Is Lean Change Management really effective


The times in which new products and business ideas could be developed or implemented in a lengthy and costly manner are over. This was already indicated in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development published in 2001. Today, four cornerstones of the agile method are also relevant for change management: the iterative procedure, working on increments, the participation of the developers in the technical design and the retrospective after each sprint.

Four central elements of agile development

  • iteration: Instead of wanting to develop a product completely, you work off increments in short development phases, so-called sprints, of two to four weeks. In this way, development goals can be adapted as required.

  • Increments: Each iteration is transferred to production as a concrete and manageable change to the software product, which brings more stability to the development process.

  • participation: The software development team is involved in the technical design. Beyond the pure programming work, the know-how of the developers can lead to very creative solutions. In addition, identification with the product and the company is strengthened.

  • Retrospective: Looking back at the end of each sprint promotes team building by addressing and resolving conflicts beyond the content of the work. In this way, the work culture for future sprints is continuously improving.

Lean startup

The Agile Manifesto has a lot in common with the lean startup approach that was introduced a little later. The term Lean Startup, coined by Eric Ries, combines selected principles of the agile approach with lean manufacturing ideas from the 1990s and now also with newer methods such as design thinking.

Lean processes and iterative, customer-centered testing make it possible to find out quickly and at reasonable costs whether a product or service is suitable for the market. The core aspects of Lean Startup that are important for modern change management include validated learning, the minimum viable product and the build-measure-learn cycle:

  • Validated learning: Developing innovative products always goes hand in hand with great uncertainty. Validated learning therefore aims to test all aspects of an idea with actual or potential customers through scientific experiments and to gain systematically well-founded knowledge. Learning becomes the benchmark for progress. A business model canvas makes it possible to illustrate all key aspects of a business model and to change them if necessary.

  • MVP (Minimum Viable Product): Lean startup wants to accelerate learning processes and keep investments low. In order to get from the idea to the product quickly, a "minimally functional product" is developed in the first iteration that satisfies an urgent customer need. This MVP can be used to obtain customer feedback.

  • Build-Measure-Learn cycle:The continuous, experimental validation of hypotheses through customer feedback takes place in three steps. In the first build phase, the MVP is created. Then, in the Measure phase, the customer feedback is used to collect key figures, which are then analyzed in the last step, Learn. The experiment has two possible results: The company can pursue the idea further (persevere) or has to fundamentally change the direction of development (pivot).

Find out what works - faster than the competition

The approaches of agile software development and lean startup focus on learning quickly through short development cycles and incorporating feedback from the market at an early stage. This iterative approach minimizes risks and uncertainties, and it opens up the possibility of continuously reacting to new findings and external influences - ideally faster than the competition.

But not only products and services, also company changes can be rolled out and tested in small steps, adapted and further developed over and over again. For this purpose, the agile approach and the lean startup methodology can be adapted to organizational change management in the sense of a feedback-driven approach. Jason Little coined the term Lean Change Management for this in 2014.

The Lean Change Cycle: Insights Options Experiment

Lean change management assumes that a change process is cyclical. It is neither linear nor does it always have to start at the same point. Company-specific internal knowledge in the form of insights is used to define options for action. A first concrete change measure is then selected from these options in order to be introduced in an experiment in the company. The result of the experiment determines the further direction.

Depending on the result, the change measure is then either continued or ended in various ways. Unlike Little does, however, it makes sense not only to look at a single cyclical change process, but also to assume that there are always new dynamic equilibria that need to be achieved. A really future-oriented Lean Change Management has no fixed goal and no defined conclusion. Rather, it understands change and adaptation as a continuous process, as a chain of dynamic equilibria.

Gather insights

In a first step, it is advisable to collect insights in order to be able to design the change plan on this basis and control the change process. Such a search for insights should be ongoing in Lean Change Management. This can be done, for example, through interviews, agile retrospectives or in lean coffee meetings, the agenda of which the participants define ad hoc.

After the data collected in this way has been evaluated and analyzed, options for action are generated - with the involvement of the employees who are affected by the change. It makes sense to adapt and control the change dynamics according to the company. Basically, a wide variety of ideas and methods can be combined with one another.

Which specific change frameworks, problem-solving processes or creativity techniques are ultimately used is a question that should be answered individually in every company. However, it is essential that those affected actively help to shape the change. This means that a change plan can be created, validated and adapted much faster in lean change management than in conventional change management.