Change Management in an Agile Environment–A Moment of Zen

The subject of the 6th chapter of the Agile Practice Guide is the ways in which the organization at large can support an agile project.   The previous chapter covered the subject of implementing an agile project by creating an agile environment within the team.    The theme of this chapter comes from the statement on p. 71, the first page of the 6th chapter:  “Project agility is more effective and sustained as the organization adjusts to support it.”

The first topic in this chapter is change management in an agile environment.    In my opinion, the biggest difference between change management in an agile environment and a traditional project management environment is a psychological one:   the goal is that change should be seen as a positive good rather than as a necessary evil.

A graphic way to understand this comes from a book I am reading now called The Zen Leader by Ginny Whitelaw.   She talks about transforming your consciousness so that you can go from passively coping with problems or changes to actively using those same issues to transform your team and your organization.

A clue to how to do this transformation comes from her explanation of what you have probably seen demonstrated by a karate instructor:   focusing your energy on breaking a board.   She explains that the trick is that the person who wants to break the board does not focus on the board.   If you are trying to break the board, you focus your physical and mental energy on a point behind the board.   You are trying to reach that point, and the board is just something you go through in order to get there.   She says that seeing a problem and focusing on it is a way of coping with the situation.

If there is a problem that the project team encounters, the ways of passively coping with the situation are as follows, from the worst to the, well, least bad:

  • Denial (what problem?)
  • Anger/Rage (hey, what gives–this messes up our comfortable status quo!)
  • Resistance (do we HAVE to do this? Is there any way we can mitigate the change (i.e., sabotage it)?
  • Rationalization (we don’t want to do this, but we’re being forced to by outside forces outside of our control)
  • Tolerance (it’s a necessary evil, but it has to be done if we want to go forward)

If you focus your team not on the problem itself, but on what the solution could possibly mean for the project, then you are flipping your mind from merely coping with the problem to transforming it.

Here are the stages of transforming as opposed to coping with a problem (from the good to the best):

  • Acceptance (well, we don’t have a choice about the problem, but we do have a choice about how we react to it)
  • Joy (if we were to make the change, it would make our customers happier, and benefit our organization)
  • Enthusiasm (let’s all roll up our sleeves and think of how to get there!)

Saying this is one thing, doing it is, of course, another.    One mental exercise she has to help you shift your mind into positively accepting the above three stages is the following.

  • Relax–raise your shoulders up to your ears, the way people do when they are tense.   Drop that tension, and exhale.   Sense that your awareness is going out of your head, and into the center of your body.    Start breathing from the belly or lower abdomen–it will continue your relaxation.
  • Enter–Picture a circle, like the eye of a hurricane, that you can enter.   Although all around you are the swirling patterns of reaction to the problem (the “coping” described above), you now see that inside the circle you see the situation as a puzzle or a game.   This will allow you to enter a flow state where you start to engage your creativity.
  • Add value–From the creativity within that you have engaged in the previous step, project this energy outwards to the other members of your team and lead them into your circle.   The energy will lead your team to help you add value by reaching towards a solution.

This book has been tremendously helpful to me in dealing with problems or changes on a project, and I thought it was important to start the section of Chapter 6 dealing with change management to show how important a psychological shift is when going from traditional project management to agile.

In the next post, I will discuss the particular changes associated with agile approaches.




One Response

  1. This blog content is very informative and logical..
    thanx for sharing us….

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