Using Kotter’s 8 Steps for Leading Change to Manage Your Agile Project
When beginning your agile project, you will likely need to make changes. John Kotter’s process for leading change identifies eight common but preventable reasons why organizations fail at their change initiatives, and addresses each with actions that should be taken to successfully lead change.
- Permitting too much complacency: The leadership action is to create a sense of urgency. People get used to the status quo, and learn to deal with it. Helping others see the need for change requires the creation of a sense of urgency for change. Leaders must communicate the importance of immediate action.
- Lack of a powerful guiding coalition: The leadership action is to build a guiding coalition. Successful change will require more than just one active supporter, even if that one person is at the highest level of the organization. Executives, directors, managers, and even informal social leaders with influence need to be unified in the need for and vision of a change. This coalition must be formed and drive the change.
- Underestimating and undercommunicating the power of vision: The leadership action is to form a strategic vision and initiatives. Kotter estimates that leadership undercommunicates the vision for change by as much as 1,000 times. Even if people are unhappy with the status quo, they won’t always make sacrifices for a change unless they believe in the proposed benefits and that change is possible. As a change coalition, clearly define how the future is different from the past and present, as well as the steps to make that future a reality. Change management also needs to begin with a clear vision of where you’re headed.
- Lack of rallying around a common opportunity: The leadership action is to enlist a volunteer army. Change will accelerate and last if people buy in and are internally driven. As a result of leadership’s effective communication of vision and need, people should rally around a cause they come to believe in. If they don’t rally, reevaluate your messaging, tone, and frequency.
- Allowing obstacles to block the vision: The leadership action is to remove barriers to action. Some obstacles may be only perceived, but others are real. However, both must be overcome. One blocker in the “right” place can be the single reason for failure. Many people tend to avoid confronting obstacles (processes, hierarchies, working across silos), so leadership must act as servant-leaders to identify and remove impediments that are reducing the empowerment of individuals implementing the changes on the front lines.
- Lack of short-term wins: The leadership action is to generate short-term wins. The end transformation goal usually can’t be achieved in the short term, so fatigue can set in for everyone involved if successes and progress go unrecognized along the way. Evidence of change should be highlighted and exposed early and regularly. This reinforcement increases morale through difficult times of change, and motivates and encourages continued efforts and progress.
- Declaring victory too early: The leadership action is to sustain acceleration. Celebrating short-term wins sets a false sense of security that change is complete. Each success should build on the previous success. Push on, and push on harder after each success, with increased confidence and credibility. Continue to overcommunicate the vision throughout the transformation.
- Neglecting anchoring of changes in organizational culture: The leadership action is to institute change. Leadership will have the opportunity throughout the change process to connect successes and new behaviors with the culture’s evolution and growing strength to keep old habits from returning. These connections should be recognized openly and made visible to everyone as soon as successes and new behaviors are realized.