When change is the bottleneck

A couple of weeks ago I was doing an in-company Kanban workshop. I knew the team that participated in the workshop from before. I had been working briefly with them a few years ago. From the moment people started coming in, I realized that I had to be careful. The team showed many signs of “a bad history of change”. They had been going through several change initiatives, many, if not most, without success or perseverance.

One clear signal was from the body language of one participant. Leaned back in his chair, chin in the air, I really saw him thinking … “here we go again, yet another *wise guy* that is going to tell us how we need to do our work”. Other signals were what others were talking about. Yeah, we do scrum … but we don’t have a stand-up meeting. Yeah we have a project life-cycle (that we need to comply to), but we do not follow it. Etc. Many changes had been pushed onto them. Perseverance in the change had been lacking.

A few years ago I was not able to interpret the signals that this team was sending out. Since then I have been exposed to explicit change methods (i.e. Accelerated Implementation Method, “AIM”) and the Kanban change approach. When it comes to change their seems to be 1 fundamental law:

    • The success of a change initiative highly depends on the success of past change initiatives

In other words, if you have failed at implementing change in the past, you will have a high risk of failing to implement change in the future. And, the more failed changes, the harder it becomes.

For this organization, change really is the bottleneck. Yes, they need to fundamentally improve their performance; but yes they also need to be careful that this does not turn into a YAFCI – Yet Another Failed Change Initiative.

Kanban, in this light, is not just an evolutionary change approach. When done properly, Kanban evolutionary change actually helps the organisation to build a capacity for future change. By insisting on small steps and being persistent, the organisation can build a platform of successful change. The organisation starts with small changes and grows the capability to take on bigger changes in the process. Respect and persistence are the key words.

In the end we had a good workshop. I showed respect for the team, they showed respect back.

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