Making Change Happen

Updated: May 30, 2024.

How do we make change happen?

First, this is an interesting and somewhat difficult question.

No one knows the complete answer. Change does happen, and people ascribe causes to why the change happened (or did not happen). The facts are very messy so it is hard to be sure, and hard to know if we are sometimes lying to ourselves.

Still change does happen.

Second, some people seem to be better at making it happen than others.

Why is this topic interesting to you? (you might be asking yourself)

Well, I suggest this topic could change your job and your career for the better dramatically.

Take the negative case.  You learn and try to make change happen in one situation, and change does not happen. (Not so surprising, since you never have full control over whether the change happens across multiple people.)  THEN: I suggest some of you move to a different company (or situation).

Take the more positive case.  You try to make change happen, and you can dramatically affect the lives of people you care about. Change them a lot. Double their happiness, boost their productivity by 50% or 100% or more.   Make customers 100% more satisfied. Destroy the competition.

Yes, that would be fun, and maybe especially if everyone sees you as the prime mover.   Agile values, principles and practices, if adopted well and executed professionally, can provide tremendous results.

First, just do Scrum (the best you can).

Just that will change things.  You all will see many things more clearly, and fix more of the more useful things to fix.

1. I think scrum, even if done unprofessionally or partially, can provide notable results (+20%).

If done well, scrum can have a tremendous impact (+500% or more). From the baseline of the team you are working with, the benefits probably can extend higher.  Maybe things top out at 10x better.  (I hear there are examples of teams that get 20x better, but very rare.)

Today, I will not try to justify that statement, but it is an assumption that is key.

2. For any large group of people, the thought processes associated with agile are not the normal culture.

It may be that a few individuals understand agile almost completely, naturally and intuitively with a minimal mixture of waterfall thinking or culture.

It is my belief, based on 16 years of experience, that almost every company has a strong mixture of ‘old style’ thinking that retards, degrades or diminishes success with agile.  Thus, we need a cultural shift, a change in thinking or mindset.

3. It is hard to get the group culture to change.

It is easy to change one or two people some, and introduce them to new ideas.
But it is very hard to change a department’s culture.

And even harder to change the company’s culture.  At least in the way you want.  It can be done, but it is hard.

Still, at least in small groups, we can alter the immediate culture enough to adopt agile initially.  And often change the culture more later, and have that adoption become better over time.

4. The Change never ends.

I am less sure of this one, but I think it is always true.

Do not be gulled into feeling: “Oh, we have changed to agile and no more change is needed.”

First, your group probably is not really doing agile well, nor close to as well as it can.

Second, by definition, Scrum means you should be getting better each Sprint, by removing impediments.

Third, that ‘old style thinking’ starts to come back. People forget why they started to do agile, or why agile works, and this starts to degrade the lean-agile implementation.  Results worsen.

So, we must be continually changing in a forward direction, and watch out for retrograde movements in the culture.  And then fix them.


Now, what do we do, to get this all to happen?

My 4 favorite things to talk about in this area are:

1. Just do it!

By this I mean, start doing Scrum, and do Scrum well.  Add things to Scrum, but come back and do it well. And by doing Scrum, the whole culture starts to develop.

It is not enough, by itself, but if you understand and are explaining the success of Scrum (all the time), it starts to have a significant impact.

2. Understand John Kotter’s ideas

Kotter has an 8-step program for change.  These are the steps:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  4. Enlist a volunteer army
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change (that is, put it into the structure of the org or the processes or somehow)

See here:

These ideas are worth looking into.  Read Kotter’s books. Many of his articles are available online.

The biggest problem is step 1.

3. Use Fearless Change

Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising wrote a great book about change, called Fearless Change.  I strongly recommend the book.  And they have a new edition, called More Fearless Change.

The main part of the first book describes 48 patterns you can use to change your group (your set of people).

Use those patterns regularly.  Work on one pattern per day.  Come close to implementing one pattern per day (fully completing one per day).

This will cause small changes to happen, and will, slowly, change the culture.

4. Use Open Space Agility

Daniel Mezick has a wonderful set of ideas around Open Space Agility.


In summary: enable people to choose agile.  To choose the “way of working” that suits them best.   They are free knowledge workers.  You can explain it to them (or hire a trainer to train them on it, etc.).  But let them choose it.

Give them a vision, something like: “Over the next year, we want to become Agile, to see if that gives us some real business benefits.”

Invite ‘the people’ to join in, and define the details of the change.  Argue about it.  The people also includes the agile advocates.

Use Open Space events periodically (every 2-3 months?) to define chapters of change (the next 2-3 months).  Enable people to self-organize on which parts of the change should be addressed now.

You will notice that these ideas evoke several of Kotter’s ‘steps’.

You will notice that the Open Space events will address both the practical as well as the ‘cultural’ aspects of change.


Too long for today, so I will stop.

Comments please…


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