Astrakhan, a forerunner of “Change Agility”

Astrakhan, a forerunner of “Change Agility”

Author : Julian Kermarrec (Agile People Lead) - Published date : June 28, 2021

Eight years after the release of his first book, Jason Little, an engineer convinced of the value of agility, recently published his second book entitled “Change Agility”. What are the concepts developed by the author in this second book? In this article, Julian Kermarrec (Agile People Lead at Astrakhan) takes us on a journey to discover “Change Agility” and the elements that this theory conveys by way of the “Shu-ha-ri” concept from the martial arts, which represents a part of the fundamentals of Scrum and Kanban.

He then draws a parallel between Astrakhan and agile concepts, concluding that at Astrakhan, we are constantly exploring new approaches, and when relevant, we are developing them following innovative agile principles.

The genesis of Lean Change Management

In 2012, a change management model was developed by Jason Little, an engineer convinced of the value of agility: Lean Change Management.

After several years of deploying Agile values and practices, Jason Little realizes that to ensure the success of his missions, it is much more a question of change management than agility expertise. He draws on his experience to develop his approach to Change Management in the book “Lean Change Management: Innovative Practices for Managing Organizational Change”.

The evolution of the Lean Change concept at Astrakhan 

● April 19, 2018:  Astrakhan publishes a comprehensive article on Lean Change Management.

● September 12, 2018: Astrakhan lands a service contract in Lean Change Management.

● March 14, 2019: Astrakhan publishes an excerpt from the white paper in development, entitled “Lean Change Management”.

● May 9, 2019: Astrakhan’s second paper on Lean Change Management is published.

● May 31, 2019: To conclude and to share the experience, Astrakhan releases its white paper “Lean Change Management”.

The genesis of the Change Agility concept

Eight years after the release of his first book, Jason Little publishes his second book: Change Agility. From the very first pages, we quickly realize that this is not a new method of change management but rather an approach to change management. There are stories, insightful advice, and case studies based on the author’s 20 years of experience.

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”


In this book, we note from the start the low posture of the expert. No certainties, but some opinions, tips, and especially a lot of questions:

● How to transform your approach to change management?

● How to work more effectively with agile teams as a change agent?

● How to manage your change management more intelligently with agile practices?

It seems that Jason Little has deliberately used “Maieutics” or the art of questioning, to make the readers take a step back concerning his practice.

No new method, but a reflection: “Being agile” or “doing agile” and a return to the 4 values and 12 principles of the manifesto which are timeless according to the author.

This vision of agility is specific to each individual. It can differ according to the context, but it can also have common points: Empiricism, pragmatism, iterations, and feedback.

“If an egg breaks because of an external force, life ends…

If an egg breaks because of an inner force, life begins…

The great changes in your life begin from the inside out!”

Just like the sentence above, then, change comes from within. But where is the starting point?

Here is Jason Little’s answer:

“Changing an organization is hard, and changing the way you deal with change is even harder.
Traditional change management has focused on getting other people to change their behavior to ensure successful change..

The problem is that change is taken from the wrong angle, and the goal of this book is to help look at change through a new prism to be ‘more agile’ in managing change, starting from the inside: the individuals.”

Change Agility and the elements that this theory conveys

On the model of the article True Agile or New Agile written by our CEO, François RIVARD, on October 13, 2020, the idea is not to go back to the basics in a conservative way, but the challenge is not to forget the foundations of a practice that is getting misused while it is full of common sense. On the other hand, it requires willpower, discipline, and personal development to reach a kind of wisdom.


It turns out that in what is called “agility”, the fundamentals are not SCRUM and KANBAN but are much more transversal and profound, such as SHU-HA-RI.

SHU-HA-RI is a concept from Japanese martial arts that describes the 3 stages of learning.

“SHU-HA-RI” can be translated as following the rules, understanding the rules, and transcending the rules.

● SHU (“to protect”, “to obey”) – traditional wisdom – learn the fundamentals.

● HA (“to break away,” “to digress”) – break with tradition – find the exceptions to traditional wisdom, find new approaches.

● RI (“to leave”, “to separate”) – transcend – there is no traditional technique or wisdom, all movements are allowed.

SHU-HA-RI can be seen as concentric circles, with SHU in HA, and SHU and HA in RI.

The fundamental techniques and knowledge do not change.

“Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.”


As an example, let me draw an analogy between the history of JUDO and the principle of SHU-HA-RI.

Is the Judo created by Jigoro KANO in 1882 the same as today’s Judo?

If we compare the two, we will notice without difficulty the differences. It is however the same practice but it has evolved without forgetting the fundamentals: The seven phases of a technique allowing a throw.

SHISEI (the posture) allows KUMI KATA (gripping method), allows TSUKURI (positioning) of TORI (person performing the technique), allows KUZUSHI (unbalancing the opponent) of UKE (person receiving the technique) leading to KAKE (point of no return), NAGE (throw) and finally UKEMI (UKE uses breakfall techniques).

“Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be”


To summarize, Jason Little wrote this book for change agents to help them think differently about change management.

Applying an “agile” “method” to a “project” or “change management” for inspiration is a good start, but it is meaningless if we forget the reason behind an action. It will lose its effectiveness over time.

To connect with the purpose of agility, he started from the “common base” which is the agile manifesto. He used these 4 values and 12 principles and adapted them to change management based on his own experience and by reporting on it.

Finally, from the agile manifesto, we notice that the first of the four values concerns individuals and that they are at the origin of everything. Consequently, the various levers must be activated from this epicenter.

Astrakhan is a forerunner of “Change Agility”


After reading the book CHANGE AGILITY, we are on the right track, and the article True Agile or New Agile is a good example. At Astrakhan, we have implemented the following principles:

Joining an ecosystem as we do with our community principle.

Showing creativity with, for example, the construction of tailor-made workshops that we offer to our clients to accompany them in the search for their own solutions, adapted to their context. (I will talk about this in a future article)

Multiplying the sources of inspiration to encourage curiosity via R&D work or with the use of tools that come from other environments. (I will also present this in a future article)

Accepting specialization does not necessarily mean siloing, it is simply accepting that it is easier to operate in a familiar environment.

Integrating remote work and the appropriate management is an obvious choice given the current situation.

To have an approach on the development of soft skills with our intention to integrate mental preparation approaches in our organization and our managerial innovation offers.

To be an agent of real change and to establish a loyalty dynamic with our clients to promote in-depth work sustainably.

Be supervised with an internal coaching system and integrate interventions of professional coaches, management, or agility experts during internal events or training.

Not to disregard agility as seen by large firms thanks to quality collaborations with other consulting firms.

Like the vision expressed by Jason Little in his latest book and also the principle of SHU-HA-RI:

At Astrakhan, we explore new approaches, then when they are relevant, in collaboration with the client, we develop new techniques against the backdrop of the genesis of the agility concept and its manifesto.