Explore the Levels of Change Management

Aligning the ADKAR Model With Sequential, Iterative and Hybrid Change


The level of disruptive change and uncertainty we face today has made Agile and other iterative solution development approaches more popular than ever. Even before the pandemic, the need to respond to the accelerating pace of change had prompted many organizations to adopt iterative approaches to developing and implementing solutions. Aligning the ADKAR Model to support iterative solution development approaches is a logical and effective way to use what you already know to help people adopt and use changes with the flexibility and speed everyone needs today.

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The Difference Between
Sequential and Iterative Change

Before understanding alignment, it is important to distinguish between common solution development approaches:

Sequential changes typically refer to the traditional Waterfall project management approach to solution design, development and delivery. Sequential changes are made through a series of discrete phases and steps that progress over time and culminate in a big outcome at the end.

Iterative changes result from repeated cycles or “sprints” of change, with each cycle contributing to the cumulative outcome. This approach emphasizes doing over planning and enables you to respond quickly to new or changing customer requirements. Many people associate iterative change with Agile approaches to solution design, development and delivery methods. Lean, PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) and Design Thinking are also popular iterative approaches.


Aligning ADKAR to Solution Development Approaches

To effectively manage change, the approach to solution development you are using must align with the change management approach you are using—in this case, the Prosci ADKAR Model.

The ADKAR Model describes the transitions individuals go through when they are impacted by a change. It also defines the five outcomes that must be achieved at an individual level to ensure that a change is adopted and the organizational benefits are realized.

Table showing full form of ADKARWhether you are using a sequential or iterative solution development approach, it is essential to align each ADKAR element to specific points in the project lifecycle. When adjusting change management to development approaches, remember that time and place matter, and that the timeline differs for every approach.

How to align ADKAR with sequential changes

Most people associate sequential solution development with Waterfall project management, which is implemented in discrete phases: initiate, plan, design, develop, deploy, sustain. The term “Waterfall” comes from the analogy that each phase cascades into the next one, like water flowing down a waterfall. Project managers often choose the Waterfall approach when the solution requirements are well understood at the initiation of the project and will remain stable throughout the project lifecycle.


Sequential Approach

To align AKDAR outcomes with a sequential or Waterfall approach, you should start by asking the question, “What dates do you already know for your project?” Typically, the key project milestone dates should be defined for the kickoff, go live and outcomes (i.e., when outcomes are expected to be achieved). You then align Ability with the go-live date. We do this to ensure that people will have the ability to adopt and use the solution when it is implemented. Then, you map out when the other four elements need to be achieved with respect to the project timeline. Aligning ADKAR outcomes to specific dates enables you to establish a timeline for the change management activities required to prepare, equip and support impacted individuals and groups to adopt and use the solution.

To measure individual performance for sequential changes, you begin to assess adoption, utilization, and proficiency in applying the change following the go-live date and continue measuring until the desired outcomes are achieved. Full adoption and proficient use lead to achieving project objectives and realizing organizational benefits.

How to align ADKAR with Agile or other iterative changes

With iterative approaches, the process of aligning ADKAR becomes cyclical. You begin by aligning Awareness and Desire at the project or initiative level. We do this because Awareness of the need for change and Desire to participate and support the change affect the overall initiative, and these two elements need to be sustained through all the sprints and releases that comprise the project lifecycle.

Next, you align Knowledge and Ability with the release dates associated with each sprint, to ensure that impacted individuals have the ability to adopt and use the new changes implemented with every release.

Instead of beginning to measure adoption, utilization and proficiency following the go-live date as we would do with a sequential approach, iterative approaches require measurement after every release. Organizational benefits will accumulate after every release.

Iterative Approach



How to align ADKAR with hybrid approaches

More often than not, solution development processes aren’t exclusively sequential or iterative. They tend to be a mix of both approaches. You can adapt the guidance provided above to align ADKAR to the project lifecycle for a hybrid approach. 

Prosci’s Change Management and Agile benchmarking research reveals several adaptations change practitioners make when supporting iterative and hybrid change management approaches:

  • Ensure that sponsors embrace the Agile mindset
  • Use a structured approach that aligns to solution development process phases
  • Engage and integrate with project management teams earlier in the project
  • Communicate more precisely and more often, while being conscious of the potential for overload
  • Ensure that people managers are prepared and equipped to execute their CLARC roles (Communicator, Liaison, Advocate, Resistance Manager and Coach) in an Agile environment
  • Deliver training more often and in a focused, more concise, just-in-time manner
  • Begin reinforcement early and more often to align with your chosen iterative approach

These are just some of the insights change practitioners shared in the research. You can get in-depth insights and data in Prosci’s Change Management and Agile Executive Summary or the full, 74-page digital report.

Flexibility Through Agile and ADKAR

As the pace of change today continues to accelerate, an iterative approach to designing and implementing solutions becomes increasingly necessary. We are seeing this need more than ever as organizations continue to adopt new technologies and new ways of working. Fortunately, you can learn to adapt the ADKAR Model to work with iterative approaches and continue to manage the people side of change effectively.



Andrew Horlick

Andrew Horlick

Andrew is a Prosci Senior Principal, Global Learning Product Development. He has over three decades of experience as a change management practitioner, instructor and leadership coach, supporting individuals and organizations to build change capability. Andrew's goal is to help change practitioners and change leaders develop the knowledge and ability they need to enable successful change for their organizations.

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