Spectrum of change: fast and simple or extensive and robust

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Jeff Cole

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As much fun as it was to watch Leslie Knope on the NBC series 'Parks & Recreation' back in the day, it can be a bit taxing to encounter someone in real life who is trying to over-manage a situation. That is sometimes the case with process changes. While I have written 10 years’ worth of tips on managing process change and am a big proponent of weaving such methods into any process improvement effort, a legitimate question is: 'Do we really need it (at least all the time)?' My answer is 'probably yes' but the amount of effort expended varies tremendously.

Envision process change methods as running on a spectrum from fast and simple to extensive and robust. We want to align ourselves to the right place on that spectrum for the changes we are promoting. How do you know if you can get by with some very simple and fast tactics? Here are a couple things to ponder as you position yourself on the 'spectrum of robustness':

  • How many people will be impacted by the change to this process? If only one or two, it greatly simplifies the scope of the effort.
  • How will those impacted likely respond to the change? If they will be positive toward this, it saves a lot of time and effort on our part in the design and rollout.
  • To what extent will those impacted have to change their behavior? If this is minimal it again can save a lot of effort.
  • How simple is this change relative to all the other changes going on in the organization? At this writing, gas is about $2.79/gal in the Midwest. While you might baulk at paying $2.99/gal for gasoline it’s all relative. If all other stations within a 30-mile radius are charging $3.49/gal you would gladly pay $2.99 and consider it a bargain.  
  • How much of a time or resource burden will this be on the audience? The more transparent, fast and easy you can make it, the odds go up in your favor for a smoother rollout.
  • How well does the change align with your organizational values and culture? Culture is like an invisible raging whitewater river flowing through an organization.   Align your change with the culture and it can speed it right along.  Go against the culture and you escalate straight up the scale of robustness to more involved change methods.
  • To what extent have you thought through ways the process change can fail and bullet-proofed the change? Being proactive in thinking through failure modes and contingency plans all through the design process and rollout makes your life much easier. Not doing so and being surprised by failure points you could have spotted a month earlier puts you in reactive mode – not a good place to live.

Pondering these questions over a couple adult beverages can go a long way toward positioning you at the right level of change management on your next project.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the Harvest Festival – literally the best event this month! Happy change!