AgileLeadershipProject Management

Road Trippin’ Organization Change: The Journey

Organizational change and transformation efforts are often challenging.  Most fail to meet their planned objectives with 30% failing outright.  In last month’s article, ”Road Trippin’ Organizational Change: The Beginning”, I recommending using adaptive-agile planning practices and treating the effort like a road trip:

  • Set the direction, not the destination. Set high-level goals and the strategic direction of the change, motivate the “what” and “why,” but do not dictate the “how.”  We want to unleash the creative energies of our teams and empower them to find the best path or direction;
  • Identify measures of progress. Develop qualitative and quantitative measures, while recognizing that they may need to be adjusted along the way;
  • Plan the next stop, not the trip. Employ progressive planning techniques.  Plot the course, plan the next few stops in detail and have general plans for the rest of the journey.  As we proceed, progressively plan the next steps.  Recognize there will change; and
  • Go local and experiment. Foster experimentation and rapid learning loops to inform the journey.  Use the plan-do-check-act cycle to continuously monitor progress and adjust the approach based on regular assessments of what works.  Learn from experience.

In this article, I present additional recommendations to address challenges along the way.  The trip may be hard and there will likely be setbacks as well as unexpected, wonderful moments.  Our adaptive-agile framework allows us to exploit the opportunities and minimize the threats.

Trust your guide, but ask questions

A local guide can enhance the trip.  They are experienced.  They know the best sights and places to avoid.  But even the best guide sometimes mechanically follows the script.  It is easier to stop at the restaurant along the highway rather than going into town for authentic fare.

Similarly, an experienced consultant can help our transformation.  We should trust them, but also ask questions.  It is easy for consultants to follow standard patterns and miss characteristics that add complexity to our situation.  They may also have blind spots based on their prior experiences.

To avoid problems, be actively engaged.  Ask questions.  Understand the implications and ramifications of their advice.  This is your journey.  You can outsource responsibility, but not accountability.

Recognize this may be a bumpy ride

No flight is without a little turbulence.  Our transformation is bound to encounter some bumps on the road, as well.

Consequently, we should incorporate risk planning into our journey.  Understand that we face both opportunities and threats.  Standard project risk management practices provide a rigorous framework for identifying, assessing, and developing risk response strategies.  And just like sunscreen, we should apply these practices regularly—risk management is an on-going activity.

Continuing our Agile transformation example:  We can increase the likelihood of success (opportunity) by partnering (sharing) with a firm experienced in leading companies through an Agile transformation or hiring leaders who have prior experience.  We can enhance the opportunity by using adaptive-agile practices or empowering the organization and encouraging people to take an active role in the process.

We can avoid the risk of failure (threats) by:

  • Avoiding the adverse impacts of a disruptive change by pursuing other options for achieving the strategic objectives. It may be that a large-scale agile transformation is not necessary to achieve our goals.  Perhaps improving the existing process will suffice;
  • Mitigating the impact by planning for contingencies. Rather than planning a “big bang” transformation, we incrementally roll-out the changes.  Maybe we experiment with a few teams to shake-out the process; or
  • Transferring by finding a partner that can help us achieve our objectives. Perhaps we outsource the UX development (user experience) to a firm specializing in design thinking.

Be prepared for delays

On a road trip, we expect delays.  We know that despite the best-laid plans, things happen.  Connections are missed.  On a positive note, we may stumble upon an unexpected gem and decide to linger at a beautiful park or historical site.

For our organizational change expect deviations from the schedule.  Milestones will be missed.  Results will not be achieved as planned.  We may spend additional time at one stage—re-designing and re-executing part of the process.  Failing to stop, understand the root cause of the delay, and persevering without examination may lead to fatal outcomes.

Plan for these delays.  Build slack into your schedule.  Have periodic checkpoints.  When we fall behind, understand why.  Assess the impact and review options.  Adapt the process.  Adjust the schedule and proceed.  Remember, the goal is a successful transformation, extra credit is not given for rushing.  This is not The Amazing Race.

Returning to our Agile journey, we may have initially planned to start with 10 teams.  But we were only able to hire three Scrum Masters.  Our go-forward options include:

  1. Assign the three Scrum Masters to support 10 teams, spreading them very thin,
  2. Start the teams that have assigned Scrum Masters and revise our plan, or
  3. Delay the entire project until it is fully staffed.

The second option might be the best path.  We want to ensure that our teams get off to a strong start, which means delaying parts of the schedule, in favor of better outcome.

Celebrate the good times

On our journey just like our road trip, there will be good times and bad.  Celebrate good times.  It is easy to see the glass half-empty.  We lost our wallet.  Experiments that did not go well.  We are behind schedule.

Dwelling on the negative will only make things worse and put us on a downward spiral.  Undue pressure to “succeed” will make people risk-averse and unwilling to make the bold moves.  Focus on the positive.  Create an environment where people want to embrace the change.

Celebrate reorganizing and forming new teams.  Make this a happy rather than a dreaded event.  Use this as an opportunity to expedite the forming-storming-norming process.  Recognize achievements—even small ones.  Celebrate incremental gains and improvements.  Call out accomplishments.  Reward the team, not the individual.

Regularly take stock of progress and use these moments as an opportunity to celebrate.  Make product/process demonstrations and retrospectives fun.  Hold monthly or quarterly team recognition ceremonies, give out paper plate awards.  Ask team members to recognize a peer.   Create an environment that encourages innovation and learning from our mistakes.

Share the experience

When I travel, I regularly write reviews on TripAdvisor.  This is a fun way to share my experience with others.

Similarly, we want to follow the Lean principle of amplifying learning by:

  • Creating a learning environment;
  • Breaking down silos;
  • Developing consistency across the organization; and
  • Sharing knowledge and experience.

On our Agile journey, we can amplify the learning by:

  • Creating shared spaces where people feel comfortable collaborating;
  • Having a Coaches Corner where people can seek advice and guidance;
  • Hosting Lean Coffees where people share common problems and solutions; or
  • Holding a “Science Fair” where teams showcase their achievements.

Are we there yet?

There was a radio commercial where kids in the back of the car kept asking their parents, “are we there, yet?”  And, then when they reached the destination, “when are we going home?”  The commercial offers two lessons: Be patient and know the journey has reached its end.

Be patient.  As a leader, organizational change requires patience and perseverance.  There will be many distractions.  Be committed to the journey.  Actively demonstrate your support, empathy, and engagement.  Your organization will closely observer your actions looking a faltering commitment.

Know when you arrive.  Have a clear vision of what “done” looks like.  Regularly describe the end of the journey to the organization.  The destination should be a clear and desirable goal.  For the road trip, it should be a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

The end of the transformation should be a motivational goal.  The team should be able to visualize how they, personally, will be better off.  At the end of the journey, communicate accomplishment.  Recognize everyone’s contribution to the effort.

© 2019, Alan Zucker; Project Management Essentials, LLC

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2 thoughts on “Road Trippin’ Organization Change: The Journey

  1. The analogy with a road trip makes the article easy to read and relate. Also love the pictures you use.

    1. Lenny – Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I thought the analogy would be fun. I am glad you enjoyed it. Alan

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