Monday, October 13, 2008

Managing Towards Change - the Basics of Addressing an Issue

Making a change to address an workflow issue can be a fairly straightforward process, assuming some basic concepts are followed. A change activity must start off with a clear objective; be careful to keep any bias towards solution out of the objective. An objective must be purely results oriented such as "reduce requirements closure time by 30%" or "implement a scope change process that formally addresses any change in requirements and provides continuous clarity of requirements to the team".

People will be the most challenging aspect of a change because of their emotions, notions, passions, fears, opinions and motivations. Additionally each person is a firm believer that they have the right solution to what's ailing the organization. Your mission is to align the majority of them to a common solution, one that they believe in. Failure in achieving this and any change is destined for the change graveyard. Inclusion over exclusion of individuals must be a priority, no matter how painful that may be. The pain of dealing with those excluded will be far worse later on than it will be by engaging them from the start.

Another major step is clearly identifying what it is that you are doing now; that is what is the current process of today. One of the greatest errors in implementing a change is to make any assumptions about how things are currently being done. You must investigate it, map it out and gain consensus that you have captured the "as-is process". This exercise in itself will likely be enlightening, with a lot of "I did not know you did that" or "I did not know you needed that" along the way. A success here will make a smooth transition to solutions. I always suggest formal discovery as a predecessor to defining the as-is process, thereby ensuring that no activities, decisions or deliverable expectations are buried and left behind.

The final step is to make the necessary changes and finalize consensus. The problem areas to be resolved should be fairly obvious; assuming some quality work was completed in defining the "as-is" process. Work out the solution possibilities in a brainstorming type fashion and then whittle them down to a largely agreed upon solution. Odds of 100% agreement are slim, although if you practice inclusion over exclusion of members, everyone will understand the behind the scenes reason for a decision. Those that participate will be apt to respect the decision, even though they may not fully agree with it. Document your changes, update any process guides and rollout the change. Follow this simple formula and you will successfully change something for the better, even when many believe it could not be done. Now do this again and again to become a practitioner of continuous improvement. Even better, let the ideas for change flow from the bottom up and then facilitate the details, decisions and implementations. Become an agent for change in everything you do, every day.

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