Friday, August 17, 2012

Lean Change Part 1 - Combining Kotter and Running Lean

I have been spending the last six months or so enabling a large-scale IT transformation by combining Kanban with some of the principles and methods taken from the lean startup world.

The major problem with the existing method as it exists so far is that our minimum viable changes (MVC) lacked an overarching change lifecycle. We need a better approach to accelerate learning, an obvious one (in retrospect) is to make sure minimum viable changes are designed, socialized, and introduced in order of the highest risk.

Lean Change Iteration Meta-Pattern

I have supplemented the method to include a lifecycle that tries to accelerate learning in the right sequence for organizational change. My inspiration comes from two separate sources.

The 8 Steps of Change from John Kotter's - Heart of Change
The Lean Startup Stack from Ash Maurya's - Running Lean Book and Blog

This is my first attempt at taking some of the principles from Ash’s Running Lean and integrating them with Kotter's 8 Steps. The idea is to run a change program by:
1.  creating an initial change plan , capturing initial change model hypotheses
2.  identifying the riskiest parts of the proposed change, sequencing activities to mitigate resistance to change, validate correctness of the change, then mitigate the sustainability of change, and finally understanding how to optimize the change across the organization
3.  systematically testing the assumptions behind the change, iterating through an adopt, observe, and learn cycle similar to the validated learning cycle recommended by lean startup evangelists. I call this cycle Validated Change.

Stage I -Creating an Initial Change Plan

The Change Canvas facilitates planning a change program in a way that is that is fast, collaborative, and deliberately imprecise. The constraints of the size of the sections in the canvas encourages change agents to distill the plan into a form that is easy to communicate, and more important easy to change and easy to throw away.

Change agents collaborate to  develop an overarching Change Canvas filling up each section as follows:

1.  Urgency - List the top three drivers for change, identifying those most impacted by the change, as well as key decision makers
2.  Change Recipients - note those impacted by change, segmenting by role, level, and team as appropriate. Take a stab at identifying potential change champions, along with their current capability to realize change, and tactics potential champions are using now to mitigate relevant problems
3.  Vision - write down the vision that you believe will resonate with your organization, note key behaviors required to realize his vision. Create a "high concept pitch" that is easily repeatable
4.  Target State - determine a strategic enabler, descriptive metaphor, framework, and any other type of foundational component required to realize your vision. Align each element listed within your target state to one of the top three drivers listed in the urgency section
5.  Action - change tactics guiding teams will use to rollout the change, pay special attention to how your guiding teams will participate in rolling out your first minimum viable change
6.  Required Investments - list known hard constraints in terms of time, budget and people time. Write down known barriers to change.
7.  Benefits - List the expected benefits, both qualitative and qualitative
8.  Success Criteria - put down The key indicators you will use to tell you the same have successfully stuck
9.  Communication - mark down how you plan to communicate change. Note both high touch and push-based methods of communication necessary to collaborate with your guiding teams, and also taken note of other communication channels you plan to use as the change skills across the organization.

Stage II-Identifying the Riskiest Parts of Your Plan

Change agents collaborate to build an overall change canvas, and then create several refinements scoped down to represent the first Minimum Viable Change that would be introduced to the organization. Canvases are evaluated according to their ability to express a MVC that that accelerates learning and mitigates the most severe change risk.

What risks are considered the most severe will change depending on the context of the change program. That being said here are some typical change risks ordered by severity:

1.  Resistance to Change (Urgency) - target the initial change effort on members of the organization who are most able to identify with current pinpoints. The goal is to target your change efforts towards individuals who are feeling the pain stemming from current problems that the changes meant to address.
2.  Ease of Collaboration (Communication)- initial change efforts need to be focused in such a way that problems can be collaboratively solved by guiding teams. Try to choose a plan that allows your guiding team to work in a high touch session, prefer face-to-face over distributed and/or dispersed teams. This won't guarantee your executing the rate change, but it will accelerate your learning.
3.  Sustainability of Change (Investment/Benefits)- the success of the change is largely a factor of the actual commitment to leadership is willing to provide to that change. Securing bottom- Up commitment is equally critical. Choose A plan that gets the most commitment from sponsors, and secures the space necessary for the guiding team to be successful.
4.  Impact of Change (Change Recipients) - choose a segment within the organization (role, team, level, etc.) that will have the most impact on realizing the vision, in relationship to the time and effort spent by the guiding team. However, make sure to avoid falling into the trap of implementing a big bang change, still following minimalist approach
5.  Correctness of Change (Vision/Target State) - revisit your target state to make sure that the suggested change is realistic given the context of the organization, but also that it represents the minimum set of improvements required to demonstrate progress against the vision of your transformation

Key stakeholders and decision-makers are required to evaluation each MVC Canvas and select the one that  tackles the riskiest elements first and provide the maximum value.

Stage III-Systematically Testing the Assumptions behind Your Plan

Sequence Your Testing According to the Change Lifecycle

The Change Canvas was designed with Kotter's 8 Steps of Change in mind. The idea is to enhance the 8 steps with a method that de-risks the change through systematic testing. This is done by iterating through the canvas numerous times as necessary to implement a set of incremental changes (our Minimum Viable Changes, or MVCs.)

At a macro level, change agents refine the canvas over time as they learn more about what is required to make the change successful. Change agents revisit the canvas following the 8 steps iteratively,  in order to maximize learning, enabling Validated Change.

Increase Urgency
Create shared understanding for the top reasons that the change is happening. Use interviews and other observation that makes To understand how these drivers for change are perceived by those most impacted by change. Understand how the organization is currently mitigating top pain points as relating to the change, and the current capability in place to successfully execute on the change.

Build the Guiding Team
Truly understand who is impacted by the change, as well as key decision makers. Ensure that change drivers are tied to problems felt by those who will be impacted by the change. Validate shared understanding of key drivers by what people are currently doing, not just by what they're saying.

Hone in on potential change champions, looking at capability, and passion for the problem. Work with potential champions are resolving problems currently, and start building a guiding team.

Get the Vision Right
Create a vision that resonates with all levels of your organization, starting with your guiding team. Synthesize Key Behaviours based on how your guiding team behaves today. Create and share a 'high concept pitch' that is instantly repeatable by all involved.

Communicate for Buy In
Pay particularly close attention to communication channels. Poor communication is one of the top reason change fail. Start with high touch, personal, and push based methods of communication. Evolve to self serve, online, and media in order to scale. Cement a bi- directional flow of communication

Empower Action
Mark down your target state, focusing on designing the simplest, short term solution that addresses the key pain points for your guiding teams. List the change tactics your guiding teams will use to execute the change, paying special attention to your first Minimum Viable Change (MVC). Secure permission to act!

Create Short Term Wins
Roll out the first MVC with the guiding team. Pay close attention to behavior and coach as necessary to get A breathing sample of your vision. Validate that your guiding teams are receiving benefits as appropriate to the constraints (time and effort) involved.

Don't Let Up
As subsequent minimum viable changes are successfully rolled out by guiding teams, focus can switch to overall organizational adoption. The emphasis now is on optimizing Change according to hard constraints in terms of time, budget, and people's time. At first focus on your initial set of Minimum Viable Changes. Continue to test the change for benefits, both qualitative and quantifiable.

Make Change Stick
Continue to follow the validated change process, introducing successive minimum viable changes, until change is now the new reality of the organization. Pay attention to key metrics and indicators that will inform you as to when change is truly stuck in your new organization.

Advice on What Parts of the Canvas to Test First
Once you have chosen the canvas that represents a minimum viable change that will maximize learning, you are in a position to start testing inter-related sections of the canvas. Different sections of the canvas visualize different types of risks.

Change risk can be mitigated by validating portions of the canvas using a combination of customer development style interviews, observation, and measurement of implemented change.

Change agents would typically execute the change by mitigating risk across different categories. An example of the order that canvas segments cold be visited is shown below.

During my next post I will provide an overview of how I plan to further adapt the lean stack to implement individual experiments necessary to roll out an MVC.


  1. Excellently done, Jeff. I built my own lean transformation canvas earlier today and then found yours off Google search. Your's is much more mature and well thought out than my attempt. Your canvas eloquently demonstrates how to enact Kotter's principles in a very practical way.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    great post! We really like the Lean Change Canvas. We would love to implement it into our tool with your credit - so that teams can collaboratively work on it. We already have several other canvas templates available, e.g. Lean Canvas and Business Model Canvas. More templates from business and service design will follow.

    Lean Change Canvas would fit perfectly in our opinion! Would you like that?

    All the best
    Canvanizer Team

  3. Loy,

    Thank you so much for the kind words !


    By all means please use it, it would be an honor.

    It is still in beta, so please do check in for updates :)

  4. You can now use to create & collaborate with your team on Lean Change Canvases online. Please feel free to check:

    Thank you very much for giving us permission to use your canvas template!

    All the best
    Canvanizer Team

    1. Stefan,

      That's great! I can now save my Change Models online! Love it!