Feb 24, 2015

Why Change Fails - 4 Key Findings

I've worked with several companies as a consultant helping and leading change projects. Also I've experienced changes from the inside and heard many stories from other companies. Based on that experience, here are the four things that are the main reasons for change to fail.

1. There is a plan for the change, but not a vision for the change

Organizations detect needs for changes easily. All the time there comes ideas from the inside or outside for the change. Once in a while change idea gets to a proper group of people and they have the power to start the Change. Then starts the short planning phase. Budgets or people are confirmed, timelines are created and benefits of the change are communicated. What often is forgotten is the underlying reasoning for the change and especially the vision of how the new model should work.

This becomes a problem when there will become changes to the Change. And this always happens, the Change will never go directly as planned, but there will be needs for re-planning. This is acceptable and normal, because there will always be learning happening during the Change. The problem arises, when the vision why the Change was done in the first place is forgotten and changes to Change project will actually turn the ideas to the wrong direction.

An example of this kind of behavior could be streamlining error handling process to cut time from error reporting to error fixing. During the change process, the team finds out that there is company level KPI of the error severity and the change would mess that measurement. So instead of removing some states of the process they decide to create an automatic ranking and assignment system based on the error location component, reporter and SW version. Then for each person handling the errors they'll advice to make sure the error ranking and assignment is correct. In the end the error process actually got longer due to the automation of one part of the process.

Even though the example is simplified and might sound silly, this kind of things I've seen to happen often. The idea behind the change is slowly modified to something else during the change process. The only way not let this happen, it to have few people to have clear vision of the backgrounds of the change and to empower them to lead the change.

2. People are not actively involved early enough

What I've learned with changes is that people do not that much like to be involved, but they hate if they are not asked to be involved. So it's not that important to get everyone involved to the change early, but it is essential that all relevant people are notified about the change early.

In many occasions I've seen people to come later to say that they would have liked to give their opinions earlier. For that reason, I've tried to involve as much people from the beginning as possible. Most often people actually don't have much to say and are not that interested to participate after all, but they are more friendly towards the Change because they were asked early.

So the learning really is, involve all the relevant people from the beginning. Don't take them in to the core group, but ask for their opinions in one to one interviews or targeted questionnaires when the group is larger. This is essential part of success of the Change. It will cut down the possibilities to be against the change later on.

3. There isn't enough time given for the change

I come from the software world, where everyone nowadays start to know that estimates always fail. Projects rarely get done on planned time frame. Still with Change Projects, these estimates will fail much more. Organizations somehow always forget that they have their daily business to take care on.

This happens always, organizations fail to estimate how much they have time and capabilities to use, to properly drive a Change through. Getting on hold of people and finding time to secondary activities in organizations easily take weeks.

Then in the long run, people will get frustrated about the speed of changes and some of the changes will die because of slow progress. There needs to be realistic schedule for changes and people who selected to drive changes forward need to empowered for the work. These feels like basic stuff, but somehow these seem to fail in many occasions.

4. Change resistance are not handled correctly

There is two types of change resistance: late adopters and the people actually against the change. Late adopters are people who take time to understand the value of the change. They often ask good clarifying questions and are valuable part of making the change better. Then the other group is the people who for a reason or another are not willing to accept the change. In some occasions they have valid arguments, sometimes they have their own personal reasons not to play along with others.

With both groups it is essential to talk with them often. The worst thing to do is to ignore them. This will raise even more resistance and it might cause a movement against the change. Best thing to do is to confront them. You don't need to agree with them, but try to understand what is the good intention they have in mind. This is the essential thing again, people need to be heard, not necessarily agreed with.

My tip is to confront change resistant people one to one. When talking to change resistant people in a group, they will never change their mind and lose their faces in front of the group. Talking with them one to one makes it possible for people to change their view. Still when talking one to one with change resistant person, the goal shouldn't ever be changing ones mind. The goal is to understand why they are against the change. You don't need to change your own mind and they don't need to change their mind, but the goal is that you both mutually agree each others view. After that there are several alternatives forward, but before mutual understanding, there isn't almost any.

Summary of my tips to successful Change Project 

Change project are difficult, but not that difficult. The approach for change often is too pragmatic, there's too much planning of communications and steps to take. There should be more focus on discussions with people and having enough time for the change.

Other key thing is to remember why the change is done. Even though it sounds ridiculous, I believe many changes fail because at some point no one remembers what was the actual problem the change was suppose to fix.

Last but not least, people working on change easily forget, that the change isn't the most important thing happening for the others. For many change is just one of the many things ongoing at daily work. Changes need active communication and involvement. It isn't enough to publish information available, there needs to be active feedback loop in making sure that the messages actually gets delivered.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Feb 15, 2015

Book Review: The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries was a book I had heard about so many times that I had to read it myself. I had heard about Lean Startup methodology and read about it in many blog posts, but I hadn't read the book. In a way the topic was familiar even before starting, but still there were learning to gain from the book.

Ideology of Lean Startup is really valuable. I believe there's some truth behind what Eric Ries is talking about. The main idea of Lean Startup is that is valuable to measure the ideas in the market and be willing to learn from the results and pivot the course if needed.

I especially liked what Eric wrote about what actually is an MVP. In my own believes I often seen MVP to be much less than companies are themselves thinking it to be. Also validated learning, innovation accounting and the whole build-measure-learn loop were valuable parts of the book.

What I didn't like was that the book wasn't anywhere close to minimum viable book. It was utterly too long and once in a while even boring. I believe the ideas of the subject could have been delivered in 100 pages. That would have proven the value of the thinking. Now it was as any other ordinary book, lengthened to almost 300 pages in order to seem as a "normal" book. I just hate that approach. When there isn't that much to say, why to waste so many pages on it.

I feel bit bad to criticize the book since, I think that everyone should learn about the Lean Startup methodology. It is valuable and would help many companies and startups to succeed. I believe the book just isn't the best way to learn about the subject.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen