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My local football (US variety) team seems to have the ability to be winning throughout the game only to wear out, lose focus or generally find a way to lose with very little time left on the clock. Significant organizational changes, like pursuing a goal or winning a game, is not over until the change is complete and it has become part of the culture. Stage 7 of Kotter’s 8-stage process for creating major changes is consolidating gains and producing more change. Just like my local football team, you must make sure you hold on to your gains and use them to build toward the next step forward. Kotter addresses two major topics in the stage: resistance and interdependence.

As time goes by and you experience short-term successes, it is easy to begin lose the urgency that helped power a change program. Until a change is written into an organization’s culture, resistance will always be lurking. Loss of urgency can lead to programs stalling. For example, I recently discussed a change program with colleagues that had been designed to transform an organization using Agile techniques including Scrum, continuous delivery and test driven development. Scrum was implemented as the first step and generated significant benefits. As the initial benefits were recognized, a number of leaders began to argue that 80% of the benefit had been generated and that the rest of the changes would be difficult. The argument led to a loss of urgency, momentum and a reduction in funding as attention wandered to another program with less resistance. Urgency and constancy of purpose must be continually maintained or resistance can lead to regression.

Significant organizational change typically requires changes to many different groups and processes to be effective. The larger the intended change, the larger the number of moving parts and interactions that will need to be involved when making a change. As most change programs progress, they evolve. Evolution is typically generated by feedback from the short-term wins and other sources within the environment. Changes help to identify new interactions and dependencies, which add complexity and the level of effort. Kotter uses an example of the difference of rearranging an office with all of the furniture attached with rubber bands and one without. The one in which the furniture is connected with rubber bands will require significantly more planning and effort. Each item will pull against each other as changes are made. As changes are identified, the program will potentially need to add new people and resources or perhaps even new subprojects many need to be established. Senior management needs to provide a sense of urgency for the change program and a vision of where the program is going. At the same time, the complexity of any significant change program requires tactical leadership and management. Effective change programs require both strategic vision and tactical management for effective delivery. The combination of interactions and dependencies cause complexity that requires focus and constancy of purpose by senior, middle and line management to facilitate change.

While any project or program evolves as new information and knowledge is discovered, we need to continually challenge the validity of change. Change causes complexity.  The higher the complexity of any program, the less likely they are to complete, at least effectively. One of the principles noted in the Agile Manifesto, is that “simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.” Each part of the change program, and especially any changes or additions that are discovered as progress is made, must be evaluated to ensure that only what is required to deliver the vision is addressed. Remember the adage: keep it simple stupid. The tool to manage change is the guiding collation.  Use the guiding collation to accept change and to prioritize the change program’s backlog (sounds like a product owner).

Kotter summarizes stage 7 this way:

  • More change, not less – The program must build on the credibility and the feedback of the short-term wins.
  • More help – As inter-dependencies are identified, bring new people and resources into the program with the needed experience and knowledge.
  • Continued leadership – Senior management must have constancy of purpose. They need to continually provide and maintain a clear vision.
  • Project management and leadership from below – The individual projects and initiatives require tactical leadership and management to implement the visions of senior management.
  • Reduction of unnecessary inter-dependencies – Keep the change program as simple as it need to be.

All large projects, whether they are significant organizational change programs or not, take time and evolve. At some point, as change programs progress and generate benefits it will become tempting to declare victory. Yogi Berra stated “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A change program is not complete until it attains the vision for the program and has been integrated into the organization’s culture.

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