Changing How We Change:
The Essence of Agility

Managing organizational change has been a favored topic now for over four decades. Books, articles, academic careers, and entire consulting practices continue to be built around the topic. Apparently we haven't figured it out yet, despite enormous investments. Maybe it's time for changing how we approach Change.

Conventional organizational change practices have been developed from the perspective of the executive or the organizational leader. The problem they address can be stated rather simply: "My organization now does things this way; I want to change it to do things this other way." One variation is also fairly common: "My organization now creates this; I want to change it so that it creates that."

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility

Autumn leaves, a dramatic sign of change in Nature

A vast body of thought, procedures, and methods has been developed to meet this need. But modern organizations now have a new need. They have a need for emergent change. That is, the time scale of needed change is now so short that there isn't time for the organizational leader to learn of the needed change and deploy a change program to implement it. Modern time scales require that people deep in the organization be empowered to collaborate to make needed changes, without necessarily waiting for direction or permission from on high.

This is the essence of agile methods. They enable collaboration between product developers and their customers, and that collaboration is empowered to alter the direction of development without necessarily obtaining higher-level approval. That is, the collaboration has enough latitude to change its methods and objectives to respond to changing conditions and the changing state of its knowledge. We will examine methods for dealing with changes that arise from sources including the customer, competition, technology, social factors, and senior management.

The objective of this program is to change how we view our change management efforts, to enable us to create organizations that are resilient, adaptable, and transformable. Fortunately, we don't have to invent much of this, because those who study the interactions between social systems and ecological systems have done a lot of the work for us already. We can borrow from them; they won't mind.

Program structure and content

In this program we explore methods for creating and maintaining resilient, adaptable, and transformable collaborations that are capable of conducting emergent change. We will clarify the distinctions between resilience, adaptability, and transformability and explore their applications. And we will change how participants view change. This program is available as a keynote, workshop, seminar, breakout, or clinic.

This insight-filled program deals with issues such as:

  • How can we ensure that the agile development methodology for products or services is compatible with other organizational processes, such as purchasing or facilities management?
  • How can project managers deal with policy and procedural changes deployed by senior managers or managers of infrastructural functions, when those managers are unaware of the detailed impact of those changes on the project management process?
  • How can project managers and project sponsors encourage emergent change processes within their projects without jeopardizing orderly control of those projects?

This program can be very interactive, depending on the interests of the participants. It is designed as a framework with content in each of the topic areas, but it is meant to stimulate questions from the audience of the form, "What do you recommend when X happens?" I rarely answer these questions directly. Instead, I work with the questioner to construct a mini-exercise that exposes choices and perspectives the questioner might never have recognized before. And typically, these exercises provide value to substantial fractions of the audience, both directly, and as a result of additional questions they generate.

Alternatively, it can provide a new and higher-level view of change management that exposes the connections between change management and agile methodologies. In this form it makes for a refreshing keynote address, because it provides a novel perspective that unifies organizational concepts not typically regarded as related.

Learning objectives

Content breadth and depth depend on the duration of the program, but topics will be drawn from the list below.

  • Models of change and their domains of applicability, including the Satir Change Model, and Boyd's OODA Model of combat
  • Issues for trying to use 20th century Change Management in a 21st century world
  • The effects of psychological reactance
  • Risk factors for conventional change management
  • What we mean by emergent change
  • The challenges of whole-organization emergent change
  • The inherent differences between products and services, and their implications for Change Management
  • The inherent differences between project-oriented and operations-oriented organizations, and their implications for Change Management
  • The importance of, and distinctions among, resilience, adaptability, and transformability

Learning model

We usually think of project management skills as rather technical — free of emotional content. We hold this belief even though we know that our most difficult situations can be highly charged. Despite our most sincere beliefs, taking an organization to the next level of performance does require learning to apply knowledge management skills even in situations of high emotional content. That's why this program uses a learning model that differs from the one often used for technical content.

Our learning model is partly experiential, which makes the material accessible even during moments of stress. Using a mix of presentation, simulation, group discussion, and metaphorical team problems, we make available to participants the resources they need to make new, more constructive choices even in tense situations.

Target audience

Leaders and managers and project team members. Participants should have experienced at least six months as a member of a project team.

Program duration

Available formats range from a half-day to two days.

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