A Lean Change Management Story

A couple of weeks ago Christiaan Verwijs, Hans van der Burgh and I facilitated a workshop for an organisation acting in the Dutch energy market. Two themes permeated the workshop:

  • Moving from “doing agile” towards “being agile”
  • Improving the alignment and collaboration between business and IT

We proposed to facilitate a one-day workshop to jointly explore the challenge and extract a handful of tangible experiments for the upcoming weeks. As the foundation for this workshop we used the principles of Lean Change Management. Hereby embracing it’s core value:

Co-creating change to ensure successful change.

Having read the book about Lean Change Management multiple times, we consider ourselves experts by theory. And let’s face it; this is an emerging approach to organisational change. So the single best way to learn is to put theory into practice. That’s what we’ve done a couple of times but aim to do more often. Sharing these experiences with blog posts such as this one, helps us reflect our actions and hopefully inspire you to give it a try as well.

This article isn’t meant as the ultimate Lean Change Management article. It contains some LCM principles but also covers our experiences with workshop facilitation in general. Initially we wrote this article as a retrospective for ourselves. But why not share our primary takeaways? Let’s embrace “learning by sharing”. Upcoming May Christiaan and I will attend the Lean Change Management workshop by Jason Little. Writing down our experiments helps up preparing for the workshop itself.

Lessons Learned

1. Less is More

The session that we facilitated was attended by about 25 people. We quickly learned that this is too much for the in-depth exploration of desired changes, and the experiments that are needed. During our preparation, we already anticipated that this might happen. We used the morning to explore current challenges, and helped the group identify three separate (but interconnected) changes to improve on the challenges. This allowed us to break up the large group into three different teams, each working on a specific change in three iterations. Although this worked really well to keep everyone engaged with what their team was working on, the shared review of the work was perceived as a disruption of flow within the teams and a loss of focus. Due to the large number of people (and thus opinions), all shared events also took a lot of time. And it’s difficult to keep everyone engaged in large groups.

Although different games and liberating structures might have helped, we all felt that we could’ve  just as well spread out the three change initiatives over three different sessions instead. This would have increased focus.

2. Start Small (one change over many)

Following the previous point, we learned that focus and collaboration benefit from working on a single change (and identifying associated experiments). It’s tempting to start with lot’s of experiments. Especially when all of them seem to be important and valuable. As with Kanban, set a limit on the amount of work in progress. We determined that 3 experiments would be the maximum the customer would work on. Therefore we discussed all possible experiments in the morning, and selected only three experiments to refine in more detail in the afternoon. 

3. Icebreakers, Energisers and Creative Lubrication

Solving organisational challenges requires a lot of energy and creativity. It also requires a sense of safety within the group. We anticipated on this, and populated the morning with several icebreakers (impromptu networking, a superhero game) and creative energizers (visualize the problem with lego). This helped the group to get into ‘creative problem-solving’ mode. One thing we noticed is that it really helps to have a set of energizers available to pick from. Not all the energizers we prepared turned out to be useful (or even possible given the environment). It’s a good idea to have some physical energizers (like a hand puzzle), some funny ones (like Powerpoint Karaoke) and a few low-key ones (like impromptu networking).

4. Start the Day With a Short Explanation of LCM

At the beginning of the workshop we only briefly mentioned the approach of Lean Change Management. We thought it would only be confusing to explain the LCM approach in too much detail. However, explaining the LCM cycle would have provided the participants a bit more clarity about the next steps. We used the morning for gathering insights and determining options. In the afternoon we selected three experiments and let every team draft an associated plan for the upcoming weeks. Some up-front explanation of the approach, and its experiment-based approach, would’ve helped answer some questions that popped up during the day.

5. Assumptions are the Mother of all …

Don’t start with assumptions (we need a value driven team). The diagnose offered some valuable other insights. Initially, our customer wanted to focus on a particular change from the get-go. This was something they had been thinking of for a while, and had been talking about internally, so it felt most natural to them. We pressed, however, to take a step back first. This is why we spent the morning diagnosing the challenges collaboratively. We employed a number of games (like visualization with lego) and a impact/value-matrix to identify areas of improvement. Although the original change was still clearly present, the group agreed on two additional changes that felt very important to everyone involved.

6. Make Ownership Specific

Make sure the responsibility and accountability is clearly defined for every experiment. During the end of the day this wasn’t 100% clear yet. Therefore we took a fun picture of the three teams who were responsible for the experiments. If you’re on the picture, you’re part of the team! As a consequence everyone really gave it some extra thought if they wanted to be on the picture.

7. Explain the Options Board

I consider the Options Board a powerful instrument. However, be sure to explain it clearly. It seemed pretty obvious to me, but while introducing the quadrant I discovered that “cost” and “value” are pretty vague terms. Together we agreed upon “cost” as “money + effort” and “value” was defined as… well just value… Next time we need to be a bit more explicit about these terms.

8. Prepare Canvas Templates Upfront

We spend quite some time preparing the workshop. Partly this was used for doing research about the customer, but also creating physical templates for the Lean Change Management posters. You don’t want to do this during the workshop itself.

9. Never Take Decisions for the Team!

During lunch we made a classic mistake. Before lunch everyone had defined all possible options and plotted them on the Options Board. With a small group (facilitators + IT director) we discussed the results and agreed upon the idea to start the afternoon with selecting 3 options as the main experiments to discuss in the afternoon. For us, it seemed pretty obvious what the three experiments should be. So, to save everyone some time, we already described them as experiments. This would give the group a kickstart after their lunch! Well… that was a mistake. Although the experiments we selected were fine, it wasn’t appreciated that the IT director and the facilitators took this initiative. It took away the ownership of the group. Although it wasn’t a show stopper, we did get the feedback to do this differently next time. The motto of Lean Change Management is of course “co-creating change to ensure successful change”. Not “dictating change…”

10. The Ideal Canvas Doesn’t Exist

Jason Little probably is the first to acknowledge this. The canvas we prepared for this workshop worked fine for the more comprehensive/complex experiments. One experiment however was pretty straight-forward. Although the “one page change plan” that we’ve used as a canvas is easy to use, an improvement canvas like shown below would also have worked out fine. Next time we’ll prepare different types of canvases which gives you more flexibility during the workshop itself.


In this blog post we’ve shared our lessons learned of a recently facilitated workshop. Most of the takeaways are related to Lean Change Management. We’ve used the principles of this approach as the foundation of the workshop. Writing down these lessons learned helped us with some reflection, hopefully it’s useful for you as a reader as well!