Not Sweet But Useful!
A big bang adoption of a process or system is an instant changeover, a “one-and-done” type of approach in which everyone associated with a new system or process switches over in mass at a specific point in time. There are positives and negatives to big bang approaches. We begin with the positives.
Patrick Holden, Project Portfolio Director – Software Development at SITA, struck a fairly common theme when asked about his preferences between the big bang and incremental approaches.
While I favour incremental improvement, sometimes we really want to get on with the new, to change the mail system, phone, house, car or even your job you will need to prepare to different extents but you make the switch for one and all, it’s a Big Bang.
The choice depends on divisibility, scope, and urgency.
Big bangs fit some types of changes. Not all changes are easily divisible into increments which lead to an all or nothing implementation. As I have noted before, most of the bank mergers I was involved in were big bangs. On a specific day, all of the branches of one bank would close and overnight (more typically over a weekend) lots of people would change signs on buildings, customer files, and software systems. Perhaps it was a failure in imagination, but due to regulations and the need for notifications, it was easier for everyone to change at once. Organizational transformations rarely have the same external drivers, regulations and notification rules; however, because of interactions between teams, it might be easier not to take an incremental approach. Adoptions of large scale Agile methods and frameworks such as SAFe are often approached in a big bang manner. In SAFe many teams and practitioners are indoctrinated, trained and transformed together which by definition is a big bang approach to implementing scaled Agile.
Big bangs generate a too big to fail focus. Large, expensive, and risky changes create their own atmosphere. These types of implementations garner full management sponsorship and attention because they are too big to fail. Christine Green, IFPUG Board Member, suggests, “it is harder to lose focus on big bang approaches when organizational leadership changes.” Big bangs can be used to address the risk of a loss of focus in some cases. An example of an organization manufacturing a too big to fail scenario can be found in the often-told story of the early years of Fedex (Federal Express at the time). It was said that the founder consciously borrowed money from smaller regional banks around Memphis so that he could use the impact of the risk of default to negotiate better service and rates. Big bang changes are often too big to fail and therefore people ensure they don’t.
Management Expectations. In many circumstances, management has little patience for the payback of continuous process improvement. As I was framing this theme, Christopher Hurney stated, “I’ve seen leadership expect Big Bang results in Agile adoptions, which is kind of ironic no? Considering that one of the precepts of Agility is an iterative approach.” The expectation is often generated by a sense of urgency. In this situation, a specific issue needs to be addressed and even though an incremental (or even iterative) approach would deliver bits and pieces sooner, the organization perceives value only when all of the benefits are delivered. The Healthcare.gov marketplace was delivered as a big bang.
Even if the big bang approach to process improvement feels wrong, there are reasons for leveraging the approach. Chris Hurney stated that decision makers “tend to feel as though they’ve reached a point where a process has become unsustainable,” which makes the idea of implementing a change all at once worth the risk even though nearly everyone would prefer an incremental or continuous approach to change.
Previous Entries in the Big Bang, Incrementalism, or Somewhere In Between Theme
1. Big Bang, Incrementalism, or Somewhere In Between
Next: Big Bang, The Cons!