Making Change Management a Success

In most cases, when talking about change management, continuous improvement, process change, etc. there is an assumption that the exercise should be done in three steps:

  1. Define and document the current state (the “As-Is”);
  2. Define and document the desired state (the “To-Be”);
  3. Plan a route to get from “As-Is” to “To-Be”.

This seems fairly obvious and simple and is the process that is followed by the majority of organizations and consultants; if I point out that the vast majority of change management programs fail, perhaps we need to wonder whether there is causation or just correlation in this.

Let’s start by asking why people believe they need to change things: the most common responses refer to failed projects, missed deadlines, unhappy clients, budget over-runs, key players leaving at a critical time, unclear requirements, etc. It becomes apparent that teams that need to change things because they cannot run a project successfully will run their change management program by running a successful project…

Perhaps they seek help from a consultant at this point, who will tell them to do what they already knew, then leave them to fail on their own.

Making Change a Success

Don’t Waste Time on the As-Is

The attempt to define the unsatisfactory, failing status as it currently stands is an exercise in self-humiliation. It is an attempt at identifying what you already know to be a failing situation. There is a good reason to perform an analysis of the As-Is, and that is if you are planning on maintaining it, e.g. you are planning on developing an automation tool (e.g. software) that will facilitate or speed up the work, but you don’t actually want to change it.

If you know that the way you are working is not satisfactory, there is not much point on doing more than a simple root cause analysis to identify the failures.

Forget the Plan

If you have very good at estimating and planning techniques for jobs that you have never done, I would recommend you proceed as usual to estimate and plan your transformation program. If, on the other hand, you are seeking to transform and improve work practices because it is apparent that you do not have a good track record and tend to deliver late, over-budget and/or below the expected level of quality, then there is not much point in applying your methods for a type of project that is different from all your previous ones.

Get and Independent Point of View

You probably know what is wrong, but do you actually know what is wrong? It is very useful to have an outsider come in and look at what are the issues, someone who does not have to prove that they were right “3 years ago when we implemented this”, someone who is not trying to demonstrate that their predecessor was wrong. This is a challenge, of course, because every independent outsider who might come in and give a valid opinion is trying to sell you something at the same time. This might be a personal service as a consultant or a contractor, or a ready-made solution, model, theory. The choice is difficult and the scope of the work should be clearly limited from the start.

A good independent person will look at the state of affairs, help you formulate a reasonable objective and assist in identifying the main issues, risks or roadblocks you may come across.

Clarify your Vision

Over my career, I have often been confronted by managers, directors and executives who believe things need to change; but, when asked for further information, they are not sure what they actually would like, there is no clear vision or objective, just that “things need to change”. I have recently worked for an organization that wanted to improve quality, but blocked any attempt at increasing control over peer-reviews, did not accept that stricter processes should be developed, did not want to “waste time and money” on training, publicly announced that metrics of client complaints had nothing to do with quality, and did not think the staff was competent to either define their own processes or review the work of their colleagues. They just wanted to improve quality without changing the way things were done. Even when I requested for a formal organization chart with names, roles, responsibilities and areas of authority, that was declined because they did not want to encourage people to restrict their activities to limited areas of responsibility.

If you don’t know where you want to go, how do you expect to find a road to get there? If you don’t want to move, how do you expect to go anywhere?

In order to clarify the vision, you need to know what is the vision of the company you want to give your clients, and what is the vision you want to give your employees (these need not be identical, but must not be contradictory) – then look at finding the overlap and the complementarity.

Determine the Consequences

Vision statements are nice, succinct sentences or paragraphs that don’t mean a lot in themselves, even if they do give you a nice warm, fuzzy feeling. If you believe in your vision statement, it is necessary to pick it apart and determine what it actually means. What is the thought behind the value statements, what is the meaning hidden behind those nice words like “respect” and “cutting edge” that you have used?

The vision statement is the basic idea of what you want your organization to look like in 3, 5, 10, 50 years time, it is the thing that makes you different from everyone else; the consequences are how this vision is reflected in day-to-day life.

The consequences need to be expressed in simple, pragmatic, down-to-earth statements of how you expect people to behave, what is happening in the work place on an ongoing basis, etc.

Identify the Risks

One of ongoing battles, for the past 40 years is trying to get people to understand that risk management is at the heart of the industry and of every single project and undertaking. This is where the CEO, the project manager and the front-end support person need to concentrate most of their efforts if they are going to succeed.

Losers plan for success only; winners plan for defeat. From the start, your focus needs to be on what may go wrong, what are the reasons, the problems that might lead your project or activity to fail in the short or long term. So many managers, when seeing estimates and plans, focus on trying to cut down the required time, cost and risks related to the activities: they are only increasing the chance of failure. Instead, they should be challenging the planner to identify what has been forgotten, what has been missed, what could go wrong: have you thought about all the imponderables? Have you considered what needs to be done if…?

By identifying the risks from the start of your transformation project, you can identify what needs to be managed in order to change the way things are being done and start working directly on the right things. After all, if you remove all the risks and things that could stop your vision becoming a reality, then your vision must become a reality!

Measure Progress

Over the past years, too much emphasis has been placed on the statistical analysis of human endeavours. There appears to be a belief in many circles that events from the past are repeatable in the future. Statistical analysis is valuable and does allow demonstration that we are moving in the right or wrong direction and I would highly recommend its usage in many cases for validation purposes.

Measurement of achievement and progress is however critical and is too often ignored, frequently out of fear of judgement, and thus we end up with projects that remain over 80% complete for half their lives. Sudden surprises and delays at the last minute.

Measuring progress needs to be done according to the count of tasks completed and not by estimating a “percentage of task” completed. If your task remains open for too long, it was not small enough. Break it down to something that you can place in one of three states: not started, in progress, finished. On a regular basis (weekly or, at most monthly), have a list of tasks that should be completed for each individual and monitor that the progress is being made to achieve the result. Don’t make it more complicated than strictly necessary.


A change management project should be initiated based on three concepts:

  1. Vision statement of what the end result will look like
  2. Consequences of a successful implementation of the vision
  3. Identifying and managing all the risks that could stop the vision from being implemented

You will have more chance of success with this than with a complicated project plan based on all your previous failed plans.

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