How to build a network of change agents?

Staszek Matczak
May 10 · 4 min read

How to make changes in a multi-team setup in an effective way? What is important in building a successful network of change agents?

In software development, it’s not possible to repeat the same process over and over again. We are forced to make changes and adjustments in the process. Making changes in complex processes is never easy. It’s especially hard when we work in environment with multiple teams. How to make changes and improvements in easy and successful way?

One team case

Let’s start with some simple example. Let’s say we have one team that works on a project. I’m the person who has an idea for a change. This idea could be something like:

  • “Let’s change the duration of our Sprints from 3 weeks to 2 weeks”
  • “Let’s move our Sprint Backlog from Jira to Trello”
  • “Let’s introduce OKRs”
  • “Let’s start having coffee breaks with random persons”
  • “Let’s agree that we have no-meeting-hours between 12 and 14”
  • or anything else…

In case of one team the change is quite easy. I approach the team. I explain the idea to them. I receive their feedback about this idea — it could be enthusiastic: “hell yeah, let’s do it!”, limited support or firm refusal. We talk. We know where we stand. Together, we make a decision about the next move — we can either make this change happen, make some adjustments, or abandon this idea at all.

Multiple teams

Let’s complicate the picture. Now, we don’t have one team anymore. We have 10 teams that are affected by a change.

Now, the change originator can be really confused… Whom should I talk to? Who will be impacted by this change? How to present this change to so many people? How should I reach consensus about the change?

Quite often at this point, organizations have the tendency to force the changes. No more explaining the change, getting feedback, clarifications, negotiations. We have simple orders: “Starting from 1st of April, you will work in 2-week sprints. Go and execute!”. This approach is simple — but usually it’s not effective. The proposed change can be misunderstood. The reason for making the change might be lost. We miss the opportunity to collaborate and make the idea better. People may feel ignored. Involvement and motivation go down. We can observe passive or aggressive resistance.

To make such changes possible, we need to have change agents that are members of affected teams.

Now the process has three steps:

  1. The change originator explains the change to change agents

2. The change agents discuss the change with other team members and gather their feedback

3. Change agents present the feedback back to change originator and together they make the decision

Change agent is neither an official role nor a position. It’s just some work that a person does in a team. If the teams use Scrum framework, then Scrum Masters are natural candidates for the change agents.

We can observe that we have two communication circles. Change agents communicate with their teams (blue areas) and with each other (green area).

Of course, not only external persons can raise change requests. Changes can be also proposed by change agents or the teams. Such setup allows to spread improvement ideas between the teams.

How to build such a network?

I observed that many organizations struggle with creating such a network of change agents. The best proof that our network doesn’t work is the situation when our improvement ideas are blocked or stopped.

There are at least four important factors that help the organization to create such a network.

First of all, the group of change agents need to have the empowerment to make the changes. They must be trusted both by management and by team members.

It’s good when the group of change agents has a common goal. It helps them to work as one team.

We need to have good communication between the change agents. Recurrent meetings, common chat, board for the team — use everything that helps these people to communicate.

And last but not least — we need the change agents to trust each other. Even if they work in different teams, they need to work together as one team.

If we have these four elements in place, we should see visible progress in introducing changes and improvements.

What is your experience on working as a change agent or working with change agents?

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