne and was really impressed. Her book has become a great reference for me.

  4. Jill says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this helpful post! Numbers 2, 3 and 6 especially spoke to me.

  5. Samantha says:

    Hi Jen, great post and with some helpful tips. I like the idea of your change scorecard to really get people’s attention.

    Please could you share a picture of one of your change roadmaps?

    • mm Jen says:

      Hi Samantha, thanks for dropping by. I’ll send you one. The scorecard does work really well – the big lesson in change is not be afraid of calling things out in red, as long as you can talk to what needs to occur to change it to amber / green

  6. Hi Jen,

    You provide some excellent practical guidance here!

    Just a quick question, you mention using change roadmap (in A3 format) – I’m just wondering what it might look like, ie a format that you have found to work?


    • mm Jen Frahm says:

      Hi Alex, thanks for dropping by. Yes, you have just reminded me I did not reply to Samantha with the same query.

      Basically, I use ppt and print it in A3

      Dates (months) across the top, mapped to objectives or project phases. Left hand side, the various streams of change, and then put the activities under the phases or objectives. The main thing is you print out the document and you take it with you to meetings so people can scribble on it and move things around. Its far less precise than a change plan, but it gives you the roadmap to where you are going.

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