Joe: David, you are saying that for change management that it’s not like we just throw everything away. We are keeping some of it and making an evolutionary change rather than an edict that this is what we’re going to do now.
I asked that question of David Anderson, a thought leader in managing effective technology development. David leads a consulting, training and publishing business at David J, Anderson & Associates. David may be best known for his book, Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business. His answer is below.
David Anderson: Very much. Certainly, my own approach is to say, “Let’s start with what you do now, and let’s assume that it’s not all broken and that there are a lot of babies in there with some bathwater, and we don’t want to throw everything away. We don’t want too big of an impact.” I’ll often talk about the J curve during a change initiative, where capabilities are impaired for some period of time. Performance goes down while you start to implement the change with the hope of creating greater capability and improved performance longer term.
If the bottom of that J is too deep or coming out of it takes too long, the senior executives simply run out of patience, and that’s when change initiatives get canceled. And often the change agent gets fired or benched within the organization, moved sideways, given a quiet desk in the corner. They keep their title and their pay grade, but they’re not given any real, meaningful work for the next nine months to one year.
I’m looking to avoid those things. But at the same time, I recognize that my own experience with change management on a larger scale is limited, that I haven’t had the opportunity in my career to be the CIO of a major IT department or the IT department of a major company, and my focus has mostly been on software product development and software maintenance and related services, not the wider IT organization.
I also recognize that the promise of evolutionary change, while we have plenty of case studies now from many parts of the world emerge at the conferences that we run, it’s often just a step too far for a lot of senior managers, that we’re asking them to make a leap of faith, and they’re not ready for it yet. So using less?scary language, “change management,” that’s something we feel they understand. They may well appreciate that their organization’s not good at it.
I feel that’s the area that needs addressing. So the focus is on asking people to consider developing a change?management capability in the same way that you would develop a testing capability or a database?administration capability or a user?interface?design capability. Only once you have a strong change?management capability would you undertake very large?scale change initiatives that you should scale the size of the change you’re willing to take on with your current capability.
For sure, if we said that, about anything else, testing, user-interface design, database administration, enterprise architecture, it seems so obvious. You wouldn’t try to do really large-scale enterprise architecture if you had no skill in it. But it is remarkable how many organizations take on very large?scale change initiatives despite no track record of having done it in the past and no demonstrable skills in managing change.
With that in mind, I’ve partnered with a really very well?known former CIO, Bob Lewis, of IT Catalysts in Minneapolis. Bob’s been well known for his “IT Survivor” book and his columns in various magazines over what must amount to a couple of decades. I believe that he’s written seven or eight books now.
A very recent one is called “Bare Bones Change Management,” where he lays out his framework for managing change in IT organizations, based on his experience of being a CIO and having to lead these kinds of initiatives and having to build up a change?management capability in order to be successful.
I think the combination of my evolutionary approach with Bob’s structured framework and his CIO-level experience is really a strong combination, and together we’ve created a package that will enable us to teach organizations to create effective change-management capabilities.
Then they can go ahead and pick whatever methods and techniques they want to adopt, and hopefully install those methods, techniques, and practices successfully rather than getting into the bottom of a J curve and panicking.