During a recent podcast interview, Russ Pena and I began talking about the impact of change on a product focused organization that is trying to adopt a more agile and innovation-centric mindset.
Our conversation introduced a new topic that has been rattling around in my head since Russ and I spoke. I’m writing this post with the hope that it might generate discussion and help the idea take form.
Talking about the significance of the change is not a new thing. Oceans have been written about how people go through stages of changes, etc. And most of the professional knowledge workers who earn their keep by helping organizations go through agile transformation would probably tell you that the hardest part of the change is almost never the process. Even though many people focus on that, its’ usually the easiest part. The Gordian knot of of transforming to an agile or innovation-centric approach stems from the impact of the cultural change and the shift in value systems.
During the podcast, Russ and I got to talking about how many clients enter into transformation without really knowing what to expect, or they have some sense of what to expect, but have decided that because their company is “different”, they are going to just throw a switch and change will be adopted throughout every level of the organization out of sheer will.
As we talked through the topic, we started to kick around the idea of coming up with a way to understand the velocity of change the organization was able to absorb, and if so, could we work out a WIP limit for change (or Change in Process limit). While each organization is different, there is going to be a pace at which change can be absorbed, and a tipping point at which it is no longer able to absorb more. When introducing change, a reaction against that change is to be expected. But there is a point at which the strength of the reaction becomes stronger than the driver of the change.
Drawing a parallel to the way a team can only manage a certain amount of work in the system at any given time, an organization may only be able to tolerate a limited amount of change (in various stages) at one time. If that amount is exceeded, and the change becomes too much of an irritant, the organization may resist the change with enough force to cause the change to fail. The question that arose during my discussion with Russ was this;
Can an organization develop an understanding of how much change can be introduced at a given time, without alerting the organizational antibodies who will come to fight off this foreign approach?
For this to be something measurable, we would have to be able to define different changes (or patterns of change) we were going to introduce. We would also need to have a way of weighting them or gauging their potential impact based on both the change being introduced and the specific organization’s likelihood to resist the change.
If we were able to capture all this, it would make sense to try to define a standardized way of assessing an organization’s resistance strength (maybe cultural and/or process fortitude), it’s average reaction time. Or, how quickly does the organization respond with antibodies that will resist the change?
If we had a way of understanding an organization’s cultural and process fortitude, it’s response time, the significance (or weight) of the change being introduced, and some additional metrics or observations on how (in general) organizations begin absorbing and resisting change, then we could arrive at a Change In Process (CIP) limit for introducing transformational changes to an organization.
What are your thoughts on limiting the amount of Change in Process for an organization embarking on their journey with Agile Transformation?