Implementation is a major topic in The Billion Dollar Solution, it was also the topic of my talk for TOCICO in May of 2009 entitled “The Art of Change: Making TOC Stick.” There is much more that needs to be said on the subject, so I’ll post some blog entries to go through the basic ideas.
Implementation planning for a significant new system is complex. You have installation, training, business process changes, and new flows of information. You have significant changes to how people do their work, and these changes must be synchronized; potentially across dozens of functions and thousands of uncooperative people. There is much that can go wrong and much that does.
Chances are, any critical chain-based implementation process has elements like:
• Plan the implementation
• Install and configure software
• Give practical training, potentially to many different types of individuals for task, project and portfolio planning and execution
• Provide mentoring, especially for project and functional managers
• Install sustainment processes such as certification, methodology management, and ongoing training
All these are valid implementation tasks. These elements form the basis for most implementation plans. But there are a few essential elements that are frequently overlooked.
Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong it will,” may or may not be technically correct. But it is inarguable that if nothing can go wrong, it won’t. That’s the real message: stuff happens. If you want to be sure nothing will go wrong, make sure it can’t.
Here’s another popular saying: “Never do today what you can do tomorrow.” But the only sure way to ensure something will happen is to do it. Do it now and it gets done; nothing ever gets done tomorrow. So the real message is, “Don’t do what you don’t need to do.” Most people subscribe to this, at least if it’s something they’re not sure they want to do.
If you try to implement a change without some urgent reason for it to happen now, chances are it won’t happen now and it won’t happen tomorrow. This tends to be true of simple things like diets, exercise and homework; it tends to be even more predictable with organizational change.
Some basic principles for change were laid out many years ago by the pioneering social psychologist Kurt Lewin: unfreeze, to make people amenable to change; transition, or make the changes; and re-freeze, to make sure the changes stick. Unfreezing can most easily happen through a sense of urgency. There must be some urgent reason to change today or people will prefer to change tomorrow, which means not at all. Dr. John Kotter has written a great deal about urgency and its importance in change (see, for example, his book Leading Change).
Implementing a significant change for the first time can be like trying to race blindfold on a new track. Racecar drivers go at amazing speeds, but try putting a blindfold on one. Even if it’s not their car, they’re not going to go very quickly. Anyone who is going to have to make changes over time will need a way to see whether or not they’re on course. Over time, people will re-develop their intuition and their ability to evaluate situations quickly and effectively. Until that happens, they will feel like a blindfold driver.
We must communicate why a change – critical chain or anything else – is creating value. The value we must communicate is value to those making the changes, because they’re the ones who have to keep making them. When they have made the changes we’re looking for, whether we are early or late in the process, they must get feedback that says why the change made sense and continues to make sense. If I say, “Bet on ‘Name That Tune’ in the fifth race tomorrow,” you may do it if you feel like gambling. But if the horse doesn’t win, you’re much less likely to take my next tip. If you don’t even see the outcome of the race, you’ll lose interest. People base future decisions on past experience, and at the beginning of any change they have very little experience. They feel like they’re racing blind, gambling on a tip.
But feedback alone isn’t enough. The feedback processes must produce corrections. It doesn’t do the race car driver any good to see the road if the car’s controls are locked. It doesn’t do the project manager any good to set task priorities if people aren’t able to work to those priorities.
Bottom line messages:
Find or create urgency to change.
Feed the value of the changes back to those whose changes created it.
Help people use that information to create more value.
- On June 16, 2009