As part of the research and writing process for the series on change implementation approaches I have sought out ideas and advice from many people. Some I have talked to I have directly quoted (with permission), with others still to come as we explore continuous and hybrid models. Today I am including a longer set of important ideas and thoughts from Christopher Hurney in the form of a guest blog. Mr Hurney is an active part of the SPaMCAST community. Christopher and have talked and corresponded for several years and I learned much from our relationship. Christopher can be found on LinkedIn. Thank you, Chris!
Change Implementation Thoughts
It’s likely the case that strategic decision makers in companies who bring in consultants tend to feel as though they’ve reached a point where a process has become unsustainable and lack confidence that the process deficiencies can be remedied in-house. People in leadership roles have a knack for abstracting themselves from what they feel is the minutia of any given process. Leadership tends to have a “black box” view of process. So it would stand to reason that Leadership also has limited patience to wait for incremental process improvements, let alone get “in the weeds” of improving processes. As a consultant, I have enough anecdotal evidence to perceive a general truth, more or less, about Leadership’s desire and expectations of Big Bang process improvement.
This, unfortunately, creates a definite disconnect between expectations and Change Management best-practices. Change Management speaks of “incremental vs. radical change” at the individual level – essentially, a change that may be small and negligible to one audience may be incredibly disruptive to another. The chasm between negligible and disruptive can be exponentially greater, driving up risk, when invoking “Big Bang” changes. Potential risk for change needs to be evaluated very carefully even when invoking small change. Risk can quickly grow beyond an org’s tolerance threshold as change size grows.
Risk aside, the other glaring problem with Big Bang change is there are too many parameters involved to know what went well and what didn’t. My father used to manage a Wafer Fabrication process for Rockwell Intl. in the 1980s. He used to tell stories of “technicians” who were charged with repairing failing equipment used in the wafer fabrication process – they would perform wholesale replacements of the “guts” of the equipment, rather than identify the specific failing part/root cause. Well, that’s an approach, I suppose. More likely than not, the state of the initial problem will change, perhaps even for the better. But with all of the other superfluous change, the possibility of implementing/replacing some other piece incorrectly increased, and more often than not, new problems surfaced.
In the world of Agile Adoptions (specifically as it pertains to software development), we are taught to make change incrementally, inspect, and adapt. This seems to me a no-brainer. If we implement small change, and observe, we can easily tell whether or not that specific change was effective. Then we can adapt accordingly. The adoption of Agile “processes” works that way, and the actual use of those processes to create software works that way: customers see small increments of working software in frequent iterations, and the say THUMBS UP or THUMBS DOWN. In the event of a THUMBS DOWN, we react appropriately.
I actually think you, Tom, said it best. “If Process Improvement is a never-ending journey (the consultee view), then why do so many people ask, “When will we arrive?” (the consulted’s point of view … unfortunately).”