30 September 2020

Leveraging Lean-Agile Change Management to survive any crisis

By Biase De Gregorio, IQbusiness Executive Partner

At the beginning of the year, no one would have predicted that online meetings would become the norm by April. Yet, as we enter month six of remote working, we realise the vital role the ability to adapt to change will play in business continuity and resilience. It is now quite clear that we are facing a new reality that will be with us long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed.

While some companies may have responded well to the change, we cannot ignore the fact that any crises can disrupt organisations if change initiatives are not properly managed. The solution? A feedback-driven approach with Lean and Agile principles to help enable and embed changes. The principles around a feedback-driven approach to change management include the fact that we need to co-create change, use a people-first vs. a process-driven approach, apply an iterative and incremental approach to change rather than a checklist-driven approach, and lastly, focus on driving change to meet a purpose.

Just as Agile is a series of iterations for delivering incrementally different versions that enable speedy customer feedback, change needs to adopt the same approach with quick feedback mechanisms.

A recent discussion at the KR Change Management during Coronavirus Online Seminar helped attendees discover ways to develop and adopt Agile in a volatile and uncertain world, find purpose in new business models, and engage with leading change management experts. These are my key takeaways from the discussion.

Where does change management start and end?

The uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 requires organisations to recognise leadership and employee sentiments while exploring a new way of working that ensures business continuity. Agile means to adapt and respond to change – regardless of whether this change is people- or technology-driven – to provide a competitive advantage.

In today’s world, businesses need to embrace change – not only to give themselves a competitive advantage, but to enable market-creating innovation (new products and services in new markets). This will, firstly, require businesses to adopt strategic agility; that is to say, the ability to address competitors, disruptors, and new customer demands by adopting a culture of innovation and seeking out emergent strategy development.

Operational agility focuses on Agile product delivery that must adopt a more customer-centric approach. This means that the organisations need to adapt Agile frameworks and methods across the organisation (not only IT) to take advantage of the speed and quality of execution.

Next, companies need to embrace Technical agility. This involves improving the quality of the Agile delivery teams who are facilitated through technical practices, tools, and the automation of repetitive work. This will lead to high-quality, well-designed solutions that support both current and future business needs.

Lastly, and most importantly, this requires a focus on People agility. It includes the investment in the culture of continuous learning, relentless improvement, and building the right skills and competence needed to operate in today’s VUCA environment.

Many organisations still tend to use outdated change management approaches that are not equipped to manage fast-paced change. Lean Change Management is a modern approach that takes ideas from Lean Start-up, Agile, Organisational Development, and Change Management to deal with change-management activities.

Incorporating Lean Change into daily operations

Starting with insights and defining value, businesses need to take a step back and observe behaviours and processes. This could be as simple as conducting workshops, surveys, customer feedback, or even brainstorming.

Next, mapping out possible options using light-weight planning and measurement tools such as Change Canvases, Objective and Key Results, Perspective Mapping, a Sphere of Influence Diagram, and more.

And finally, creating a hypothesis for experiments whereby organisations adopt change options in small experiments. These experiments should have a clear lean-start-up approach (build-measure-learn) to determine whether the hypotheses prove true. If not, the team will determine another option to solve the same problem.

The fact is that when you have been operating in the same way for too long, you become accustomed to specific ways of working and might not see the problems or their rather obvious solutions. The key here is to minimise work in progress.

Combating the impact of COVID-19 with a Lean Change Management approach

As we’ve established, Lean is used to improve processes and reduce waste in production and service processes, but how can it be applied to combat the effects of COVID-19? With many companies battling for survival, logical arguments might be doomed to fail if individual habits and mindsets are not aligned.

Rather, we should be focussing on changing the mindset of “getting the job done” to “how it can be improved?”. This will create a new set of habits where learners become leaders of teams, focussed on long-term objectives that are broken down into short-term targets. When implemented correctly, this change can influence all aspects of business and set you on course to beating the impact this crisis has caused.

Business agility with Lean principles are the survival kit to weather the COVID-19 storm. When organisations invest in change management, they will become more equipped to prioritise value, visualise and monitor improvement, and evolve – becoming a stronger and more competitive player in any industry. In the words of Winston Churchill: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Learn to adapt and thrive on change.

Covid-19 Update