SAFe as a Lean-Agile Enterprise Change Management Model

Change Management has always been in vogue but, for at least the least15 years of my transformation consulting experience its been the perpetual 'hot


There are a few things I’ve always struggled with re 'Change Management' (not least the very term). My struggles may be condensed to:

- What do we actually mean by Change Management? Is it orientated around people, process, enterprise, all of the above??

- Why is it talked about as a stand-alone discipline and something we “apply to” change initiatives? Wouldn’t the holy grail of effective change 'navigation' mean it’s naturally built-in to the behaviors, principles, practices and techniques used to run or change the business and not something that’s done to the business/forced upon the people? Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to put it another way.

- Following on from that thought, should we “think our way to new action” or must we “act our way to new thinking”? I’d humbly suggest adaptation is not a spectator sport and we all only truly learn by doing.

My long held view, having worked/partnered with many Change Management consultants and led many major transformations in various situations revolves around:

- The single biggest success factor in change is simple: Never use the work change! Think about it. If you announce a major change initiative, the blood tends to run from people's faces - largely due to their most recent change experience (as yes, we still don't do change well, approx. 70% failure rates by all credible sources currently).

- By that logic, I see “change” as a poor proxy for what individuals and organizations must really posses today – “Adaptive Capacity”.

- Adaptive capacity is a leadership competency and strategic capability that enables the organization to be flexible, ready and responsive to marketplace volatility.

- I do not see adaptive capacity (change) as a set of processes and tools centered around only people (the focus of many methods/practices today). It is an Enterprise Capability – a “System” focused on achieving the organization's goals. People are hugely important (Lean Pillar - Respect for People) to the system, as are other elements/capabilities. But if the system is appropriate, we will have created a place where people thrive and the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers is fully leveraged.

- Adaptive capacity is/should be systemized via the business operating model.

- SAFe (note, applicable to technology and non-technologically driven portfolios alike!) is the premier example of how to establish strategic agility for the fast-moving world.

So, it would appear that I have changed the rhetoric from one of 'managing change' to enabling organizations to 'adapt'. Isn't that what we truly mean/need today?

And I’ve introduced a modern and de facto standard framework to accomplish that – SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework enterprise) - which is used by >70% of the Fortune 100 companies because its proven to work.

For those Changer Management folks out there, not leaving you behind/still lots of value that can be added, but I'd invite you to consider how the most accepted change model (Kotter) is naturally and fully incorporated into SAFe so that we can just focus on doing the business of the organization and realizing value and not launching another change management, engagement or similar initiative alongside trying to run the business. Historically, such stand alone initiatives are short-term centric and detract from the capacity/resources of the organization to deliver on its mission.

Is it possible that the SAFe “Operating Rhythm” naturally and fully bakes-in all the best approaches re change management and people engagement? As a result, the need to initiate stand-alone change programs may be subsumed into the standard adoption patterns of SAFe - which is 100% value delivery centric.

Why? We leverage John Kotter's seminal work on Leading Change (8-step model still the de facto global standard) in addition to over 100 other sources of truth found in accepted best management practice books on Change, Lean, Agile, Product Development Flow, Systems Thinking, Cognitive Science etc. And we leverage proven principles (enduring) over processes (will always need to evolve) and proven patterns from doing hundreds of successful SAFe transformations over method debates.

To see how SAFe enables adaptive capacity and by default, fully integrates enterprise change management, see this presentation from the SAFe Summit 2016.

I'd also encourage readers to see Jim Hemerling's (Organizational Change Manager) TED talk on how to "lead in an era of constant change".

As is always required in organizations or individuals with a Lean-Agile mindset (learning, relentless improvement, value realization focused), I look forward to your questions, feedback and insight.

Believe leading change is not a spectator sport? Want to experience key elements of the SAFe Operating Rhythm so that you may establish a personal or enterprise adaptive capacity? Attend our 2-day Advanced Scrum Master class, 29-30 November, Vancouver, BC to get hands-on.

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