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Frans Riemersma, 09 Feb '16

Switch to Agile: 9 Convincing Change Management Arguments

Use agile to execute your strategy and reach goals. Agile embeds 9 Change Management techniques, which are following human nature. Agile is in our DNA.

Last week a reporter of a marketing magazine asked me: “Why should marketers embrace agile?” My immediate answer was: “Agile makes last minute changes your friend, not your enemy. As a marketer you want to stay up to date with the rapid market changes. Our knowledge of customer needs grows as the availability of big data increases. Agile allows you to react quickly and meet those needs almost real-time. Instead, Waterfall frameworks would suggest you to baseline your planning and resources”.

Let me take that statement one step further. I would say that agile is closer to human nature altogether, not just marketing. It is much more natural than Waterfall is. That is not just an opinion. There are 9 reasons to back that statement up.

Don’t tell me you are funny, make me laugh

The Switch framework is a change management approach. It was published by Chip and Dan Heath in 2010. They offer 9 easy-to-use techniques to help you make things happen: to achieve your goals in business, campaigns or projects, for instance.

The power of Switch is that each of the 9 techniques is based on scientifically proven psychological principles. Nothing of the usual complex flow charts or diagrams where the actual subject of change is missing: people’s behavior.

If you take a peek into the Switch book you will see that they applied the 9 principles to themselves too. It is easy to digest and apply.

Practice what you preach all the way. I love it!

How I made people smile

I started using the Switch framework in 2011. With a team I was building a software onboarding tool to speed up user adoption for a software company, a leader in the MAGIC Quadrant. I used the 9 techniques in two instances, in parallel. First, to drive adoption of the onboarding tool itself among the consultants & partners, and second to drive adoption of the software modules at our clients companies.

The results were impressive. The global onboarding teams and partner network embraced the onboarding tool right from the start. The DIY onboarding tool also increased the ‘amount of projects per consultant’ ratio by 300%. The standardizedonboarding tool freed up 60% of the development team’s time, since the influx of customer specific feature requests nearly vanished. Customers using the onboarding tool reduced the onboarding cycle time by 50% and user adoption rates were 30% higher than before.

I was sold.

Every time I use agile, I am more convinced: Agile has Switch inside. Without even realizing it, you’ll apply the same 9 psychological Switch techniques when doing your Sprints. The Agile framework has change management incorporated. And therefore agile is in our genes and DNA. It is human nature.

Think your colleagues lack discipline? Here is why they don’t.

As a manager you don’t care about agile frameworks or Switch-like buzzwords. You just want a well-oiled productive team which delivers the intended results, right? Rightfully so.

But I don’t have to tell you that the reality is often very different. Have any of the following complaints crossed your mind as a manager in the last weeks? “The team is tired or lazy, shows a lack of discipline, or is often resistant to the necessary change.”

If so, read on to learn why these are only symptoms of an underlying problem. It can be quite easily fixed by switching to a more natural agile way of working. Less draining for your team. More motivating for all.

Switch uses a very simple analogy to explain how human nature works when trying to achieve something. Your brain is like the rider of an elephant, trying to go places.

The rider does the rational planning and analyzing. The elephant is just a six-ton load of emotion and intuition. When trying to reach your destination, you’ll find the road ahead is full of obstacles. Sounds like a normal day in the office, right?

To achieve something the elephant and rider must cooperate. When the elephant hits an obstacle on its path, something uncomfortable, unknown or difficult, the elephant will turn around and stampede back home.

Every time this happens, the Rider will have to use all his willpower to convince the elephant to go against its nature into the unknown. The big problem is, willpower is an exhaustible resource. The Rider will run out of arguments some time. He will lose this game sooner or later. And so will you, my dear manager, when using Waterfall project methods as you address only the rider.

Your colleagues are not resisting, lazy or exhausted. It is you who needs to Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path.

Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is usually a lack of clarity. If you don’t know where to go, you will go in circles or decide to stop moving at all. To direct the rider, you need to formulate crystal clear strategic goals and personal objectives.

Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Facts and analytics data do not move the elephant. Without a compelling and personally relevant goal, the elephant will eventually become unmotivated, worn out and stop walking. Break the goal down into smaller pieces until it no longer spooks the elephant.

Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Remove escape routes in the environment. Agree on simple rules of engagement in the office. Also promote certain desired behavior by mentors or champions. Behavior is contagious. Create behavioral automatisms or daily routines.

The Agile framework in a nutshell

Before we show how agile has embedded change management into its framework, and how it resembles human nature, we briefly lay out the agile framework. Agile is based on the agile manifesto.

The agile framework consists of an array of techniques which serve as rules of engagement when working on projects. We would like to focus on some core agile framework techniques, i.e. 3 roles, 3 lists and 4 meetings.

Three Roles

1. Product owner – Responsible for meeting market needs with product (deliverable).

2. Scrum master – Responsible for smooth process, using agile principles.

3. Team member – Responsible for producing (parts of) deliverables.

Three Lists

1. Portfolio/product backlog – List of desired high-level deliverables.

2. Sprint backlog – List of deliverables broken down by the team.

3. Scrum board – Deliverable tasks in three columns: To Do, Doing and Done.

Four Meetings

1. Sprint planning – Team planning of backlog items for next 2-4 weeks.

2. Daily stand up – Daily 15 min. team meeting about task progress and blockers.

3. Sprint Review – Team assessment of the deliverable.

4. Retrospective – Team assessment of the team collaboration.

Agile has Switch inside: The Switch and Agile Framework

There are 9 Switch techniques in total; 3 for the rider, 3 for the elephant and 3 for the path. Let’s walk through all of them. I will highlight how agile caters for each of the 9 techniques and show how agile is close to human nature.

Direct the Rider

1. Find the bright spots.

  • What Switch suggests. Find out what works already and clone it. Don’t focus on failures.
  • What Agile suggests. In the Sprint Review and Retrospective bright spots surface. Agile promotes the idea of “failing forward” to fuel steep learning curves, serendipity and innovation.
  • Example. When asking people about their onboarding experiences, I heard 89 things that didn’t work and 11 that did. We build the onboarding kit based on the 11 findings and I never told them about the 89. Well, until now. It created a“we can do it, because we did it before” attitude.

2. Point to the destination.

  • What Switch suggests. Paint the postcard destination. Make your goal clear and visible. Formulate your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).
  • What Agile suggests. Set clear brand and strategic marketing goals in the Portfolio & Product backlog.
  • Example. The Brazilian president Lula set himself a simple goal: “If, by the end of my term, all Brazilians are able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, I will have fulfilled my life’s mission.” Kennedy wanted to send “an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade”. Crystal clear.

3. Script the critical moves. 

  • What Switch suggests. Make goals actionable by scripting the next move, action or task.
  • What Agile suggests. Make goals, backlog items and tasks collaboratively relevant and specific. Specify outcomes with the Definition of Done, Acceptance Criteria and, as a personal recommendation, the Definition of Success.
  • Example. “Eat health­ier” isn’t clear. “Switch from whole milk to skim or 1% milk” is very much actionable, less prone to failure and less demotivating too, the West Virginia University found out. The same applies to business: goals should be SMART. For example, “My marketing campaign will generate 3,500 qualified sales leads for the sales group by the end of Q3 2016.”

Motivate the Elephant

4. Find the feeling.

  • What Switch suggests. Make people feel the urgency and importance in reaching the goal. Find the Gut-Smacking-Feeling.
  • What Agile suggests. The transparency of the backlogs and the face-to-face meetings fuel a collaborative team spirit and peer pressure when delivering tasks and results.
  • Example. Donald Berwick, a doctor, declared his crystal clear goal for a large medical audience: “Save 100,000 lives by June 14, 2006—18 months from today.” To find the feeling of the audience he let a mother of a girl who’d been killed by a medical error testify on stage. He met his goal.

5. Shrink the change.

  • What Switch suggests. Break goals, items and tasks down into small pieces until it doesn’t confuse and paralyze the elephant. Make the initial step small, create quick wins, early success.
  • What Agile suggests. Break down the goals and objectives across the three backlogs into bite size portions, e.g. post-it notes (grooming). Agreeing on a Sprint of 2 or 4 weeks, helps to shrink change.
  • Example. The successful debt reduction method of Dave Ramsey, personal finance advisor, is to make a list of debts and start with the smallest one. If cleaning the house is too big a task, Marla Cilley, a successful home organizing advisor, advises to do as much cleaning you can in 15-Minutes and then stop. But you will likely carry on once you get the hang of it.

6. Grow your people. 

  • What Switch suggests. Build a sense of identity. Identity makes taking decisions a lot easier by preventing compromises and politics.
  • What Agile suggests. The scrum master grows team members by consistently applying the agile principles, i.e. the well working rules of engagement, on a daily basis. Also, the Retrospective is especially intended to grow the people and team.
  • Example. In 1962, on a visit to NASA, President Kennedy asked a man: “What’s your job here?” “Well Mr. President” the janitor replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” Kennedy successfully transformed his stonecutters into cathedral builders.

Shape the Path

7. Tweak the Environment. 

  • What Switch suggests. Situations change behavior, so change the situation. Remove obstacles and escape routes.
  • What Agile suggests. The scrum masters’ task is to remove roadblocks mentioned by team members in the daily stand up.
  • Example. Rackspace founder Graham Weston removed the call queue of the Support desk. With that he removed the safety net and it became impossible to dodge the customer. Washington D.C. imposed a five-cent tax on every disposable bag, paper or plastic, handed out at any retail outlet. The result? 68 million disposable bags handed out per quarter reduced to 11 million bags in the first quarter, which also meant 66% fewer plastic bags ended up in the Anacostia River.

8. Build habits. 

  • What Switch suggests. Habits, once formed, become familiar, effortless and easy to repeat behavior.
  • What Agile suggests. The Daily Stand-ups create a strong routine. The fixed duration of the returning Sprints also help to shape desired behavior.
  • Example. As CFO of a university, Mary Carr‘s job is to oversee meaningful budget cuts across about thirty different departments. She manages to succeed by using a very consistent and predictable process, sending out budget updates like clockwork.

9. Rally the herd. 

  • What Switch suggests. Behavior is contagious. Spread your desired behavior to others. Prevent the “not invented here”-syndrome by fueling peer pressure.
  • What Agile suggests. In the Sprint Review and Retrospective desired behavior can be reinforced by the team and scrum master by specifying whether to Do more, Do less, Start doing, Stop doing.
  • Example. To battle malnutrition Jerry Sternin created role models out of mothers whose babies did not suffer malnutrition due to their diversified diet. Hotel towel reuse went up dramatically when people were told that others like them were already recycling.

Agile is in your DNA. Switch to Agile now.

As you can see agile incorporates all of the proven and successful change management techniques of Switch.

As a manager you want a well-oiled and productive team that delivers the intended results. You want to transform your team from appearing tired, lazy, undisciplined, and resistant into a goal owning vibrant team.

Start using agile today to execute your strategy and goals. Use the 9 change management techniques of Switch because they resemble human nature very closely. Agile is in our DNA.

Follow these tenthree or ten steps to transform your team into an agile team.