Validating Change in Small Increments

A couple of weeks ago, on Feb 17th, I held a webinar on ORGANIC agility Principle #4: Validating Change in Small Increments. As you may know, ORGANIC agility is our meta-process or framework that you can apply to any organization in order to make it more self-organizing, agile and resilient. Principle #4 is the key component concerned with how to design and run experiments in a structured and directional manner.

This webinar was one of the last in our ongoing series on how to naturally transform an organization into something that is more flexible and resilient, however you can look forward to at least one more webinar touching on Principle #5 — more about that later.

Many organizations try to take a “fail-safe” approach to change, by e.g. buying a big model from a consulting agency, marketing the concept internally, and setting milestones. There’s so much money, ego and expectations attached that the change project will simply not be allowed to fail. The outcome can be summed up as the operation was a success although the patient died. The organization becomes agile-in-name-only, the change project is celebrated as a good investment, and would everyone please shut up, you are now agile, just sort it out and do it.

With this 4th principle, we propose that organizational change should be addressed in an agile way. We create transparency, then inspect and adapt our way by the use of small safe-to-fail experiments — small changes that people propose themselves. We reduce the risks and side-effects by leveraging something called “the adjacent possible" and the predispositions of the organization.

This allows the organization to:
  • Work strategically. Set a strategic goal and nudge the organization in the right direction slowly but surely, choosing known interventions as well as more experimental ones.
  • Remove the burden and risk of maintaining several co-existing systems of work for long periods of time. Small changes are easily understood, quickly piloted and rapidly integrated, minimizing the uncertainty, confusion and loss of effectiveness inherent in change.
  • Anchor results in the organization, as champions ask for volunteers to help define and run the experiments. By involving everyone and asking people to pull improvement work, we get more perspectives, ideas and options. We also get more certainty about the applicability of the results, and a wider acceptance throughout the organization.
  • Increase transparency. Everyone hates it when an organizational change program is unexpectedly announced by top management. By having a common strategic goal and a public list of ongoing experiments, everyone — including leaders — can see what is happening and facilitate work in that direction.
  • Base the improvements on organizational reality. We validate assumptions and hypotheses in a safe-to-fail environment, by running small, quick and inexpensive experiments. We can quickly react to emergent patterns and either reinforce or dampen them.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the organization by studying repeating emergent patterns. The conditions that led a group of volunteers to achieve success in an experiment can be replicated to catalyse change in other parts of the organization.

During the webinar, we explored the concepts behind this principle and looked at some practical tools for managing organizational change in an agile way, including the Agile Strategy Map as well as Dave Snowden’s Safe-To-Fail Experiment canvas.

If you would like to go into more detail with us regarding these topics, please get in touch with us to schedule a call. We also suggest you join our agile42 Community to stay in touch and receive helpful and interesting insights from the agile42 team.

You are also welcome to have a look at our book ORGANIC agility Foundations: Leadership and Organization

If you missed the live session, don't panic! The recording is available online.
Feel free to watch it again and share with your network.
It is also available on YouTube.


Below you will find the slides, with some further content. Please also feel free to share the slides around.

It was great to have you join our webinar, and see you at the next ones :)