Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why Traditional Big "C" Change from Big "C" Consultancies Doesn't Work For Agile Change

Point 1: The massive organizational shift to get to agile does not lend itself to fixed plans, a static target  state, and top-down change

Organizations using traditional management methods rely on detailed planning, command-and-control, and a hierarchical structure. Work is processed by departments that employ specialists of a specific skill set, and typically passed across specialist departments in large batches.

By contrast, organizations using lean and agile methods place a much bigger emphasis on learning rather than planning, and on self organizing teams who rely on a network structure to deliver business value. Work is consumed in frequent iterations, or just in time by teams that are cross functional and contain the majority of skills required to satisfy a particular unit of customer demand.

Organizations using traditional methods can be thought of as an industrial cargo boat or cruise ship. This design is incredibly efficient, and a lot of cargo or passengers can be carried across vast distances for a relatively low cost.

Organizations using agile and lean methods are a lot more like a speed boat. The cost per passenger seems to be a lot higher, but this is made up for in speed and maneuverability.

Metaphors aside, the real point here is that an organization using traditional methods does not look a lot like an organization using agile or lean methods. Just like a cruise liner and a speed boat may both be boats, they really have very little in common when it comes to operation, objectives, and capability. Agile and traditional organizations are really not the same thing. And the change required to transition from one to the other is huge.

Point 2: Big C-Change with Big-C consulting firms - an army of practitioners who seem to completely ignore this reality

There is a huge industry in helping organizations make dramatic changes necessary to helping them survive. Most major consultancies have an army of practitioners and partners who have dedicated their careers to helping organizations rewrite the way they think and operate. Unfortunately too many of these change practitioners follow an upfront planning, Big Bang, outside/in approach to change.

While exact consulting methods vary depending on the firm in question, our experience is that organizational change methods follow a typical pattern. Consultants work with organizational executives, managers, and occasionally key team members to articulate a desired target organizational state based on a set of key business drivers.

Consultants and then work with the client to examine the current state of the organization, compare it to the target, and come up with a set of gaps between the two.
A roadmap is then developed based on prioritizing business drivers to come up with an implementation plan around how the organization will effectively transform to the desired state. This roadmap frequently comes in the form of a detailed plan that outlines key milestones, required activities, and effort required by both employees and external consultants.

Point 3:Organizations that need big bang change are the least likely to survive it

 This approach comes with Significant risk, especially when trying to affect dramatic change in an organization, such as transforming from traditional methods to one leveraging lean and agile thinking.

This change management approach typically results in the implementation of big C change. Dramatic changes are rolled out to the organization, sometimes on a department by department basis, resulting in wholesale shifts in job titles, processes, and technology. When any change is introduced into an organization, even a change that is good for that organization, the drop in performance will result. New methods need to be learned, new responsibilities take time to master, and new skills take time to acquire.

If the organization is able to successfully stick with the change, then performance will bottom out at the new, deteriorated level of performance, The hope is  that eventually changes will have the effect of improving performance allowing the organization to reap the benefits of the target state.
This however is an almost naïve prediction of how big change actually occurs. In reality many big changes stall well before organizational benefits achieves the promises of the target state.

Organizations naturally resist change, and professionals within an organization will resent any force that asks them to change the way they are working. Fear is a major cause of change resistance, fear of losing one's job, fear of no longer being relevant, as well as fear of being asked to work in a way that
one may not be used to.

Organizations are susceptible to abandoning the change project when organizational performance drops to its lowest, it's at this point that the change agent might find himself fired. Paradoxically, organizations that tend to operate at lower levels of maturity will drop more in performance when asked to make a large change, but will also have a lower tolerance for this drop, and be more likely to abandon the change as panic sets in.

Even if change agents and change champions can effectively keep the organization on track, and get the organization to the target state, the promise of improved performance may not materialize. The reality is that the suggested change may be wrong for the specific context of the organization in question.

The agile and lean body of knowledge contains a diverse set of methods, practices, and principles, not all of these are equally suitable to every organization's context.
Every organization has a different set of business drivers, level of maturity, willingness to change, and an endless host of other factors that will ensure that no two agile transformations are alike.

If we remember our original discussion around planning driven methods is that they leave us open to the risk of building the wrong thing. This is true of products, software, as well as a change management target state. In an environment of high variation and complexity, faithfully completing a plan that was built the beginning of the engagement leaves us open to creating something that has no value.

The unfortunate fact is that many executives in technology organizations are turning to traditional consultancies for helping agile change. They in turn are recommending a change approach based on the idea that a commoditized agile solution can just be designed and shoveled into the organization.
This is a recipe for disaster in my opinion.

For more check out The Lean Change Method:  Managing Agile Transformation Through Kanban, Kotter, And Lean Startup thinking

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