Agile Change Management: The Concept of Operational Learning & Experimentation Spaces

9 Min.
agile change management

Regardless of whether it's a small advertising and digital agency or the advertising department of a large corporation - everywhere it's important to develop sustainable concepts with which the opportunities of the digital transformation can be optimally exploited. This article focuses on the model of corporate learning and experimentation spaces and how they can help prepare companies for the digital transformation.

The challenge of digitalisation - what difficulties do agencies face?

In recent years, companies in almost all industries have been called upon to embrace the increasing digitization of the working world. Only those who continuously work on their own digital solutions have the chance to keep up with the drivers of digitalization and the ever faster development of the markets.  

The implications for agencies of the changing world of work are manifold. For example, the digital turnaround has long since provided for technological innovations and changes in work processes. Companies must therefore not only adapt to or develop new technologies - for example, when it comes to questions of automation. It is also about redefining the structures in which work takes place. A huge challenge, for example, is to combine the advantages of human work and work performed by artificial intelligence (AI) in such a way that employees are supported in the best possible way and can adapt optimally to the changes.

As a result of increasing automation in many areas of the company, employees are taking on fewer routine tasks. Instead, the proportion of technology-supported creative work is increasing. These tasks will therefore increasingly be performed by different, interdisciplinary teams. To achieve this, companies must change their structures - away from traditional hierarchies and towards flat structures and team networks. In order to provide employees with optimally suitable tasks, flexible, cross-location networks are needed.

Agencies, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also affected by the change described, new technologies and processes, and new types of work organisation. New technologies and working methods, for example, place extended demands on the industry. This is often accompanied by corresponding qualification requirements for small and medium-sized enterprises. The emergence of new business areas also poses the challenge of continuously developing business models and products. 

Agile Change Management - with success to agile transformation 

In an increasingly digitalized world, the ability to change is becoming a competitive advantage for organizations. For example, the ability to integrate innovations and continuously adapt to changing customer requirements is crucial. Companies that do not want to be overrun by the competition should also be able to take their employees along with them and motivate them anew time and again. Agile transformation helps them to continuously improve their strategy and to reinvent themselves again and again.  

Classic change management recognizes change as something necessary, but takes place within a stable, plannable environment. Changes are seen as obstacles to be overcome. In doing so, one wants to leave the unsettled phase between the initial and target state behind as quickly as possible. 

Agile change management, on the other hand, does not know permanent stability, but assumes that we are in a constant process of adaptation process. Such a form of change management is not about the stubborn implementation of project plans and the corresponding measures, but about understanding the continuous development of the company as a normality.

In contrast to classic change management, which is usually top-down, agile transformation involves experimenting and trying things out in order to subsequently change processes for the better. Employees are seen as a source of inspiration and an important resource for shaping change. Change is not a project-based undertaking, but a permanent process that contributes to a more flexible, agile corporate culture.

Agile Change Management supports companies in dealing with the increasing uncertainty and dynamics of the working world and in increasing their adaptability. Agile transformation is about identifying and promoting processes that go hand in hand with current and constantly changing requirements in an easy and value-creating way.

Agile Change Management: The Concept of Operational Learning & Experimentation Spaces
The "Lean Change Management Cycle" according to Jason Little, source: leanchange.org

The concept of company learning and experimentation rooms

One form of agile change management is the concept of operational learning and experimentation spaces. The approach helps to successfully shape the digital transformation in companies. The "company practice laboratories" were originally developed by a team led by Prof. Dr. Andreas Boes at the Institute for Social Science Research at ISF Munich. Funded by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), the "Work of the Future" practice laboratory was created in cooperation with Robert Bosch GmbH. This deals with the implementation of agile corporate concepts and develops solutions for the areas of work organization as well as the future of work, leadership, social relations, corporate culture and professional development.

With the help of company learning and experimentation rooms, learning spaces can be created in companies in which employees can test and optimise solutions for the working world of the future. In this way, employees have the opportunity to explore new territory together. 

In such a learning and experimentation space, companies or departments can address very different issues: 

  • What new business areas or product categories will result from digitalization? 
  • How can we use digital technologies to make our work easier? 
  • Can machines and digital assistance systems relieve us of activities that are a burden on our health? What new opportunities might arise for older employees? 
  • What new activities are emerging and how do we deal with new requirements in terms of qualifications? 
  • What new working time models are possible? To what extent can we meet the needs of employees for more flexibility in the organisation of working time and place of work without neglecting business requirements?
  • To what extent do workflows and processes change? 
  • How can/must personnel management change? What does the new flexibility mean for the health of employees?
  • To what extent do technological and organisational changes affect corporate culture?

Methodical approach

The design of learning and experimentation spaces depends on the respective company, its size and industry. All learning and experimentation spaces are based on the same method and require a certain attitude in terms of openness, creativity and willingness to make mistakes. Only those who can also miss the mark once in a while are able to find new, innovative solutions.

Operational learning and experimentation spaces follow an agile setting. The procedure is results-oriented, short-cycle and requires a high level of participation by the employees concerned. In order for the learning processes to benefit the entire company, the involvement of the management is also planned. The method distinguishes itself through the following elements:

  • Incremental, step-by-step approach with an agile mindset, which assumes that you can't plan everything.
  • short-cycle, results-oriented approach in fixed working periods of four weeks, at the end of which the results are jointly evaluated
  • Participation-oriented processes: For better acceptance, everyone is involved in both development and implementation
  • joint learning processes and active error culture as a path to success

Target group 

The target group of the concept of company learning and experimentation rooms are small and medium-sized enterprises, i.e. those with less than 250 employees. A minimum size of 25 employees is recommended, but smaller companies are also able to set up a learning and experimentation room. Companies that still have some catching up to do in the targeted use of their resources with regard to work organisation innovation processes derive a particular advantage from this approach. The step-by-step approach enables the company management and the employees to carry out joint learning and development processes.

Procedure of a learning and experimentation room

The implementation is strongly participation-oriented; in addition to employee representatives, the management is also specifically involved. The joint process strengthens trust among each other and thus contributes to the success of the digital transformation in more than one respect. 

The implementation of an operational learning and experimentation space takes place in three phases. While the initial phase lasts one month, the innovation phase is about three to four months long. The final learning phase lasts one month.

1. initial phase

At the beginning, one to three expert interviews are conducted with representatives of the management and the employees. These serve to gather information on the initial situation and the particular challenges of the company in the digital transformation. For example, the interview can include the question of how important the interviewee considers the consequences of the digital transformation to be for the company or what challenges the company is facing in the context of digitalization. From this information, initial topic suggestions and goals for the learning and experimentation space can be derived.

Afterwards, a kick-off workshop is held. This forms the starting signal for the learning and experimentation space. The workshop serves the employees, the management and the executives to define challenges and concrete topics and to discuss the further procedure or the methodology as a joint "work programme" for the learning and experimentation room.

During the Kiff-off, the roles to be filled within the framework of the method are also defined. These include 3 to 5 representatives of the management and the employees as the so-called steering committee, 3 to 6 experts from the relevant areas as the lab team, a lab team manager and an agile coach for the planning, implementation and documentation of the learning and experimentation space. 

2nd innovation phase

Afterwards, the employees, who come together in the lab team, start their work. Instead of a well thought-out master plan, the concept follows a flexible approach that makes productive use of mistakes to improve the end result. The three four-week work phases serve to develop and try out concrete measures for shaping the digital transformation. During this process, the process consultant:in the Lab team is available to site . At the end of each work phase, the results are presented to the steering committee. The steering committee adopts, optimizes or rejects the results. In addition, the steering committee returns results to the lab team, which develops them further in the next work phase.

In order to achieve the special result orientation, it is important to adhere to the duration of four weeks per work phase. At the beginning of the four weeks, a planning meeting takes place with the process consultant and the Lab team. The results are then presented to the steering committee in an evaluation meeting and discussed together. The Agile Coach prepares a progress report that addresses the results, learning processes, and development in the Lab.

Each work phase starts with a planning session in which the members of the Lab team define the work programme for the first work phase. The preparation and moderation of this four-hour meeting is the task of the process consultant. 

In the following four weeks, the lab team works on concrete solutions in the learning and experimentation room. The work takes place in addition to the normal daily business. The members of the lab team spend at least two hours per week on this, the person responsible for the lab team at least four hours per week.

At the end of each work phase, the team presents its results to the steering committee and puts them up for discussion. The steering committee then consults with the coach about how to proceed. The significance of the results for the company as a whole and the further support of the lab team are also discussed. 

In the second phase of work, the results of the first phase are also reviewed and updated during the evaluation meeting. The objectives and the work programme for the third phase of work may be adapted.

3rd learning phase 

The learning phase follows the three work phases and represents a detailed evaluation of all results of the learning and experimentation room. This evaluation takes place within the framework of a results discussion. In it, all three work phases are reflected on in detail and an evaluation of the content of the results achieved is carried out. The participants evaluate the concept together and discuss a possible continuation of the method in the company. 

The final point of the learning and experimentation room is a sustainability check. However, this only takes place three to six months after the end of the learning phase.

Various roles

The concept of the learning and experimentation room involves different roles:

Agile Coach

  • Setting up the learning and experimentation room (with the management)
  • Planning and implementation of the kick-off workshop as well as the planning and evaluation meetings
  • Accompanying the Lab team and ensuring participation orientation during the work process
  • Coordination and consultation of the steering committee
  • Interface between steering committee and lab team
  • Advice to the Lab Team
  • Documentation of the process 
  • if required, individual coaching for those responsible for the lab team

Lab Team

  • Staffing: 3 to 6 experts from the relevant fields 
  • Tasks: Concretize fields of action and challenges of the digitalized working world; highlight best practices; develop and test design solutions. 

Responsible for Lab-Team

  • Staffing: one member of the Lab team
  • Tasks: Point of contact for Agile Coach and Steering Committee; driving the process in the Lab team.

Steering Committee

  • Composition: 3 to 5 representatives of the management and the employees
  • Tasks: Develop the central research question for the lab (together with the lab team); define the work program and evaluate the progress of the lab.

Agile tools for visualization and control of change 

In the concept of operational learning and experimentation spaces, certain tools can be used to visualize, plan and control the transformation and the work that goes with it. 

As an example of the necessary tools within the framework of the laboratory, the Strategic Change Canvas can be mentioned. This is an innovative method that helps to develop a convincing change story easily and quickly. The method scores with a clear presentation method and simple possibilities for change (e.g. using post-its). The tool allows to summarize all important points of a change process in a short and clear way. In this way, change processes can be planned, controlled and feedback obtained. It is also a very easy way to spread ideas throughout the company, for example to gain supporters for a change project. The Strategic Change Canvas enables an exchange of expectations and, in the best case, leads to a better understanding of the need for change.

Agile Change Management: The Concept of Operational Learning & Experimentation Spaces
The "Change Canvas" according to Jeff Anderson

Another helpful agile tool is the Kanban Change Board. Change projects can be better managed with the Kanban Change Board by writing down each action on a piece of paper and then going through the entire process. In doing so, one is always on the lookout for available resources to implement change effectively and quickly. Regular stand-up meetings are used to track the progress of all ongoing change experiments.

The improvement board as a third example of an agile working template enables validated learning. This means that all change actions are documented in advance and reflected upon with regard to their results. In this way, options can be developed and tested; change plans are reviewed and optimized step by step and with the help of rapid feedback.

The implementation of a corporate learning and experimentation room is of course also possible in the context of virtual collaboration. Effective blended learning processes can be designed with various video conferencing tools or digital whiteboards.

Final thoughts

For small and medium-sized enterprises and especially for agencies, it is becoming increasingly important to take advantage of the opportunities of digitization. Sustainable concepts and strategies are necessary for this. Agile Change Management, as a lean and participation-oriented approach, offers agencies an excellent opportunity to actively tackle the agile transformation. By implementing an operational learning and experimentation space, a fruitful change process can be launched that prepares companies for increasing digitalization. The consistent participation orientation of the learning process of this method offers a particular advantage. With the participation of all relevant groups, tailor-made solutions for the digital transformation can be found in every agency. Successfully implemented corporate learning and experimentation spaces hold the opportunity of innovative work concepts.

Your questions about article

If you have further input on Agile Change Management or operational learning and experimentation spaces, feel free to use the comments column. Interested in WordPress , web design, online business and more? Then follow RAIDBOXES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via our newsletter.

Oliver Wüntsch is an expert in agile change management. As a business coach and process consultant, he has successfully supported advertising and digital agencies, creative executives and startup founders in challenging change processes and complex decision-making situations since 2008. Agile thinking and lean working principles are for him the most effective answers to the increasing digitalization of markets.

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