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5 Tactics for Engaging Effective Sponsors

The loudest resounding theme from two decades of change management best practices research is that executives and leaders play a pivotal role in change.  Active and visible change sponsorship is the number-one success factor for creating successful change outcomes.

Change management practitioners, in turn, play an important role in enabling and supporting change sponsors in their sponsorship role. When change management teams support sponsors effectively, they become a vital partner to executives in the achievement of successful change outcomes. Below is a selection of research findings on best practices for engaging executives and senior leaders in their role as change sponsors and helping them understand what activities great change sponsors perform.

Empowering Managers with the ADKAR Model

Managers have always been a key lever to success in change management work. They are the frontline troops in helping get their employees through a change successfully. Prosci’s research has continued to demonstrate that employees want to hear about change from their managers, managers can help proactively mitigate employee resistance, and having managers bought into the why of a change is crucial for success. The Prosci ADKAR Model is a uniquely valuable tool that, when used successfully, can help managers positively impact a change.  In Prosci’s Applications of ADKAR research effort, change practitioners shared their experience, insights and advice on empowering  managers with the ADKAR Model (read the full research report here).

Equipping Senior Leaders with the ADKAR Model

Since the beginning iterations of Prosci’s change management research, we’ve known about the importance of senior leader engagement on a project. Nearly every change manager has navigated the tension between understanding the importance of senior leader engagement on a project and the difficulty of getting this necessary engagement. What is more, it is not enough to have senior leaders involved in a change project. We must ensure that they are equipped with the tools that they need to be effective, active, and visible leaders throughout the project.

The Case for Change Management Worksheet

While the data is quite clear that your projects will be more successful with change management, you may still find yourself working to justify change management to project team members and senior leaders in your organization.

5 Ways to Educate New Practitioners About Change Management

Once you’ve hired a new change management practitioner or team member, how do you ensure they have the knowledge and ability they need to successfully facilitate change?

Using the ADKAR Model to Measure Change Success

Peter Drucker famously observed, “what gets measured gets managed.” In the change space, measurement has often been an elusive frontier. With its individual and results orientation, the Prosci ADKAR Model is uniquely valuable as a measurement mechanism. In Prosci’s Application of ADKAR research effort, change practitioners shared their experience, insights and advice on using the ADKAR Model as a measurement framework. And, as it turns out, it works –two thirds of participants using the model as a measurement framework said it was extremely effective. As one participant noted, “ADKAR allows you to measure where individuals are in the change process so change management activities can be tailored and timely.”

Effectively Managing the Move to Agile

To respond to recent changes, organizations are deploying Agile methods and mindsets using iterative development to increase alignment with client needs, increase speed to value, and reduce risk over the project lifecycle. However, moving from traditional waterfall approaches to Agile approaches is a change in and of itself – one that must be effectively managed. The transition to Agile can be plagued with obstacles if not intentionally managed. It takes more than a declaration or hiring a few Agile coaches – systemically adopting Agile throughout an organization takes structure and intent.

Adapting and Adjusting Change Management in an Agile Project

“In a project using an Agile method, change management must adapt and be flexible. In related news, the sun rises in the East and the sky is blue."


The volume of chatter about Agile and change management has been on the rise in recent years. Unfortunately, the direction on how to integrate change management in an Agile project has been quite shallow. Prosci decided to tackle this challenge in true Prosci fashion – with research. In late 2016, Prosci engaged change practitioners that had a foot in each discipline to provide insights, experiences and expertise on the intersection of these emergent and critical disciplines.

The result of this research is captured in the new benchmarking report, Change Management and Agile: The intersection of the people side of change and Agile development processes – released on September 12, 2017. One part of the report explores how to effectively manage the people side of change when moving from waterfall TO Agile – the systemic introduction of Agile as an approach, sometimes called the “Agile Transformation.” The other part of the report explores how to most effectively adapt and adjust the practice of change management IN a project using Agile.

This blog shares insights on the adaptations to change management IN Agile projects.



What Is the Impact of Agile’s Iterative Nature on Change Management?

“Flexibility is key and not panicking with the uncertain nature of Agile delivery. Keep the basics but be prepared to negotiate on other aspects of the traditional change approach. Know that every day is different, and that's okay.”

Study participants identified four impacts on change management necessitated by the iterative nature of projects using an Agile development process:

When applied in an Agile development process, change management…

  1. Became iterative
  2. Created plans that were designed to be modified as needed
  3. Required more upfront work
  4. Needed to be done in less time and at a faster pace

When supporting an initiative using Agile, the change practitioner must be more flexible and adaptable. There is a certainly level of discomfort involved with letting go of “perfect” change management strategies and plans. However, the rapid pace of a project using Agile means that change management practitioners must refine and focus their work – becoming more precise and efficient and knowing where to flex and where to relax the change management rigor.

What Are the Greatest Contributors to Success When Integrating Change Management and Agile?

“If you plan short 4-8 week sprints, every little achievement can be a success story, however small (even a 2 person change which has a measurable business impact to a business process). Small = greater commitment for all.”

Participants highlighted four specific contributors to success when applying change management to a project using an Agile approach.

  1. Early engagement of change manager
  2. Consistent communication
  3. Senior leader engagement
  4. Early wins

Engagement all around was the major theme related to top contributors. First, engagement between the Agile team and the change management resource is crucial to ensure that the people side keeps up with the technical side. Engagement of senior leaders, both in support of the initiative and Agile as an approach, was critical. Finally, engaging impacted employees through consistent communication and celebrations of successes created the necessary momentum to keep an effort progressing.

What Are the Common Obstacles When Bringing Change Management to an Agile Project?

“[The greatest challenge is] the tendency to be less strategic about the people approach to adoption.  The focus on the ‘story’ tends to overshadow planning for operationalizing the product (e.g., adjust business processes, weave into training/user documentation, etc.)”

Study participants identified five common obstacles when working to bring change management into a project using Agile iterative development processes:

  1. Lack of understanding of and appreciation for change management
  2. Organizational resistance to Agile
  3. High volume of incremental change
  4. Increased pace
  5. Middle manager resistance

Interestingly, the interplay between effectively managing the transition TO Agile and the effective application of change management IN Agile shows up in the top obstacles. Major obstacles faced when applying change management IN Agile were often symptoms of ineffectively building support and buy-in for Agile in the first place.

How Do the Practice Areas of Change Management Look Different in an Agile Effort?

Prosci took an innovative approach to uncovering specific direction and guidance for change practitioners working to adjust their work in an Agile environment. We began by identifying a set of ten change management practice areas to investigate. First, we looked to the seven top contributors to success that have emerged from Prosci’s decades of research:

  1. Sponsorship
  2. Approach
  3. Resources
  4. Integration of change management and project management
  5. Employee engagement
  6. Communications
  7. Manager engagement

Then, we added three more practice areas that have emerged in research:

  1. Training
  2. Resistance management
  3. Reinforcement

For each of the ten practice areas, we collected data from study participants on:

  • Challenges faced when applying that practice area in Agile
  • Adaptations made when applying that practice area in Agile
  • What to do differently the next time for that practice area in Agile



The full Change Management and Agile report has complete write-ups on each of the three questions for all ten of the practices areas. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll provide a short “punchline” for each of the ten practice areas below:


Practice area




Sponsors must understand and embrace the Agile mindset. Sponsor participation must become more precise and efficient.


Middle Manager

Managers need to be equipped with resources and training on Agile and engaged with face-to-face communication. Their role changes across the project.


Employee Engagement

Employees must be engaged more but also less formally (seemingly a paradox). Engagement should also promote the Agile culture.



The change management approach must align to Agile process phases and must be selective regarding which activities drive value.



Change management resourcing needs vary across an Agile development effort and must be ready to pivot based on employee impact of a given phase.


Integration with Project Management

The change management and project teams must integrate earlier, with higher levels of communication and collaboration.



Communication requires precision and increased frequency aligned with the Agile process but must also be managed well to avoid overload.



Training must be focused, concise and delivered more frequently, with an emphasis on delivering just-in-time training.


Resistance Management

A formal resistance management plan with increased communication, with an emphasis on the “why” of both Agile and the project, can build buy-in.



Reinforcement is required early and more frequently to match the iterative approach, with an emphasis on goals and progress.

What Does It Mean to You?

Agile is continuing to grow as a new way to tackle initiatives by breaking them down into iterative segments. Its application is extending past software and IT projects to include non-IT projects as well. Within a project using Agile, change management can support the adoption and usage required for true results to be achieved. But the pace and nature of an Agile effort means that change management must change. Precision, efficiency, focus, trade-offs, early engagement, balance – all must be present for change management to be most effective on a project using iterative development.

Prosci’s newest research report uncovers concrete, research-based direction for practitioners working to have impact by adapting and adjusting change management practices in an Agile environment. Download the free executive summary or purchase the full report today to begin applying these critical lessons.

Change Management and agile research summary

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