Reaching the Tipping Point
Changing the way of working—both the habits and culture of a large development organization—is hard. Many enterprises report that implementing SAFe was one of the toughest, and at the same time, the most rewarding change initiatives that they had ever done.
People naturally resist change, and you will often hear phrases like, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it around here,’ or ‘that won’t work here.’ Accepting change means accepting the possibility that you are not currently doing things the best way, or even worse, it may challenge a person’s long-held beliefs or values.
It’s easy for people to keep their old behavior—unless there is an exceptionally good reason to make such a change. A reason so compelling that the status quo becomes simply unacceptable. A reason so strong that change becomes the only reasonable way forward to success.
In other words, the enterprise must reach its ‘tipping point’—the point at which the overriding organizational imperative is to achieve the change, rather than resist it .
The Need for Change
Organizations arrive at the need for change from a wide range of starting points. You may find yourself in a highly regimented waterfall environment, marked by strict phase gate reviews and quality checks, separation of concerns, and sophisticated resource management procedures. Or perhaps you’ve developed an ad-hoc approach, mixing team-level agile methods with more traditional project and portfolio management techniques. Regardless, before a successful change effort can begin, there must be a clear and compelling impetus for change. A general acknowledgment that the current ways of working are inadequate to deliver the performance needed—now or in the future. We’ve observed that organizations who are able to establish such a shared awareness typically meet one of two conditions:
A burning platform – Sometimes the need to change a product or service is obvious. The company is failing to compete, and the existing way of doing business is obviously inadequate to achieve a new solution within a survivable time frame. Jobs are at stake. This is the easier case for change. While there will always be those who are resistant, they are likely to be overcome by the wave of energy that drives mandatory change through the organization.
Proactive leadership – the absence of a burning platform, leadership must drive change proactively by taking a stand for a better future state. Lean-Agile Leaders must exhibit what Toyota  would call “a constant sense of danger”—a never-ending sense of potential crisis that fuels continuous improvement. This is often the less obvious reason to drive change, as the people in the trenches may not see or feel the urgency to do the hard work that comes with change. After all, they are successful now, why should they assume they won’t continue to be successful in the future? Isn’t change risky? In this case, senior leadership must constantly impress the need for change on all, making it clear that maintaining the status quo is simply unacceptable.
Establish the Vision for Change
While necessary, a compelling and well-understood reason to change is insufficient for an organization to reach the tipping point. A clear vision for the future is also critical. Kotter notes that establishing a “vision for change” is a primary responsibility of leadership . The vision for change provides three key benefits:
Purpose – It clarifies the purpose and direction for the change and sets the mission for all to follow. It avoids the confusing potential details and focuses everyone on the why, not the how, of the change.
Motivation – It starts to move people in the right direction. After all, change is hard, and pain is inevitable, especially in the early going. People’s jobs will change. The vision helps motivate people by giving them a compelling reason to make the change. Perhaps most importantly, it underlines the fact there is really no job security in the status quo.
Alignment – It helps to start the coordinated action necessary to assure that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people work together toward a new—and more personally rewarding—goal. With a clarity of vision, people are empowered to take the actions necessary to achieve the vision, without the constant need for management supervision or check-in.
In our case, the vision for change must be rooted in an understanding of the Lean-Agile Mindset and SAFe Principles.
Take an Economic View
Whether reactive or proactive, the primary reason to drive change in an organization is to realize the business and personal benefits that the change is intended to deliver. SAFe Principle #1 reminds us to always ‘Take an economic view.’ In this context, leaders should articulate the goal of the change in terms everyone can understand. Dozens of case studies show that enterprises can expect to see benefits in four major areas, as Figure 1 illustrates.