Does Agile Development Benefit From Change Management? Oh, Heck Yes.

We all know there are many benefits to using Lean/Agile development for your organization  like reduced waste, faster time to market, higher customer satisfaction, quicker value attainment, and more productive delivery teams. The problem is that many organizations struggle to achieve all the value of that Lean/Agile promise. This is especially true when it comes to internal projects, where the “customers” are end-users that are part of your own enterprise, not the public.

So, what’s going on?

The problem is a lack of change management. Surprising, right? Standard Agile process assumes that end-users are part of the Agile scrum team, and therefore included in everything from planning and user stories to the Sprint demos – hardly a classic case for change management. Unfortunately, however, particularly in an organization leveraging Agile over a wide variety of projects, the reality is often very different. It can be very difficult to get end-users fully engaged in being part of one (or more) focused scrum teams for two-week sprint cycles when the needs of their day-to-day work are bearing down on them – not to mention changes from projects they have nothing to do with! Which means they aren’t actually involved in everything.

It doesn’t stop there, either. One of the principle tenets of the Agile and the Scaled Agile Framework is to “develop on cadence, release on demand”, which means to develop demonstrable code every two weeks (sprints) to take advantage of Agile/Lean processes, but release to end-users when they want it. But with internal projects, value isn’t fully realized unless there’s a clear understanding of what a good ‘demand point’ is for the end-user release; i.e. when they really want it.

This is an area where change management practitioners, processes, tools, and techniques can add value to Agile. An experienced change practitioner working with the impacted stakeholder and/or end-user groups can bring change insights and release strategies to the Agile release team, such as using a soft launch release if an end-user group has too many other impacts happening at the same time as your release. Basically, change management can help you to:

  • Understand the stakeholders – your end-users: Who are they? What do they value? How do they deal with ‘new’? What are their perceived wishes, what irritates them, who or what influences them, and how?
  • Understand the impacts: Impacts to the end-users are in NO WAY CORRELATED to the development effort or scope. Indeed, the opposite can happen. Something that is easy to develop may be hugely impactful to the end-users precisely based on the limited development effort. We need to understand the impacts to our end-users, their processes, their roles, as well as their systems, in order to enable them to adopt as quickly as possible.
  • Understand the environment and change context: How many other projects are going to be released at the same time as yours? What is the level of impacts of those projects and where does yours rank? How much focus will be required on your project’s features to ensure adoption and value creation? Is your project important enough to the end-users (vs. competing projects) to achieve that focus? What do you do if it’s not?
  • Communicate end-user value: Even though the Kanban system in Agile is geared towards releasing “high-value” features as quickly as possible, not all of those features are high-value to every group of end-users. You need to communicate the “why” of that release, present the WIIFMs (What’s In It For Me), and tie it to the overall story. This requires a comprehensive communications strategy, plan and execution.

Agile/Lean holds great promise for optimizing the delivery value of our internal development projects, particularly if we can successfully “release on demand” and optimize end-user adoption. We know that projects backed by the effective application of change management are six times more likely to achieve project objectives*; integrating change management practices and practitioners as part of the Agile team and framework enhances end-user readiness, adoption, and, ultimately, real value attainment for your Agile development project.


  • from Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management Benchmarking Study



PeopleFirm is a management and HR consulting firm dedicated to helping you achieve that ultimate win-win: inspired people driving inspiring performance. We focus on effective tools, measurable outcomes, real results, and getting your people out of their seats and engaged in your company’s growth. We use people strategy, talent management, organizational performance, and change management, to help you partner with your people to build an organization that excels in today’s new world of work. People are your last competitive frontier. Make them count.

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