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Change management: Agile adoption with knowledge, attitude and action

Read this tip for advice from SSQ Site Editor Yvette Francino on how to implement the KAA model (knowledge, attitude, action) in your Agile adoption or other change management scenario.

“Employee communication has become a competitive advantage for companies,” says Communication Specialist Terry McKenzie, who once served as a Senior Director of Global Employee Communications and Communities at Sun Microsystems. While at Sun, McKenzie introduced a communication goal tool referred to as the KAA model using knowledge, attitude and action to facilitate organizational change. In this tip, we’ll take a look at how the KAA model works and how it might be applied to organizations that are transitioning to an Agile software development environment.

Using the KAA model to help in facilitating change

The basic principles of KAA are straightforward. For each of the three areas – knowledge, attitude and action – you look at your current state and your desired end state. You then put together a strategy that will help you reach your end state in each goal area. McKenzie emphasizes that just telling employees about a change is not enough. You must actively communicate with the employees by discussing the change, getting their input and following up on their questions or suggestions.

Seven questions McKenzie suggests to ask about change are:

1.       What is it and why is it needed?

2.       What does success look like?

3.       What will the results be, and how will they impact me?

4.       How will the change be supported

5.       How are concerns being handled?

6.       How will it be rolled out?

7.       What will you do to make it stick?

Let’s take a look at how this tool might be applied in organizations that are adopting a new Agile methodology, such as Scrum.

Knowledge of Scrum

You’ll start by assessing the existing knowledge of Scrum within your organization. You will want to take a look at the skill sets and experience level of your project team members. Your desired end state may be that you would like all the project team members educated in the use of Scrum. You may want to go beyond just the team members, however, and make sure that even those who aren’t directly on the Scrum team receive some amount of training so that everyone is speaking a common language.

Put together a plan of the level of knowledge of Scrum that you think will be necessary and then put together a training plan that will help you reach your knowledge goals. Perhaps it will include outside training or Agile coaches. In the tip, Adopting Agile: Eight traction tips to make Agile development stick, we find that Howard Deiner stresses the importance of training the entire organization, saying that a foundation is important for everyone. Other Agile luminaries such as Scrum coach Jean Tabaka and Scott Ambler also speak frequently of the importance of education and learning from experienced mentors when it comes to an Agile transition.

Attitude about Agile adoption

When it comes to attitude, again, we start by assessing the current feelings of the people affected by the change. Team members may be very excited about an Agile adoption or they may be resistant. “Some people take to certain changes very easily and other people don’t. And if they don’t, and you want that change to happen, you have to figure out, ‘What is it that keeps them from changing?’ Almost invariably they’re worried about losing something they value. So what is that thing that they value? The best way is to ask them,” says Agile expert George Dinwiddie in an interview about cultural change at the 2011 Agile Development Practices West conference.

In the tip, Real world Agile: Gaining internal acceptance of Agile methodologies, we hear from Scrum Masters who have struggled with the task of gaining buy-in from people, both managers and team members, who are not ready to jump on the Agile bandwagon. Matt Weir found that those who were once the biggest resistors ended up becoming his biggest allies in the effort to gain acceptance. “The skeptics were the ones who were asking the right questions and came up with some really great ideas,” he says.  

Action in Agile adoption

Along with the knowledge and the attitude, you have to evaluate the actions that are taking place regarding your Agile transition. Is your entire organization adopting Agile, or are you starting small and transitioning one project at a time? Where are you now and where do you want to be? What will your roadmap look like?

Though it may be tempting to take the ‘big bang’ approach, some Agile consultants recommend against this. “Friction between those who want a new way to do things, and folks who prefer the old way, is the cause of a fair amount of conflict, strife, and failure in Scrum adoption,” says Matt Heusser in his tip, Large-scale Agile: Making the transition to Scrum.” When it comes to Agile transition, he recommends, to not do it all at once, “but instead incremental, done in a way that respects people and gives them options.”


Regardless of whether your entire organization has moved to Agile or you are starting slowly with a few teams, you need to continually evaluate how the team is doing by using retrospectives. The Agile methodologies include processes allowing for continual improvement, so take the time after each iteration to evaluate the team’s competencies in terms of knowledge, attitude and action. How close is the team to reaching desired end states?

Though we used the example of Agile adoption to step through use of the KAA model, this model can be applied to any type of change. Take the time to have conversations with people that will be affected by change. Listen to their concerns and work with them to address those concerns. If you keep an eye on knowledge, attitude and action, communicating effectively and openly about your goals in each area, you’ll gain the support needed for effective change.

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