ScaledAgile, Inc. logo

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Winston Churchill, His Complete Speeches 1897-1963 [1]

Building the Change and Communications Competency for Effective ARTs

By Mark Richards, SAFe Fellow, Founder CoActivation

Note: This article is part of the Community Contributions series, which provides additional points of view and guidance based on the experiences and opinions of the extended SAFe community of experts.


Change has been central to the Agile movement since its inception. Whether ‘responding to change’ as outlined in the Agile Manifesto or ‘welcoming changing requirements’ as described in the underlying principles, the entire movement was predicated on the fact that “Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.” [2] The evolution from technical to business agility has broadened this emphasis on change from within development teams and elevated it across the entire organization. SAFe’s definition of business agility as “the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities” underscores this.

SAFe incorporates Kotter’s 8-step change model [3] in support of adopting Lean and Agile practices, and the SAFe Implementation Roadmap adds significant depth regarding change strategy for adoption. The focus there, however, was traditionally ‘the change to our way of working’ rather than ‘the change to our organization’s ability to change.’ In recent years, the transition from technology-centric agility to business agility has seen an increasing number of organizations staffing change management and communications professionals onto ARTs. 

This approach’s most significant and often unanticipated benefit has been accelerating the journey from ARTs that typically only covered the technology aspects of the development value stream to Business Enabled ARTs, rapidly delivering complete business solutions. The excitement and energy evidenced by the business staff joining the ARTs commonly generates a significant pull in the broader organization towards realizing other patterns such as Agile Business Functions and Agile Business Trains.  

In hindsight, it appears obvious. If the ART is an Agile organization’s primary vehicle of change, change and communications must be a recognized competency. Observing those organizations who have deliberately approached this by deploying the relevant specialists to their implementations, it has become apparent that they address four critical needs for both ART members and the broader organization, as shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1. Four critical elements of a change and communications strategy
  • Connect to strategy and purpose through assistance with articulating and communicating the vision. This extends to staff throughout the organization as they connect with it and leverage it to inform their actions, plans, and decisions.
  • Adapt to changing ways of working by developing effective onboarding and engagement approaches. This begins with ART members and extends to the broader organization as they collaborate with ART and leverage its solutions to fulfill the vision.
  • Unify product, technical, and organizational change efforts by integrating change approach strategy development into Continuous Exploration. They then support staff engagement, readiness, uptake, and feedback in the remainder of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline
  • Enable mastery of change and communication skills by teaching, mentoring, and ultimately coaching ART leaders and members in change management, communications, and change measurement techniques.

Connect to Strategy and Purpose

ARTs are created to fulfill a Vision that should act as a beacon of inspiration for the entire organization. However, this can only be realized when ART members and the broader organization are fully aware of and connected with this vision.

The role of change and communications specialists in creating these connections is illustrated by the model shown in Figure 2. The rows represent the groups they will support, and the columns show the changing nature of the support over time. The vision will evolve as feedback and insight are generated, and the people involved and impacted will shift and grow as it is progressively fulfilled. The cells should inspire areas of activity and support prioritization through capacity allocation.

Figure 2. Connection activities vary across the organization and over time

The Product Managers and Business Owners providing product leadership must form an initial connection, context, and energy with the broader organization before product delivery efforts can move through the ART. Support will begin with helping leaders and staff members develop a bridge between the ‘today’ they occupy and the vision of ‘tomorrow.’ This should naturally progress to assisting staff at all levels to leverage their understanding of ‘tomorrow’ to inform their actions, plans, and decisions’ today’ and ensure the generated information and feedback informs the evolution of the original vision.

Below are examples of some of these activities from real-world experiences. Each references the group supported and the activity performed by the change and communications specialists.

Example ‘Connect’ Activities

  • Product Leadership: Shaping and communicating the vision – Communications staff supported product leadership for an ART aiming to revolutionize content publication for a large enterprise. They created a 10-minute collection of interview clips with frustrated users of the current solution. The vision video’s closing message was, ‘We’re here to change the story for our staff.’ 
  • ART Members: Incorporating macro-level feedback – Following the previous example, each PI new interviews were conducted, and the video was updated to match the evolving narrative. Initially, the strategy focused on pain-point resolution before switching to strategic re-platforming, but the swift changes in staff sentiment enabled fast-tracking the strategic re-platforming.
  • ART Members: Connecting features to the vision – Operational executives at a government agency, aware of ARTs consistently delivering staff-centric Features, struggled to assess ‘progress against the big picture.’ Change and communications staff introduced visualizations contextualizing shipped features against the user journey and summarizing their impact.
  • Broader Organization: Preparing for macro-level impacts – The cloud strategy at a major financial institution necessitated a shift towards practices like site-reliability engineering and a different technology workforce mix. The change management team collaborated with executives and HR to model strategic workforce plans, creating pathways for staff to transition from legacy roles to meet future needs.

Adapt to Changing Ways of Working

An organization’s agility depends on how people adapt to a dynamic world with new languages and constantly evolving processes and structures.

Change and communications specialists can play a critical role in accelerating adaptation by applying their skills to the focus areas depicted by the model in Figure 3.  Once again, the rows represent the groups they will be supporting, the columns the changing nature of the support over time, and the cells the focus of activity. As with connection, the model is best thought of through the lens of ‘current priority’ rather than sequentially. Successive cohorts of staff at all levels will come into focus as either members, collaborators, or beneficiaries as the vision scales in impact, and the adaptation cycles should accelerate as the approaches to supporting the change iterate and evolve.

Figure 3. Adaptation activities vary across the organization and over time

From an adaptation perspective, target groups are segmented slightly differently to differentiate between staff who will be collaborating closely with the ART to fulfill the vision and those in the Operational Value Streams who should ultimately benefit but at least initially are likely to be ‘aware of’ rather than ‘impacted by’ the adaptation.

Tip: Don’t forget a tailored onboarding approach for your change management specialists that introduces them to concepts such as Lean change tools and communicates clearly that their job is not to ‘produce endorsed change plans’ or other traditional deliverables but to Connect, Adapt, Unify, and Enable.

ART members are the initial focus as they adapt to a new way of working every day. No ART succeeds without effective collaborators in the broader organization, whether it be shared services, subject matter experts, or stakeholders across technology and operational value streams. Distinct from the ART collaborators, the broader organization will have limited early exposure but experience increasing impact as the realization of the vision accelerates. 

Change and communication emphasis should always seek to follow experimentation with systemization. It follows a similar path from left to right for each group – transition from ‘coping with adaptation’ through ‘enjoying adaptation’ to ‘thirsting to go deeper.’ Progression from ‘technology ART’ to ‘Business-Enabled ART’ to ‘Business ART’ is the signal measure of a successful adaptation strategy.

Example ‘Adapt’ Activities

  • ART Members: Onboarding new members – One ART’s change and communications team developed a standard onboarding process for new members. It included SAFe learning, organizational training (e.g., security, privacy), and technology setup. Scrum Masters were then trained to oversee this process.
  • ART Members: Progressing in a dual operating system – The change team for the pilot ART at a government organization introduced eNPS (employee net promoter score) surveys after each PI to gather feedback. Initial results revealed concerns about Agile’s impact on career progression. This led to coaching for line management on setting expectations and adapting career progression activities to the agile model.
  • ART Collaborators: Engaging through events – Many organizations’ change and communications teams develop ‘briefing and onboarding’ approaches for stakeholders, business owners, and subject matter experts working with the ART.  These ranged from SAFe courses to briefing sessions and workshops setting expectations for effective cooperation.
  • Broader Organization: Participating in the vision – In one organization, there were concerns that front-line staff and team leads were overlooked amidst metrics, executive commitments, and public opinion. A key ART’s change team introduced a ‘feature fair,’ showcasing feature candidates to operational staff for feedback and input. This approach has since been replicated successfully by many other ARTs.

Unify Product, Technical, and Organizational Change Efforts

Epics and Features serve as the vehicles of change to your business solutions, incrementally bringing the ART’s vision to fruition. An organization’s technology stack, processes, product lines, and services must evolve cohesively in alignment with this vision.   

The Continuous Delivery Pipeline, ART and Solution Train Backlog, and Portfolio Backlog clearly articulate effective approaches for aligning product and technical change across the product lifecycle. When it comes to understanding the impact of process and service change on staff, preparing them for a smooth transition and supporting them through adoption requires the application of fundamental change practices. 

Change and communications specialists should interpret the model in Figure 4 through the lens of an epic and its features moving through the Continuous Delivery Pipeline as represented by the columns. The rows depict focus areas rather than the previous models’ group orientation. Building empathy through understanding, identifying action through insight, and maintaining clear communication requires continuous and simultaneous attention. The cells suggest the appropriate action.

Figure 4. Unifying activities are applied throughout the Continuous Delivery Pipeline

Tip: Establish outcome-based metrics around areas such as staff and stakeholder engagement, change adoption, and reduction in lead time from deployment to release

Unification is typically accomplished by formally incorporating these efforts in the portfolio, solution, and ART kanban systems, extending the Lean Business Case, feature definition, and other Solution Intent artifacts, and enhancing existing SAFe events to enhance change engagement.

Example ‘Unify’ Activities

  • Identifying a change approach – At a government organization, staff transitioned from a long-used mainframe solution to SAP. Initial concerns arose due to this significant shift. The leading ART identified a change approach that involved pilot groups using the new solution and measuring the time taken for the end-to-end UAT processes. These groups later shared their success in interviews and roadshows, showcasing how much time the new system could save.
  • Understanding staff impact – Many ARTs have incorporated change impact assessments and training needs assessments into the Continuous Exploration phase of epics and features to understand the impact on staff.  One everyday use is leveraging the identify change approach activity to shape the MVP and incremental rollout strategies for epics.
  • Identifying change readiness – Change readiness activities are often used to identify stories for staff training, work instruction updates, and other readiness activities when breaking down features.
  • Communicating success and insights – After several successful releases to a small staff cohort, an ART’s change and communications team arranged their participation in an operational all-hands meeting. These staff members communicated success in alleviating historical pain points and praised the new system’s benefits.

Enable Mastery of Change and Communication Skills

In an ideal world, ART’s Product Management and Product Owners have the skills to connect the organization to strategy and purpose. The Release Train Engineer and Scrum Master/Team Coaches have the skills to support the organization as they adapt to changing ways of working. Together with System Architects, they can collectively unify product, technical, and organizational change efforts. 

The reality is that as they step into their new roles on the ART, these staff are all too easily overwhelmed by the number of new skills they must master. Great change managers and communications specialists provide critical support during this transition before working to bring about this desired end state.

While the model for ‘Unify’ depicted progression and focus for an epic or feature, the Enabling Mastery model in Figure 5 shows progression and focus for an individual. As the individual gains mastery in the areas depicted by the rows, the nature of the relationship will evolve from the initial strategy on the left to the more light-touch support on the right. As with the other models, the cells suggest the focus of activity.

Figure 5. Enabling activities focus on individual mastery of change and communication skills

Example ‘Enable’ Activities

  • Change Management: Tools and Techniques Teams engaged with multiple stakeholders and subject matter experts during continuous exploration in one ART. When concerns arose about ‘workshop overload’ and duplicate interactions, the change management team took action. They established a communications register and processes for system-level optimization of the engagement strategy.
  • Communications: Tools & Training – Communications specialists on various ARTs have created Toastmaster communities to boost public speaking confidence for ART members.
  • Communications: Editorial and Review – ARTs commonly employ communications specialists to provide review and editorial services for Architects and Product Managers. They assist in naming and framing epics and features for clarity and appeal to a non-technical audience.
  • Change Management: Tools and Techniques – Change Managers regularly collaborate with Product Managers to gauge the impact of change on stakeholders using Blast Radius [4] and various Design Thinking tools. They produce these visualizations during exploration and research and use them in product and communications strategies.

Patterns for Change Management and Communications Specialists

As the model demonstrates, there is no shortage of work for the change management and communications specialists supporting our ARTs in building and leveraging the change and communications competency.  As specialists, they are often leveraged using a shared service approach. Several examples of how this approach can be applied appear below. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Embedded Leader

The trio of ART-Leadership roles represented by the RTE, Product Management, and System Architect is transformed into a quartet by including a dedicated Change Management Lead. The core focus of this approach is on enabling the other ART roles to fulfill the intent of the connect, adapt, and unify elements of the model. Their dedicated and ongoing relationship with the ART, its people, and its mission enables highly contextual mentoring, coaching, and direct involvement.

Centralized Services

This approach involves embedding several specialists into the LACE (Lean-Agile Centre of Excellence) or establishing a partner-style relationship between specialists in their functional practice and individual ARTs. As with the embedded leader pattern, they are typically focused on enabling the other ART roles; however, they will often directly engage in the organizational change elements of unification.   

Enabling Team

When the ART is expected to generate significant operational change, a complete change and communications team, organized in line with the enabling team topology, is a powerful construct. This enables deep, accelerated focus on the whole model. Common augmentations to this team’s change and communications specializations include project coordinators and learning development specialists. The team then generally takes on the role of staging, facilitating, and evolving ART events, and in the case where significant staff training is required to take advantage of the ART solutions, the learning specialists can then develop and execute the training approach.


As we pass the turning point and enter the deployment period of the age of software and digital,’ “businesses must either master the new means of production or decline and become relics of the last age.” [5]  This does not require us to ‘change our organization’ but rather to ‘build an organization that is good at changing.’

ARTs are the primary vehicles of change in SAFe. As such, they must activate their members, collaborators, and internal customers to become ‘good at changing.’ By integrating the experience and skills of change and communication professionals into their ARTs, many organizations have experienced significantly accelerated activation.

As a change practice leader, change management, or communications practitioner, you may have found integrating your expertise into the Agile environment challenging. LACE and transformation leaders can often struggle to leverage your talents effectively. We trust that you have found inspiration in the approach described in this article for accelerating and amplifying your contribution and articulation to help others understand what you can offer.  As a LACE leader, Business Owner, LPM Team, RTE, or Product Manager who has not experienced the power of leveraging these skillsets in your ARTs. Talk to your change and communications practices tomorrow, seek their help, and accelerate your journey to true business agility.

Learn More

[1] Churchill, Winston S. His Complete Speeches 1897-1963. Volume 4. Chelsea House Publishers / R.R. Bowker Company, 1974.

[2] Agile Manifesto.

[3] Kotter, John. The 8 Steps for Leading Change.


[5] Kersten, Mik. Project to Product.  IT Revolution Press, LLC, 2018.

Last Update: 4 December 2023