Lean Change Management and Design Thinking

In June 2015, the #PoDojo brought Jason Little to Berlin to run a training workshop with managers, change management professionals and coaches like us, based on his book “Lean Change Management”. Jason explained us how to adapt Lean Start-up thinking and Agile practices to organizational change.

Here are my take-aways as the basic principles of Lean Change Management:

  • Identify and drive the change with a focus on early adopters („lone nuts“ and „first followers“).
  • Co-create solutions with the people who are affected by the change.
  • Define your “change activities” as experiments.
  • Iterate frequently on your change activities based on feedback
  • Visualize these activities on a lean change canvas to track progress

Compared to a traditional change management approach, lean change accepts that change cannot be run as a Big Design Up Front (BDUF) approach, since organizations are far too complex to control them from a “top-down” approach. In Lean Change Management, people are first, co-creating the change together. With Lean Change we adapt continuously.

Apply Design Thinking to run the Lean Change Management Cycle

Jason suggests the Lean Change Management Cycle can be used as a thinking tool for how to deal with a change challenge:

  • Generate insights, by observing and interviewing employees.
  • Co-create options how to deal with the insights.
  • Prepare, introduce and measure lean, short-term experiments to test options.

Here is Jason Little’s “Lean Change Management Cycle”:


You could map the Lean Change Cycle easily with the Design Thinking process and tools to „innovate“ the organization on a more operational level: The Design Thinking process follows a similar flow, it’s based on co-creation, and it suggests iterative solution finding, too.

This is how the “Design Thinking process D-School Stanford” looks like:


Design Thinking is empathizing with users (e.g. employees of an organization) to generate insights and define challenges. With ideation, you find options what to do. And experiments can be executed by crafting and testing prototypes.

The „Hot Seat“: Sit down to generate change options

In our meet-up with Jason Little at Design Thinking for Coaches meet-up in Berlin just the day before the training workshop, the Design Thinking community inspired Jason to take over the „Hot Seat“ introduced by my co-host Pauline Tonhauser and me as a new technique to generate options.

The „Hot Seat“ is a structured discussion format to brainstorm options for change in a meeting. To apply the „Hot Seat“, we need a crowd of „lone nuts“ and „first followers“ that are motivated to drive change in an organization. And that’s how it works:

  • Based on insights, the change crowd collects change challenges, by noting catch words or sketches with a dark, well readable marker on sticky notes (3 min.).
  • Change challenges are presented, collected on a board or wall, and clustered by two volunteers. The most relevant challenge is chosen by dotmocracy (Timing based on group size)
  • The challenge owner sits down on a „Hot Seat“ (e.g. a chair) in front of the crowd, to explain the problem to the group – no interruptions or questions are allowed (3 min.)
  • The challenge owner answers questions of the crowd to clarify the context (5 min.)
  • The challenge owner turns his chair facing the wall, with no eye contact to the crowd.
  • The crowd gives advice how to tackle with the challenge. The challenge owner is not allowed to comment or judge, but just to take notes (10 min.)
  • The challenge owner reflects results and experience to the group (3 min.)

Benefits of the Hot Seat:

  • Easy to apply
  • Structured discussion
  • Lots of options what to do in a very short time
  • It’s fun – everyone takes part!

What do you think?

We applied the Lean Change Framework combined with techniques of Design Thinking in our practical work both to start-ups and big organizations, to help others help people make products customers love. If you have any experiences with Lean Change, or if you try the Hot Seat, please send us a message – we’d love to share!