Implementing the three change management principles of Kanban will help you steer change in the right direction while leading successful business agility initiatives.

When introducing a new agile methodology in an organization, I often see people designing the perfect process with predefined roles, responsibilities, tools and ceremonies. The intention is to implement the new improved process right away.

The problem with this approach is that, almost certainly, it will provoke resistance. And, if you don’t meet that challenge in the most effective manner, you risk putting your entire business agility initiative under threat.

This is where the Kanban method shines brightly. Kanban doesn’t define your process. Kanban sits on top of it and exposes the practices to help you improve that existing process. Furthermore, these are not set in stone. What I always say is that there are no best practices in this business. There are only good practices that work within your own context.

If a practice suggested by the book works well for your team, your business and your customers, by all means, make it a standard. If it doesn’t, discard it right away. That’s the main reason why there are no two identical Kanban implementations. The power of Kanban change management lies in your ability to support your own business context.

The Three Change Management Principles of Kanban

The three change management principles of Kanban

What are the cultural elements that exist in a company doing Kanban and doing it well? Kanban change management suggests three main principles:

  1. Start with what you do now
  2. Gain agreement to pursue improvement through evolutionary change
  3. Encourage acts of leadership at all levels

Let’s explore each principle in detail.

#1 Start with What You Do Now

One of the most difficult things to deal with when you are first starting anything new is that you have to stop the way you are doing things now.

By imposing a new approach to doing things, you run the risk of communicating that whatever your team has been doing up to this point no longer makes sense, that it is not worthwhile anymore. This would come across as a direct attack on their personality.

Start with what you do now instead. You need to understand the current processes not as they are being documented, but as they are actually practiced. These processes are unique for your business and they have evolved for a reason. Revealing your knowledge discovery process and using it as a foundation to take a step further is the cornerstone here.

Furthermore, starting with what you do now means that you respect existing roles, responsibilities and job titles. Peter Senge says that people don’t resist change, they resist being changed!

Embrace your present. Design your first Kanban system with that knowledge in mind. The main goal of this principle is to bring transparency and promote a shared understanding of how value is being delivered to your customers. Talk about your processes, understand them and question them.

#2 Gain Agreement to Pursue Improvement through Evolutionary Change

I’m not a fan of the word Transformation. It sounds dramatic, filled with challenges and difficult to achieve. You don’t need this sort of perception. During any time when you are introducing a disruptive change, you will meet resistance.

If the change is too drastic, you will observe the J curve effect. And if the tolerance of your leadership is lower than the pain of change, your initiative will most certainly fail.

Rather than making disruptive changes, gain an agreement to pursue improvement by making small evolutionary steps.

Instead of transformation, think about your initiative as an evolution. It’s important to achieve positive associations with the way change is happening, and demonstrate the ways your work and your collaboration are improving. Create small risk-free initiatives and measure the impact. As one quick win follows another, you’re building up to a massive improvement.

#3 Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels

Promoting acts of leadership at all levels means that anybody, from the intern to your executive, is encouraged to say “We have a problem, let’s do something about it!”.

To encourage acts of leadership at all levels, you must lead by example. Suggest changes, show the courage to speak up and experiment. Your organizational culture should become experimental.

There must be a certain level of tolerance. Not all changes will lead to improvements. However, failed experiments are not actually failures, if you learned a lesson.

People will only make acts of leadership if they have the psychological safety net needed to do so. Don’t make the mistake of holding them accountable for failure. Instead, create a culture of encouragement, support and tolerance.

If you’re striving to enable a supportive environment and build stable delivery systems that produce consistent business outcomes, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.

The change management principles of Kanban build the foundations of continuous improvement. When you introduce change in your company, resist the urge to design the perfect process, before you’ve even got started with your initiative.

Instead, begin by outlining what you do now, including existing processes, policies, workflows, roles and responsibilities. Then, help your teams buy the idea of evolutionary change. Build a culture that encourages everyone – from top to bottom in your organizational ladder – to take the lead and reveal opportunities for improvement.

The three change management principles of Kanban will give you unprecedented support along the way, as your business evolves. Always keep them at the forefront of your mind. Change managed well is about sprinkling these three principles and letting them grow over time. That’s how you make a big difference.

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