The Power of Change Management in an Agile World

By Patrick McNulty

The use of agile project management (APM) is growing in popularity as more organizations seek to maximize speed to market and minimize risk. Couple this with an ongoing need to effectively manage the “human” side of innovation, and an emerging trend becomes clear: we are at a tipping point in determining ‘if’ and ‘how’ agile and change management work together.

The Agile Manifesto is deeply engrained in the change management mindset. The key tenets of the Agile Manifesto read as though they were influenced by change management experts, such as John Kotter, Jeff Hiatt, and Kurt Lewin.


Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.


Consider Kotter’s 8 Step Process, which starts with creating urgency for responding to change, followed by collaboration and interaction to create a vision and culture that will promote the future state. Hiatt’s ADKAR model relies on collaboration and interactions to define and drive awareness and the desire of the individual to respond to change. The faster you have working software, the faster you can start transferring knowledge and give people the ability to change. Lewin’s organizational change model recognized that during the “unfreeze” stage, individuals’ existing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors needed to be broken down to respond to change. His subsequent “change” and “refreeze” stages require leadership collaboration and interaction to communicate the “why” and lock in future state standard operating procedures.

What Change Management Looks Like in an Agile Process

Within an agile project, change management ensures collaboration will yield tangible results. Over the last five years, I have witnessed the numerous benefits of the agile methodology, from working with a large public utility company to an agile start-up software company. All included rapid improvements, all depended on people doing something different, and all managed stakeholder engagement to align on outcomes.

Currently, we are implementing Salesforce for a client that is utilizing an agile methodology for the first time. This year, we have gone from project kick-off to a Minimal Viable Product with four releases, introducing significant functionality each release, transitioning their entire 700+ Canada and UKI sales organization to Salesforce. The ability to completely retire a legacy CRM tool, with 100% adoption, in under 12 months is attributable to both agile and effective organizational change management (OCM).

Creating repeatable OCM activities per release requires strong senior leadership commitment, vision, and organizational alignment. Common waterfall deliverables (such as a comprehensive Impact Assessment, Communication Plan, and Training plan) are replaced with repetitive activities and “living” documents, grounded in a leadership-driven organizational change management strategy.

Ensuring the success of our Salesforce project began before our targeted hands-on training. We designed mobile-friendly awareness communications for sales representatives, embedded with sponsorship videos. These videos answered all questions about executive buy-in before training, and this resulted in better learning experiences (NPS score: 67). Sales representatives left confident enough to begin using Salesforce the very next day. Sales representatives also embraced and appreciated their critical role in agile, which was to provide timely and candid feedback.

Feeling part of the development process has proven to help drive early adoption and willingness for users to learn and live in a rapidly changing environment. Agile requires micro-learning and supports a “pull” versus “push” training strategy, so we embedded help videos in Salesforce to give learners that ability to get instant gratification.

A strong change management presence is required in agile to mitigate the risk of disengaged, disruptive end-users. After a 6-week sprint, you might have two weeks to solidify communications and finalize training material. We used a dedicated change management resource on scrum teams to listen-in on design sessions and participate in product reviews, allowing for impacts, misalignment, and training needs to be identified in real-time.

Achieving Results with Change Management

Our client’s previous CRM implementation used a waterfall approach with limited change management activities: it took 18 months to get one group of users on the system and over 2 years to get them all. The original CRM was never updated with user enhancements, which led to poor adoption and marginalized benefit realization in the sales organization. This time around, in less than 12 months, we have a sales tool embraced by users who are already identifying ways to make it more user-friendly.

Knowing how agile and change management can work together is the first step in achieving your growth goals. Strong alignment and trust across stakeholders and product owners allow for transparency and rapid development. With agile and change management working together, teams can collaboratively focus on growth and tangible KPIs, rather than trying to gain individual efficiencies.