Three of the questions I am frequently asked by participants in my courses are:

1. How do I successfully change my organisation to adopt these methods?
2. How do I get “the business” to work in this way, too?
3. How do I get my senior management team (SMT) to accept these practices?

The last two questions are usually an indication of having already unsuccessfully attempted an organisational change. Usually, the enquirer has adopted new practices in one part of the organisation but is finding that the SMT and the rest of the organisation’s expectations of them haven’t changed. They may be resisting or just simply ignoring attempts to align them with the new ways of working. This is often the reason why the enquirer is on the course in the first place.


Let’s go back to question one and try to answer it by looking at a couple of popular approaches to organisational change to see what insight they give on how to successfully change organisations.

The Prosci Methodology

The Prosci Methodology, which claims to be one of the most widely used approaches to change management in the world, defines 4 foundational aspects they believe are critical for organisational change:

  • Success – the definition of success for your change, which includes the reason for the change, project objectives, and organizational benefits.
  • Leadership/Sponsorship – the direction and guidance for a project, including who is accountable for defining why a change is happening, how it aligns with the direction of the organization, and why it is a priority.
  • Project Management – the discipline that addresses the technical side of a change, by designing, developing and delivering the solution that solves a problem or addresses an opportunity, within the constraints of time, cost and scope.
  • Change Management – the discipline that addresses the people side of the change, enabling people to engage, adopt and use the solution.

“Prosci research reveals that if a project is weak in any of the four aspects, it will struggle or fail.” The second point in the methodology makes it clear that leadership involvement is essential. Additionally, the first phase of the Prosci 3-Phase Process includes identifying impacted groups as one of the supporting activities for the success of the change initiative.

If you followed the Prosci Method, it’s unlikely questions two and three from above would arise, as the change would have been led by the SMT and “the business” would have been part of the change.

Kotter’s 8 Steps for Leading Change

Kotter’s 8 Steps for Leading Change is an award-winning change methodology, which claims to be the proven approach to producing lasting change. Kotter identifies 8 common mistakes in organisational change efforts and the method is centred around how to avoid or overcome them.

Top of the list of mistakes is, “Allowing Too Much Complacency.” The failure to effectively communicate the need for change, leading to resistance to the change and a tendency to return to the status quo.

Number two in the list is “Failing to Create a Sufficiently Powerful Guiding Coalition”. There needs to be a team of key players working together to drive the change, and the team needs to possess four essential characteristics to be effective:

  1. Position Power: Are enough key players on board, especially the line managers, so that those left out cannot block the progress?
  2. Expertise: Are the various points of view – in terms of discipline, work experience, nationality, etc. – relevant to the task at hand adequately represented so that informed, intelligent decisions will be made?
  3. Credibility: Does the group have enough people with good reputations in the firm so that its pronouncements will be taken seriously by other employees?
  4. Leadership: Does the group include enough proven leaders to be able to drive the change process?

Again, if we follow Kotter’s steps, the reasons for the change would be well-known and key players from all impacted groups would be part of the Guiding Coalition, thus making it less likely that the last two questions would surface.

To Summarise…

Although they look at change through different lenses, both of these leading change methods are insistent that before we do anything else, we should establish the reasons for the change, communicate the change to all impacted areas and get senior management participation.

CSPO vs PSPOThis is not new news though. Kotter’s work was first published in 1996 and the original Chaos Report from 1994, often cited in the world of agile, tells us: “The three major reasons that a project will succeed are user involvement, executive management support, and a clear statement of requirements. There are other success criteria, but with these three elements in place, the chances of success are much greater. Without them, chance of failure increases dramatically.”

The answer to the first question, “How do I successfully change my organisation to adopt these methods?” is to make sure these things are in place first. Not having these things doesn’t mean you will fail but it does mean you are much less likely to succeed.

So, just to recap:

  1. There needs to be a good reason for the change. If you want others to come on the change journey with you, you will need to be able to explain why the change is necessary – the benefits, if you like. You will also need to show how you will be measuring success, your acceptance criteria.
  2. Understand that organisations are systems and a successful change to a system benefits the whole system, not just a single part of it. Changes need to include all impacted areas or there will be an impedance mismatch, often making the change detrimental rather than productive. The impacted areas need to know why the change is happening as, if they don’t understand the reasons for the change, they will resist or even ignore it completely. In other words, as they are a crucial part of the system, “the business” should have been part of the change from the start.
  3. Recognise that changes to any part of the system needs authority. Changing multiple parts needs authority within all of them. It’s an age-old management truism: you need permission to make change. Hence the involvement of the Senior Management Team (SMT). Their permission is necessary to make the changes.

We’ve looked at two methods here, Prosci and Kotter but only at the pre-requisites for change and there is much, much more to them than that. For example, they are both quite explicit about how the change should be implemented.

If you’re a Scrum person, you could utilise either and work with them in a Scrum way. If you’re a SAFe person, SAFe actually has its own Implementation Roadmap based on Kotter’s work that you can use as a template.

Of course, the word agile means, “able to move quickly and easily.” Becoming agile gives you the ability to change direction quickly and, therefore, after the adoption of agile practices, the need for change initiatives should be reduced, if not completely eliminated. Instead of management having two areas of focus; how to run the business and how to change the business, now they have but one: how to run a changing business.

Finally, you might ask the question, “What if I can’t get those three things in place?” My response would be to paraphrase the old agile war cry: If you can’t change your organisation, change your organisation!


Further Reading:
Vermeulen F, Puranam P, Gulati R: Change for Change’s Sake: Harvard Business Review
Kotter, John P.(1996) Leading Change. Boston: HBR Press
Prosci: The-Prosci-ADKAR-Model-Overview-eBook.pdf
SAFe: The Scaled Agile Framework
Scrum: The Scrum Guide
Standish: The Chaos Report


If you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of how to effectively implement change within your organisation, then please do join us on one of our upcoming SAFe Agilist: Leading SAFe course dates where we’ll discuss this area in much greater detail. This will also provide you with the opportunity to discuss organisational change specifically in relation to your own organisation, and individual circumstances.