Change Communication in adopting a lean-agile way of working – “The why-factor”
A guiding article about the change communication going from developing in projects to developing in agile teams and teams of teams using SAFe as framework for collaboration.
This article describes both how the change communication from projects to agile was arranged and developed conceptually but also gives the reader real examples on the storytelling used in the communication. The change communication has been developed and executed incrementally and iterative.
- Create a basic concept for the communication including a rational and an emotional view
- Do not get stuck in the plan – iterate you content along the way
- Find a compelling story “a why” – repeat that early and often
- Go from transmission to sense-making
- Use words and language familiar in the organization and remember to change the metaphors
- Do not blame the old, explain the new
In the beginning of a transformation, it is easy to jump into “how questions” right away but then there is a risk that people do not want follow you.
Looking at ADKAR for inspiration the “what” and “why” is more connected to the first two parts in the model – the “Awareness” and “Desire” steps.
You must remind yourself that people are in different places in a large organization – both in mind and work. Some are used to the agile way of working and some have never heard of it. Empathy and patience are needed, ADKAR is an example that reminds you about that. Everything starts with the individual and in “the why”. And we all start from different places with different perspectives. Herein lies the challenge and the great potential.
Change Communication plays a crucial role when changing way of working to agile. The why story on a logical and rational level include the obvious parts such as AI, digitalization, outside competitions and so on. But logical and rational reasons is not enough. You also need to talk to people’s hearts. You need to go from transmission to sense-making. That’s the work for “the why”. As Kotter states in Accelerate: “You need a compelling part. It is not all head. There is heart in it as well.“
Concept for the change communication
A concept for communication can be structured in four parts with four perspectives starting with looking out.
- The outside world – outlook, this is happening in the outside world
- Why do we need to act? Sense of urgency. Recognize the problem to be solved.
- Herein lies the challenge and the opportunity
- Why do we need to act? Sense of urgency. Recognize the problem to be solved.
- The current reality – looking inside, this is how we’ve act so far
- Tone-setting behaviors we want to change to face the challenge and the opportunity in the outside world
- The transformation – this is what we need to do
- Tone-setting behaviors we want to transform into
- The new reality – a new starting point
- This is our new starting point to face the reality (outside world) with
|What. (rational)||Why. Storys. (emotional)||How. (logical)||View of the world||General communication style|
|The outside world||AI, digital disruption, VUCA, regulations etc||“The fog”||Projects, agile teams||Linear /Circular||N/A|
|The current reality||Projects, handovers, start-stop||“Everyone is already doing their best; the problems are with the system … only management can change the system.”||Projects||Linear||Report & inform (transmission)|
|The transformation||Start agile teams and team of teams||“Think differently – do differently”||Cross functional agile teams||Linear /Circular||Storytelling & communication (sense-making)|
|The new reality||Lean-Agile mindset||“Maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead-time”||Cross functional agile teams and teams of teams||Circular||Storytelling & communication (sense-making)|
Content based on the concept
In this stage, the early part of the transformation, you need to mix the “how you do agile” part with mindset, what and why.
The “sence of urgency” story needs both a challenging theme and an opportunity theme. Those how see the opportunity in the digital disruption will be more suited to take on the challenge. It needs to be positive as Kotter states in Accelerate. Because it is about an opportunity.
Guiding articles, blog posts and movies based on the stories
With a baseline in place, a concept, the communication can be developed incremental and iterative. Guiding articles , movies, blog post and so on can be produced in iterations in close collaboration with the the organization.
Change communication incorporated in learnings
Classrooms and e-learnings should also be based on the same why-stories. This makes it easy for the recipient to recognize the content and the message.
Before-Under-After a workshop or learning session
Before a workshop or learning event the content of movies and articles can be sent out to the participant. Under the learning session the educator can reference to the content. And after the participant gets a reminder via e-mail regarding the content. This gives the learner an opportunity to dig deeper into the contents at her own pace.
Renew your metaphors in your communication
Going from a linear way of working (waterfall) to a circular way (lean-agile) also means switching organizational metaphors described by Gareth Morgan as the “machine metaphor” more over to the “organic metaphor.” For example, it can means going from the people view of talking about “specialized resources” to “learning individuals.” Going from “controlling managers” to “servant leaders.” Going from “parts” to “connecting networks.” And the process is no longer “static” rather “dynamic.” And so on.
“If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.”– Joseph Campbell
|Machine metaphor||Organic metaphor|
|The workforce are cogs in the machinery – efficient, durable, reliable.||Employees are part of a changing whole – curious, committed, creative.|
|A reorganization can increase performance. The search for “best practice” is ongoing.||A reorganization can increase the flow of ideas. Exploration of “good practice” is ongoing.|
|Linear view||Circular view|
Storytelling as a method in change management
Stories have always played a big role in people’s lives. Stories have been used as a means of entertainment, education and development, to define social and cultural constructions and to instill moral values throughout human history. Crucial elements in stories and in storytelling are the plot, the characters and the narrator’s perspective. Leaders can use storytelling in there change work using “Storytelling as a method in change management” that is taking the classical dramaturgical model and joins it with Kotters “step” six (Generate and communicate short-term wins) and “step” eight (Institute change).
This is a way to get more of the communication to be sense-making rather than informative.
There is a lot of communications going on in the framework (SAFe), one way to describe SAFe is as a “framework for communicate dependencies and direction.” Communicating business needs, successes, learnings, and visions can all be done with the help of storytelling. The more storytellers you have in the organization the better. In VUCA you do not have the time to wait for someone else to do your communication. Communication professionals become more of coaches and teachers to the organization. And leaders become more of communicative leaders using storytelling as one way to include and engage. From transmission to sense-making simply put.
Examples of stories
The outside world.
Story: “The fog”
Rational: Competing in the age of software
Emotional: Going from navigating under a clear blue sky to navigating in the fog
But what is the why-story? Why do we need to change? The story is for sure not about the method. On a higher abstraction level, it is about the transition from a linear way of thinking and working to a circular. That story needs to stick. And if you want something to stick you need to be emotional. And you need to talk about the story all the time – in articles, movies, in the classroom, in meetings and in blogposts. And do it in a way where you go from transmission to sense-making.
“If we want to communicate the importance of an issue, we need to allocate time to it. If an issue is the first item discussed at every staff meeting, the organization decodes it as being important.” – Don Reinertsen
In his book “The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development” Reinertsen uses the fog to explain why we need to plan with shorter time horizons. Inspired by that story you can developed a story about the “clear blue sky” vs “the fog” explaining the transformation with the metaphor that we in the old way of working more assumed that we were under a clear blue sky with a static goal visible a head of us. In such a context big groups (projects) with fixed scope and timeframe is a logical approach but all of u sudden a fog has arrived. Faced with that everyone can imagen with their own words and feelings what has to be done. In the fog we navigate with advantage in smaller groups (teams) taking smaller steps. We early and often reflect on where we are and where we are going. And we constantly ask each other “are we OK?.” The communication in the fog is face to face and we are more likely to success with a team that is cross functional. Sounds like an agile team, right?
See examples of the story in action here and here.
“Reality is made up of circles but we see straight lines. Herein lie the beginnings of our limitations as system thinkers.” – Peter Senge
When establish the story about the “clear blue sky” vs “the fog” you can drill down and explain the linear vs the circular way of seeing the world. And then big scope vs small experiments and projects vs agile teams seems reasonable. And so on. With that story in your communication you don’t put any blame in the old paradigm. It is actually kind of logically with big scope and big groups under the clear blue sky. It is the context that drives the change! If the context change, you have to change. And everyone can understand that we from now and forward will be navigating in the fog. The challenge and opportunity is to do that that better than your competitors.
So the answer is not the method. The method is the result of understanding that we now is navigating in the fog. This Fog can also be explained more rational as VUCA. An all of u sudden people will understand why we are talking about small batches like in small teams, small experiments an short feedback-loops. And the need for constantly communicate dependencies among and between agile teams and agile trains. The lean-agile way of working simply put.
Let the why-story influence all your content from learning materials to blogposts, movies and articles.
“… the goal of the enterprise isn’t to be Agile, Lean, or SAFe; the goal is to provide a continuous flow of value to the customer. That is the only way to thrive in this age of constant disruption and increasingly complex technologies.” – Dean Leffingwell
The current reality.
Story: “Don’t blame the old, explain the new”
Rational: Projects, handovers
Emotional: There is always a better way
An important part in the change communication is to explain that there is no best way of doing things. There is always a better way. Inspired by the first sentence in the agila manifesto “We are uncovering better ways …” and Demings “Everyone is already doing their best; the problems are with the system … only management can change the system.” it is clear that no individual have done “wrong” in the old way of working. It is the VUCA-world (the fog) that is requiring us to work in a different way, a more circular way – the lean-agile-way. And only management can change that system ergo initiate the start of agile release trains. But there is everyone’s responsibility to constantly improve the system.
Story: “Think differently – do differently”
Rational: Implement SAFe
Emotional: Think differently – Do differently
The prevailing way of thinking and acting causes the result we get but also the problems and costs we experience today. A different result requires a different way of thinking and doing.
“All organizations are perfectly aligned to get the results they do.” – Arthur W Jones
What is visible is easier to act on, but what is invisible has a greater effect.
When we introduce a new way of working with new processes and principles, it is easy to fall into the trap and only deal with and communicate the visible parts processes, tools, roles, etc. It is not enough to make change happen. We must change both how we think and how we act.
To sustain and institute change we also need to change our behavior. It is easier to jump straight into the toolbox and into methods, the visible, and neglect behavior and culture. It is what we say and how we say it and how we relate to each other that creates the conditions for behavioral changes in the long term.
We therefore need to ask ourselves the question: How can we change behaviors while introducing new methods and frameworks? The change communication needs to focus both on doing differently and thinking differently.
The new reality.
Story: “Maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead-time”
Rational: Agile teams
Emotional: Value through short sustainable lead-times
So, is it really stop doing projects that the story is about? We are not really leaving projects; we are leaving the project organization and the plan-driven temporary linear collaboration. In a way a feature or a user story is a project. Something temporally that needs a cross functional view to develop. The change is in the organization developing based on a customer need where we go from temporary projects to long-lasting teams.
The sentence “Maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead-time” explains what the new is really about. It is what Stephen R. Covey described in his book “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” as real effectiveness: when you are focusing on both the product and the capability that can produce the product. Covey uses Aesop’s fable about the hen and the golden eggs to describe the valuable lesson about short term wins and long-term thinking. If we want to be able to produce golden eggs tomorrow, we need to take care of the hen today.
If the golden eggs are the value (the outcome) – shortest sustainable lead-time is the capability. In a lean-agile way of working the team and teams of teams is focusing on both. So, the change communication needs do tell the story about the product creating the value and the capability to produce the value and that both is organized at the same place over time. A big difference from temporary project organization where focus rarely where on the capability. Why should there? The organization, the capability, was never long term in the first place.
This story also holds the sustainable ingredient. The lead-times are not just short they need to be sustainable. As stated in the agile manifesto, principle #8: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.” The capability that is developing the value is of course us – you and me. There are no machines in software development. The capability is the brain and the heart where creativity and curiosity live. Sustainability is of course part of that story.
“The most dangerous words in any language are ‘we’ and ‘them’.” – Peter Gärdenfors
That agile way of working eliminates also the “we and them thinking”, in theory anyway. The business and technology need to work together at the same place at the same time just as the sentence “Maximum customer value (business) in the shortest sustainable lead-time (tech)” tells us. A so called Lean-Agile approach where flow-optimized value delivery in agile cross-functional teams is central.
Covey, Stephen R. 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. 2012
Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press, 2012.
Kotter, John. XLR8 (Accelerate): Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. Harvard Business Review Press, 2014.
Morgan G. Images of Organization (updated edn). London: SAGE. 2006
Reinertsen, Donald G. The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas, 2009.