Change Management: A Parable on Agile

change management
Change Management: A Parable on Agile

William was an avid planner.  For his new year’s resolution, he decided to plan each day of the coming year.  He planned the days he would do laundry and mow the lawn.  He calculated the number of miles he would drive each day so he could plan the specific days on which he would purchase gas and have the oil changed in his car.

No change management at all

He planned every meal for every day of the year and wrote his shopping list for each Saturday at 9:00 AM when he would shop.  He also planned the clothes he would wear every day of the year.  He anticipated the productivity gains he would realize as a result of this planning.

His planning ran into setbacks almost as soon as his year began. A snowstorm occurred on January 3rd, which interrupted his grocery outing, not to mention the clothes he planned to wear.  As the days carried on, his plans ran into more setbacks.  On days he needed clothes, laundry wasn’t done.  On some days when he planned to mow the lawn, it rained.  Sometimes, it didn’t need mowing.

He would run low on gas on days when he hadn’t planned to buy gas and he found that he needed oil changes before or after their calculated dates.

There were occasions when he was invited to dine out with friends, which caused him to change his planned dinners, resulting in wasted food.  The clothes that he planned to wear were not always conducive to the weather for that day.

William’s planning is obviously extreme, and you could have guessed what would happen to his plans as soon as he began to execute them.  But it’s not terribly different from how businesses plan projects.

Business organizations will plan yearlong – or longer – projects with a detailed project plan mapping out every step they will take to deploy the end product on a designated date.  They drive toward that date as if nothing will change.

The need for change management

In the reality of our daily lives, we mow the lawn when it needs it.  We decide upon the clothes to wear on a daily basis, depending on the weather.

We plan other things such as meals for the near term and purchase groceries accordingly.

If we use flexibility and avoid planning out too far in advance in our personal lives, why don’t we follow the same logic with change management in the business world?

There is another way.  The agile approach to project management emulates much more closely how we plan our personal lives.  In agile, you start with a list of functionality that the business would like.  This is called the product backlog.

The project team works on the backlog in “sprints” – one- to four-week time periods where they commit to producing the highest priority of work.  Sprint planning sessions are held where the business owners prioritize the work that needs to be done for the next sprint. Then, the team begins estimating and assigning tasks for which they can commit for the next sprint period.

In many instances, they can deliverable product that the business can begin using immediately.   They gradually dig away at the product backlog, working on the highest priority work in each sprint.

Added flexibility

The major benefit of the agile approach is the flexibility.  The business may come up with new requirements or new priorities as the project progresses.  Planning out each sprint based on the current priorities allows them to direct the team to work on the highest priority at all times.

Using the traditional “waterfall” approach of planning the full duration of the project, the plan needs to be reconfigured every time requirements and priorities change.  Team members often have to be reassigned.

Business organizations pride themselves on long-term planning and tracking of projects without realizing the time they spend rescheduling, re-planning and trying to determine who is to blame when dates are not met.

See my related post: 12 Project Management Lessons from James Bond

Using a more reasonable approach that allows for changes in requirements and priorities will result in getting more done on an incremental basis.  Users are happier because their changes get addressed sooner.  Project team members are happier because they don’t have to answer to time and cost overruns.  Companies are happier because projects get completed to satisfaction, with the most important pieces completed first.

How does your organization plan compared to how you do it in your personal life?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

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