by Sally Pike

Too much change - too little benefit?

Change Management

Too much change - too little benefit?
Too much change - too little benefit?

Chocolate is good, but lots of chocolate?  A touch of salt makes things tastier, but too much salt? Experience has taught us that things in moderation are usually better than too much, and so, it would appear, it is for change too. There can be too much change!

Change, though a fundamental human condition and an essential for a healthy business, frequently meets resistance and negativity, worsened working patterns, performance and productivity.  To achieve planned change, change that delivers the benefits and vision that led to the change, takes experienced change practitioners and leaders to maintain morale and ensure the changes are adopted and embedded.

So what happens when there is no apparent end to change?  What happens when an
organisation, for whatever reason, seems committed to undergo continual change?

Well, the result is change fatigue.  Change fatigue bleeds energy out of the people and the change system.  It is worse than resistance, which can be turned and used to drive things forward, change fatigue makes people passive - nothing gets done, there is easy agreement and no commitment, lethargy and tokenism means that processes and behaviours remain unaltered, and no benefits are delivered.

So what to do?  Big change or small change; big bang or structured change; brutal or soft?  Any of these will do but NOT slow change.   If you intend to take out a diseased appendix, there are many operational procedures, but not one of the procedures favours a ‘let’s do this over the week’ type approach...  Change needs to be planned and communicated, with clear milestones which can be recognised and celebrated, if appropriate, and it needs an end. 

Neither should it be delayed until the last possible moment.  Waiting until the project is about to deliver, just won’t do – it is far too late.  Tackling the change issues early is not only sensible, it is often the only way the issues can be properly addressed.  This may mean starting as the project portfolio prioritisation phase.  Far from resource availability being the key decisive factor – often the approach adopted in less mature organisations – it is the assessment and modelling of impacts on the business of the changes wrought by the projects that are critical.  With this as clear governance accountability, the incidence of change fatigue drops.

First must be an evaluation of the value the change has for the business and the achievement of its strategy. This establishes the desirability of a project.  This then needs to be moderated by first the level of risk of not achieving the benefits, and then by considering the impact and riskiness of the resourcing the project – establishing its do-ability.

 

 

The real difficulty arises when the decisions have to be taken in the context of all the other decisions already taken about the project portfolio and allocation of resources to other projects and other business-as-usual tasks.  The likelihood of taking good decisions on a project that doesn’t unravel earlier good decisions taken on other projects is very high.  How can this be addressed?

To make ‘safe’ decisions governance groups must look beyond simple ‘case-by-case’ assessments and look to tools that provide organisation-wide capacity modelling tools and techniques.  Such a tool should provide a degree of ‘what if’ scenario planning’ to take place.

The major factors to be considered are: 

•    project modelling:  indicating the optimal mix of projects: size, type and complexity, that the organisation can effectively managed at any one time

•    resource modelling:  indicating optimal combination of resource required to manage the agreed levels of project work

•    impact modelling: indicating the type, level, level of risk, and timing of anticipated change mapped against the business areas receiving the changes from projects and other initiatives – whilst maintaining business as usual performance.

Impact modelling is particularly helpful in sequencing and sizing changes and is fairly essential in dynamic businesses where significant change, and hence change fatigue, are common.

One approach that has paid big dividends to organisations with project portfolios with more than 20 projects in is the 'efficient frontier' modelling tool.  It uses the ideas of risk-adjusted value and risk-adjusted project costs to identify the 5-10 genuine options for the most desirable-do-able portfolio.

 

 

It determines the best combinations in terms of return (both financial and strategic) from the initiative investment.  To select the best possible portfolio, the governance group can then focus its attention on a small number of feasible portfolios (highlighted red boxes in the diagram).  The real gain from this tool, and others like it, is most obvious when additional requests for projects arise after the portfolio has been agreed – a common, almost inevitable fact that disturbs the best laid plans.

PiCubed and UK based sister company CITI have worked in the field of making projects and programmes valuable for more than 20 years. We know that change is an everyday reality for most businesses, change on change is becoming more frequent as the rate of change increases inexorably – but we also know that the human psyche has its own limits, which must be understood and respected if the changes are to deliver the benefits that were the cause of the change.

If you would like to know more about change, benefits and project management techniques please call or write to Sally, who will be delighted to forward you more information.  spike@pi3.co.za, +27 21 7955130

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