partially inflated balloons

Where did the air go?

The overwhelming choice of process improvement specialists is incremental change.  The 21st century has seen an explosion in the use of incremental change methods, not just in process improvement, but in software development and maintenance.  Techniques and frameworks like Scrum, Extreme Programing and Kanban are just a sample of methods that are being used.  The support for incrementalism should not be taken as a carte blanche endorsement.  In order to effectively use incremental change, a practitioner must avoid these three major pitfalls:

  1. Resistance to constant “upheaval” caused by incremental or continuous process improvement.  Constant change can lead to change fatigue.  Change fatigue is  “a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.”  In the article titled, Change Fatigue: Taking Its Toll on Your Employees? by Kotter International includes uncredited research claiming that 70% of transformation efforts fail. Whether the exact number is 70%, a large percentage of change programs fail, which reinforces the perception that it is not worth effort.  David Galvin and Jane Cizik of Harvard Business School indicated that to defeat change fatigue all changes need to follow a pattern of recognition and preparation followed by implementation and then consolidation.   The consolidation gives people a chance to recover and recognize success.
  2. Losing focus due to incrementalism. In scenarios in which an incremental change program does not have a strong vision change can wander off track.  Todd Field, senior project manager, stated that “while incremental change makes sense for progress, for the vision, it needs to be Big Bang.” A strong vision makes effective incremental change possible.  Without a strong vision that gets repeated the organization will not have a touchpoint to stay on track when distractions or disappointments occur. A common comment that change practitioners hear is the current “thing” being pursued to make an organization better is just the current fad on the cover of industry magazines, and as soon as the headline changes so will focus in the organization.  This this the other side of the potential problem with the potential for losing focus during Big Bang implementations because time drags on.
  3. Continuous process improvement requires more active scope management. Incremental or continuous process improvement will be made up of many smaller parts.  As feedback is generated and the organization gets into the swing of the change program, the scope can grow. There are many reasons for scope creep ranging from general excitement to it just being difficult to know which change belongs in the program. Regardless of the reason, scope creep can sap the resources set aside for the change program. Kristie Lawrence, organizational quality engineer and IFPUG Board Member, stated: “The trick is to manage the scope of what is being improved.”  

Even if continuous process improvement might be the choice of process improvement specialists, it might not always be the best approach.  As Steven Adams stated, “Continuous process improvement is a less risky route.  But it could be the slower route and may not even allow an organization to get where it wants to go.” Change is a given in all organizations.  What isn’t a given is that the change will happen the way anyone plans it to happen.