Posts Tagged With: transformational projects

Maintain a sense of change urgency through agility

According to John Kotter’s model for leading change, the first step to overcoming inertia requires us to instill a sense of true urgency in those we need to support, implement and sustain the change. While it is ideal if this urgency is tied to What’s In It For Me, at a minimum, we all want proof that committing our time and political influence to a particular initiative at this very moment is cheaper than the cost of doing nothing.

But the steps in Kotter’s model, like PMBOK processes, are not to be followed in a purely sequential manner. 

Significant organization transformations usually require a year or more to become “the new normal” and we are only fooling ourselves if we assume that those stakeholders who were focused and motivated to champion our initiative in its early days will continue to remain so for the long haul. Executives and mid-level managers are constantly juggling competing priorities and as long as it appears that a change initiative is not on fire, their attention spans are likely to be shorter than that of a goldfish.

As such, we need to iterate back to instilling that sense of true urgency at regular intervals. The specific cadence varies based on the complexity and duration of a transformation. Fan the flames too rarely and the spark will be extinguished. Do it too often and you’ll be treated like the boy who cried “Wolf!”.

But is reminding stakeholders that they need to support us enough to gain this support? Maintaining focus requires quid pro quo otherwise we are likely to hear “What have you done for me lately?” 

This is why regardless of the nature of a transformation we need to inject agility into its delivery. We can follow adapted versions of key Manifesto principles such as:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy our stakeholders through early and continuous delivery of business value
  • Deliver business value frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to implement change more effectively, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly
  • Change champions and the team must work together frequently throughout the transformation

Newton’s first law: An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.



Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Three key ingredients motivating personal change

Over lunch today I enjoyed a good conversation with a couple of ex-colleagues who are facing a challenging yet not very uncommon situation at work. The company they work for has ambitious growth plans and the practices and behaviors which helped their staff get the company to where it is today will not sustainably support the anticipated growth. My friends have previously worked for more mature organizations and can clearly visualize and articulate what needs to be done to get their company to this next level but are encountering resistance from long-time staff who are reluctant to change.

This discussion made me revisit my own views on the critical ingredients which motivate individuals to change their behavior.

The two most popular inputs I’ve run across are a true sense of urgency (as per John P. Kotter) and understanding how the change will personally benefit the individual (a.k.a. “What’s in it for me?”).

But is that sufficient?

Is a true sense of urgency a cause or an effect? Knowing that a large predator is hunting me in the forest will instill a true sense of urgency in me but the predator is the cause and not the sense of urgency itself.

And while there’s no doubt that a given change might benefit me, think of the volume of competing changes with which we are bombarded daily. Filtering through these to find the one or two which will provide the highest return is akin to a golfer who is overwhelmed with multiple swing thoughts while standing at the tee.

So it almost feels like there is a missing ingredient to convince someone to change now, even if that change is urgent AND will benefit them.

Perhaps that ingredient is PURPOSE.

If we can tie our change to an individual’s true calling, then that will serve as a powerful accelerator to increase their sense of urgency and to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question in spades.

On a one-on-one basis this is achievable but how do we scale it to a large organization? Surely we can’t be expected to understand the calling of every individual we want to influence? This is where we need to rely on our change champions. Our responsibility is to ensure that we take the time to develop a good understanding of the needs and wants of our champions to light the torch that they will carry on our behalf.

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Never neglect the human side of agile!

footprintPeople and not policies, processes, practices or platforms are required to achieve successful projects.

This is why the following principle from the Agile Manifesto needs to be careful considered whenever an agile transformation is underway:

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 

The required shift is significant but subtle.

It’s a project manager changing how they phrase a simple action from “assigning work items to team members” to “team members committing or selecting which work items they will complete”. It’s a sponsor being mindful of how she expresses her concerns when observing a daily standup. It’s a team member volunteering to help peers without fear that someone will say “focus on your work, that’s NOT your job”.

Training at all levels is a good first step in the journey, but as with any type of soft skills learning, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

Coaching will help to create behavioral muscle memory, but good coaches don’t come cheap, and limited availability of effective coaching support could act as a throttle on the pace of your agile transformation.

Leaders who walk the talk are essential but it is insufficient to have only executive leadership aligning with the desired “to be” set of behaviors if functional managers or other important influencers continue to follow traditional playbooks. This is one reason why coaching services could add value beyond just delivery teams by reinforcing leadership learning.

Behavior changes need be embedded across all aspects of culture.

One way to support this could be by taking the Manifesto’s value statements and principles and incorporating them in a personal, meaningful way into the company’s core values. These will provide a baseline for verifying individual alignment during performance appraisals and could also serve as a litmus test for evaluating how well potential candidates might fit.

It’s relatively easy to change organization policies or to introduce updated procedures or tools, but (to mashup Lao Tzu and Gladwell) changing human behavior requires a journey of ten thousand steps.




Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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