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Q&A with Jason Little

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Jason Little, Founder of Lean Change Inc.

How could you describe your career path in few words?

I started my career doing phone and desktop support in IT. From there, I started developing software and then moved into consulting. Since the mid-2000s, I have been helping organizations transform into agile ways of working. Very quickly, I realized agile was all about change, so since the late 2000s, my mission has been exploring and developing modern approaches to change with Lean Change Management.

How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?

It hasn't necessarily transformed them, but it has helped them improve in several ways.

For example, I worked with a Fortune 50 company during the tail-end of the pandemic, and we replaced parts of their gigantic, heavy-weight change management process with a few lighter Lean Change techniques.  I wouldn't call that a transformation, but people loved the 'real time' nature of using agile practices in change management compared to their old, slow and bloated traditional approach. 

If anything, companies are learning they don't need big-bang transformation programs as much as they thought. They can replace a few ineffective processes here and there with agile ones, and if they keep doing that continually, things get better.

What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you?

I'm not a fan of the binary 'success or failure' measurement for complex change. It's impossible to say an agile transformation was successful. Successful from who's perspective? The consultant who stands to gain by getting a nice juicy case study? The main sponsor who stands to gain by getting a bonus because the transformation was on their performance scorecard? Yes, that sounds cynical, and rightfully so. Think of it this way, I've never seen a 'case study' written by people on a team who are far and away the people most affected by a transformation program.

That said, out of the ones I've worked on, these are the successes that have stood out to me:

  • Team members that enjoy coming to work again because now they have a say in how they work.

  • Customers who rave about the products and solutions that agile companies are rolling out. Everyone knows who PayPal is. If you've been a Paypal user since day 1, you'll know how much better it is now than it used to be. Their transformation is well documented. Salesforce is another; they used to release every 18 months. I used to be their customer and remember seeing improvements to quarterly releases and much better software after their transformation.

  • People who realize their organization is never going to take agile seriously and find more satisfying work somewhere else

The one that stood out to me the most was a multinational financial organization where the C-suite would actively say things like: "we'll be retired before this transformation is done. This is a generational change, not a program."

Now THAT is inspiring!

Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices?

Working 'in an agile way' is table stakes nowadays. Most younger companies I've worked with work this way by default. They don't call it 'agile', and their workforce is more collaborative because these organizations were built that way from the ground up. There will always be interest in agile at the enterprise level. For starters, that's where the money is, so that's where the agile coaches and consultants gravitate to.

Second, and I'll pick on the banks here in Canada, they have been continually running agile transformation programs for over a decade. After 12-18 months, someone gets upset that it isn't working, and they bring in a new consulting firm or method/framework and try again.  The challenge they will always face is using the same mental models and cultural approaches that got them into the mess of needing to transform in the first place. That means they spent years or decades honing and standardizing processes that ultimately made it difficult to get work done, and now they're doing the same thing, but with agile practices.

Lastly, agile has been around for so long I'd argue every professional on earth has had agile inflicted on them in one way or another. Because of that, plenty have had a bad experience with Agile. That's why you see 'ways of working' being used now instead of agile. It's the same thing, just labelled differently. Although, 'ways of working' is getting long in the tooth now so I'm sure someone will invent and trademark a new term.

I'll close with some advice. If you want to be more agile, do it with the people doing the work, not at them.

About me : I started my career in IT and while studying electronic engineering at DeVry during the day, I worked midnights programming placement machines that placed components on circuit boards. From there, I moved into call centre and desktop support where I started developing website using MS Access, Cold Fusion, and Classic ASP (Active Server Pages). My first major project was replacing binders full of call centre routing information with a web app.

In 1999 I fell victim to the dot-com bubble when the company I was working for went under and I started my own web design and development company. Shortly after that, I became 1 of the 3 first members of a startup that built a platform for selling ringtones and images. There, I created midi ringtones, wallpaper images, and built a backend licensing and content tracking tool with classic ASP.

Eventually I became the director of storefront development and worked on some pretty cool mobile projects for WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), Much Music, Warner Brothers and Atlantic records. I still have my autographed Ric Flair action figure from visiting WWE’s headquarters when the attitude era was at its peak!

I started using agile practices around the year 2000 when that startup grew from the 3 of us to 50 and finally to 200 within a year. From 2002 to 2008 I worked as a product owner, and scrum master for the most part and then started my consulting career as an agile coach, trainer and consultant. In 2012 I released Agile Transformation: A Guide to Organizational Change which launched the Live Lessons brand along with Lyssa Adkin’s Coaching Agile Teams live lessons. In 2012 I released the terrible version of Lean Change Management on Leanpub and re-wrote, and re-released it in 2014. In 2014 I founded the Lean Change Management Association, which is now the Modern Change Community.

Finally, I released Change Agility in 2020 after finding an old manuscript I wrote in 2019 but never released. In early 2021, I joined Spero Careers Canada as CTO and built our platform that helps employment coaches in the autism space provide higher quality service for job seekers.

In my spare time, I’m the drummer for Clever Weapon, and also a songwriter, and music producer amongst other things.

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