The ABC of Growing Pains

The Challenges of Managing a Growing Business

Managing a growing business presents unique challenges. In this article, I am referring to three case studies. These three businesses suffer from problems that originate in a very similar root cause. I could help them identify this with “organizational therapy”. The structure of the article is:

  • General introduction to the context of the three businesses;
  • Defining the common problem;
  • The main problem and results for the three case studies;
  • The principles of organizational therapy with which I could assist all three;
  • A brief conclusion on the pains of managing a growing business.

Establishing the Context

I have recently been working with three growing business. In this article, I will name them by their initials, as these are handily A, B and C. They all three work in the interactive, web-based IT services, but function according to very different business models:

  • A is an IT service provider. They deliver cloud storage and managed services. They support their clients to let them focus on their own business rather than managing their cloud and data needs. A team of professionals assures clients that their systems are updated and maintained.
  • B is a software outsourcing business, developing and delivering web-based applications and websites on customer specifications. They have a number of teams designing, building and delivering websites and interactive online products.
  • C has its own product, a niche market, but a market leader in their area, particularly in North America. Their team works with specialised, cutting-edge skills and deliver solutions that remain one step ahead of what their clients expect.

All three companies started up fairly recently (in the past ten years). All three are located in the same region in Central Europe.

All three companies are still being managed by the enthusiastic and extremely competent technical entrepreneurs who originally created the business.

All three companies are building high-quality products that have earned them an international market presence.

All three companies are self-aware enough to identify that they needed help in managing their growing business.

All three companies grew from a handful of people to a size at which structured management and skills are needed. All three suffered in different ways from their success and growth. This led them to contact me and ask me to come to help them understand and sort things out with them.

Defining the Problem

Growing city
Business, like towns, need to manage the balance between preserve, improve, enlarge and rebuild as they grow

Entrepreneurs are typically technically savvy people with creative ideas. They understand how to build great products or deliver amazing services. They build their business and create something that works; with some marketing, they sell their product.

However, entrepreneurs are not natural managers. They create their business by doing everything, working all hours, designing, building, refining, updating, marketing, negotiating, selling, making the coffee… Once the business grows they find that they need to start hiring people. These new employees are expecting a job, a regular salary and “normal” working hours. A growing business means more management and more management skills.

  • With more than twenty employees, entrepreneurs are no longer able to know what everyone is doing at any given moment.
  • With more than fifty, they no longer know about the people in their business. They may know the faces and the names, but not much more than that.
  • At a hundred employees, they don’t even know some people working for them. They see people in the office, who greet them by name, but they don’t know who are these person or what they do.

Now for bright technically competent self-starters, there comes a time when they must decide they need a professional CEO and hand over the reins. This is a difficult choice. I am suggesting they need to put their baby up for adoption -not a newborn child that they do not want or cannot afford, but one to whom they have given birth, nurtured, loved and watch grow up…

Rarely are entrepreneurs ready to manage a growing business.

The Individual Business Issues

Company A’s Vision

Company A had some teething problems, but the founder was rapidly turning from an entrepreneur into a businessman. He understood that he needed to hand over responsibility and authority in order to manage the business rather than developing the product. Of course, this was not an easy step to do, and he was still caught out publicly contradicting one of his directors. When you place someone in charge of a division of your business, you may not contradict that person in front of his or her team. Ever.

However, the main issue for company A was to clarify and deploy a vision and strategy for the company. As it had grown, different areas were starting to have a life of their own, and there was a risk for the company unity.

Over a couple of days with the management team, we drew up a business strategy and vision statement. The vision statement was the usual one-line BS feel-good statement – after all, we want something catchy that people can remember. But, more importantly, we drew up a “butterfly diagram” of the vision statement. This included a list of effects and changes that should be noticeable if the vision was implemented, and a list of risks, issues and impediments that would stop the vision from becoming reality.

Bow-Tie planning format
The “Bow-Tie” or Butterfly principle

From that, we could assign specific goals to all the key people to either remove, mitigate, reduce or avoid a specific risk or issue, or accelerate, facilitate or deploy one of the noticeable consequences of the vision.

This approach gave structure to the management team and help define their goals more clearly.

Company B’s Measurements

Company B had probably grown too fast, been too successful. As an outsourcing company, they had done what their clients required, giving them a wide range of expertise in a variety of technologies and tools, depending on what clients wanted. This meant that they had different teams working on different tools, using different methodologies… Rapid success allowed the founders to build the company largely on a reactive mode: they responded to client requests instead of leading and guiding them. The entrepreneurs who set up the business are still at the helm and coming to terms with the fact that they probably reached the point when they needed help to effectively manage the business. They also understood they were no longer up to date on the technologies being used.

Cost of Removing Defects
Understanding the cost of defects and the value of V&V

Because of the reactive nature of the organization, they were lacking in a clear understanding of their own performance or productivity, even less of their actual quality. Most people, when I spoke to them said that they knew they were producing quality if clients did not complain. When speaking of “defect density” or “mean time between failures”, they had no clear understanding of what these meant. By introducing systematic measurements of the cost of quality, a better understanding of the key activities for continuous improvement would become possible. It will also help the marketing and sales side of this outsourcing business as they can prove the quality they deliver and justify the time and cost required to deliver high-quality and high-performance products.

Company C’s Organization

The management team of the third company understood that they needed to bring in professional management and they hired a new senior manager. However, differences of opinion at a personal level soon came to light between the entrepreneur and the new vice-president who came from a large corporate environment. One continued to intervene and change things at a micro-management level, the other tried to establish rigorous processes and controls. Many staff members reacted to this difference of opinion and frequently sided with one or the other. They considered the entrepreneur as a bully, or they considered the VP as too weak. Management must speak with a common voice (at least publicly) in a growing business.

In addition to badly defined roles and responsibilities, the lack of defined limits of authority of the senior people was the apparent key issue. A significant number of people expressed frustration at the confusion between who was responsible for what and the absence of limits to what a senior manager was allowed to do. Formalizing and standardizing this could solve this.

SFIA Responsibilities
The 7 levels of responsibility in SFIA

This involved clear definitions of roles, responsibilities and authority to ensure that people their role and position in the company. It also led to the creation of separate teams that worked, according to Agile-Scrum principles to be able to rapidly deliver upgrades to their standard product. In addition to this, the recommendation was that the roles, responsibilities and authority should be defined using a table of skills and competencies similar to that proposed by SFIA.

Organizational Therapy

The approach taken in these three businesses was based on what I have been calling “organizational therapy“.

This is a process through which I proceed through a series of interviews, starting with senior management and moving through the various layers of the business up to the people doing the “real work”, those who are actually building the product and delivering the services, the “factory floor”.

In most businesses (and I have been an international consultant for over twenty years, and an employee in a number of companies for over forty years) The disconnect between management and team members is found to be the main issue regarding quality and performance. You expect this in large multinationals, with a distant executive team on the top floor and 15 layers of middle management. However, you need to recognize it in small and young companies where the director is known and accessible to all members of staff.

The Problem with hierarchy
Traditional hierarchy, with many people trying to control the few who are developing

And yet…

Small companies, start-up companies are frequently run by an entrepreneur who has too much power. It is difficult for them to understand that things have moved on and that some form of formal, structured management is now required in a growing business.

By communicating the failures caused by the absence of structure to the management team, I help them understand the urgency, but, as long as they do not see the frustrations of those people that the form the base of the business, the ones who are actually producing what your clients want, they probably do not really understand the problem, let alone acknowledge their own limitations.

Conclusion

Entrepreneurs are usually great at the creation of businesses, products and services; they are rarely suited to manage a growing business. An entrepreneur wants to be involved and know everything that is going on in the business; a manager needs to be able to step back.  The three breaking points at which an entrepreneur can expect to lose control are when you get more than 20, 50 and 100 employees. At those points, the whole culture changes. When there is a probability of reaching one of these breaking points, it is important to be prepared. Communication, processes and metrics, reporting structures need to be designed and defined. If you let them evolve organically, they are likely to be wrong.

These problems can be resolved with an independent, confidential discussion with employees. The conclusions of which are redacted and reported.

Change is important, pragmatic improvement is critical.

Skills Management and More

I was recently requested to give a short talk at the launch of “Today Software Magazine” in Cluj (Romania). As this was very much at the last minute, I did not have the time to prepare my talk as much as I would normally do. However, I am happy to share it.

Foreseeing the Future

As a new year starts, it seems that (nearly?) all journalists are busy making their forecasts for the future. Of course, at the end of the year, we may be given the opportunity to look back at their predictions and see how wrong they are. They are currently predicting that President Trump will not last the year, or that he will last but not get reelected next year, or that he will get reelected, or that he will be in prison, or that he will stand down in exchange of amnesty, or just about anything else. As we listen to these predictions, we must think to ourselves that these journalists don’t really know or believe themselves what they are saying – it is mostly making predictions based on personal desires or fears…

And yet, in business, we believe that all estimates need to be contractually binding, transformed into deadlines, with penalties for “non compliance” should a delivery be a day late. I have already written about estimating problems, so I will not return to that topic.

However, I do want to remind you that an estimate, ultimately, is just guesswork. Perhaps you have a lot of data to demonstrate that, in the past, this was how long something took; perhaps you have done a statistical analysis and can show root causes of variations, but it is still, in the end, just a guess.

When requesting an estimate from someone, you should always ask for a confidence level. I tend to recommend an estimate to be provided in the form of an S-curve:

S-Curve
Probability and deviation in estimating

This approach allows you to say that you will only feel 100% comfortable if you are given at least x (in this picture, 703 days) to complete the project. If you want to negotiate down to 500 days, I feel 80% comfortable that we can deliver; if you are willing to take the risk, we can work together.

A consequence of this is that, as I have frequently said:

  1. an estimate should never be translated into a deadline;
  2. always make sure that you are clear why you are asking this and what you plan on doing with that estimate.

Language is tricky. If you request an estimate, a forecast or a prognosis, you may get very different data depending on how people interpret that word. If you request a projection, an evaluation, an assessment or an opinion, who knows what you might get in return.

But remember, ultimately, it’s just a guess.

Estimating Problems

For as long as I can remember, engineers, software developers, managers and sales people have missed their deadlines on a regular basis. This is a problem that has simple causes and possible solutions, but it requires a level of awareness that we appear to be missing in most of our endeavours. When there is variation between estimates, plans and actuals, generally:

  1. there is over-run, meaning the actuals are greater than the estimates and plans;
  2. the actuals are blamed and people are challenged as to why they did not meet their targets.

Frequently, the blame needs to lie on the estimating and planning rather than on the performance against the plan. It is time we took estimating seriously and started building appropriate risk management into our plans.

Clear Communication

One of the first reasons for bad estimating is the language problem. If you ask for an estimate, a forecast, a prognosis, a guess, a projection, a ball-park figure, a guess or any other variation thereof, you have (maybe) a clear idea of what you want and why you want it. Are you certain that the person to whom you are asking has the same understanding?

Guesswork

Every estimate is just a guess. Maybe the person doing the guess has a lot of experience, and has considered many options and weighed the probabilities, but, in the end, it comes down to a guess – no matter how “educated” that guess may be; in the end the value they give is probably wrong.

Data vs Experience

Obviously, we trust the expert, the person with the most experience, to make the estimate. However, we are not selecting the person who is best skilled at estimating, but the one who has done the job most frequently. The fact that the person in question has under-estimated the time it would take systematically for the past ten years, we will still trust them because they have done this so often.

One of the first steps that the expert will take is to estimate how long it would take her to do the job; once the agreement is finalized, the expert will be moved on to the next contract that requires estimating and the work itself will be given to someone else: the effort has been estimated for someone with twenty years experience, then given to someone with twenty minutes experience and we wonder why it is not completed on time.

Reviewing

The estimate, once it has been produce should be reviewed and corrected. Many managers (and less competent sales people) focus on cutting the estimate down: “why do you say this will take 6 months? We will lose the contract if we say 6 months, let’s change this to 4 months total”.

The intelligent manager (and the sales people who respect their clients) will review the estimate and find out what is missing, what are the risks that have not been taken into account, what is the worst case scenario and how can it be covered, how can I be sure that I am going to satisfy my client? Have you taken into account the average number of sick days in the team?…

Milestones and Commitments

So, you asked me how long do I think this will take and I said “probably not much more than a month”. Now, you have come back with detailed requirements and expectations that were not available when you asked the question and demand that I respect my previous “commitment” to finalize this work within one month, twenty working days. This does not take into account the work I am already doing, or the fact that your vague idea did not include all the additional bits of work you added into the requirements.

Milestones and commitments are necessary, but the order in which things happen need to be clearly understood:

  1. Document the requirements in as much detail as possible
  2. Establish the major milestones and include them in the requirements
  3. Ask for an estimate as to what would be the cost and probability of success to deliver the work completed within the milestones set out
  4. Make an estimate and negotiate the result: let’s eliminate some of the less critical requirements, move the milestones to make it more realistic, etc.
  5. Build a plan as to how the work will be done and the proposed final set of milestones
  6. Negotiate and move around more if necessary
  7. Make a commitment to respect the milestones.

It is folly or cruelty to request an estimate and transform it into milestones.

Update

Monitoring the work being done on a continual* basis means that you can evaluate in real time the amount of work remaining. If the first three phases of your project over-ran by 20%, you need to stop believing you will complete on time: chances are your whole project will be 20% late.

Burndown charts, Gantt charts and others are traditional methods. If used correctly they are useful in monitoring progress; however if you don’t use your previous estimating errors to correct your future estimates, you will just keep on “snowplowing” more work against a fixed deadline.

*Continual means without interruption, all the time; Continuous means ongoing. You can continuously improve your work practices by rolling out an improvement every few months, you cannot continually improve work practices as that would confuse the workforce with hourly changes to methodologies and processes.

Conclusion

If your team is not delivering to estimates, it is probably because they / you are not as good at estimating as you believe. Don’t pressure them to work faster, that will only create more problems, give them appropriate training and support in making better estimates and understanding how to use data.

The Importance of Communication

https://www.moneycrashers.com/where-donate-used-books/

Overview

The importance of Communication in a modern business of any kind cannot be over-estimated. We live in world of communication, we are all continuously posting on Facebook, writing blogs, taking selfies, etc. and yet the amount of communication that is actually occurring is extremely low. In this “information age“, it appears that communication is not facilitating information exchange.

In this article, I try to highlight the problem we are encountering in communication in today’s world, and make some suggestions regarding solutions.

Problem

Communication must be defined by reception, and not by emission. If no one is listening to you, you are not communicating; if no one is reading you, you are not communicating.

For over twenty years, I have been working in companies all over the world, in which people have been complaining about communication problems:

  • Management doesn’t tell us what’s going on
  • We are overwhelmed with emails and don’t have time to read them all
  • Priorities keep on changing without explanation
  • Someone else was working on the same thing as I was and never told me about it
  • “They” keep on contradicting themselves
  • and so on…

Even though they may complain about contradictions in what they are told (or what they remember of what they heard), most people are quite happy to use contradictory statements about communication for themselves. They will affirm that:

  • “I am a good communicator: if you need something, just come and ask me and I will be happy to help” and
  • “You are a bad communicator: if you have information I need, you don’t share it unless I come and ask you directly”.

In today’s world, millions of people are talking and writing at any given moment; only a fraction of that amount are actually listening or reading. There are currently approximately 2 billion websites worldwide (http://www.internetlivestats.com) with an average of number of users of 3 or 4 per site; the number of emails sent at any given moment is astronomical (nearly 3 million per second) – unfortunately there are no reliable metrics of how many people are reading or listening instead of writing.

What was once perceived as being the solution has become a major component of the problem as team members spent half their day reading and responding to emails: they feel that they need to read and react immediately when they receive an email, or – in some cases – even get into trouble if they don’t read it immediately: I have seen managers sending out an email requesting someone to attend a meeting immediately.

Another proposed solution to the communication problem is to get rid of offices and place people in open-plan areas, based on factory production lines, believing that this facilitates communication. In fact, the open-plan office facilitates interruptions and loss of concentration; perhaps this is not a problem in some jobs, but most office jobs require reflection and concentration that is not possible in this environment. So, the people in the office start wearing noise-cancelling headphones and isolate themselves from all work-related communication as well as from the environmental noise.

http://www.bhmpics.com/view-baby_headphone-1600x900.html

Consequence

Frustration and despondency grow rapidly as team members feel that they are not respected enough to know what is happening with their job; work is being done by the wrong people, or is being done multiple times by the same people. Team members don’t know where to find the information that they need when they need it.

The continuous interruptions for communication may be seen as beneficial in some work areas, but mostly they are extremely detrimental. The advantage of the open-plan and the continual flow of emails, means that many team members never really have the leisure to wonder why they are doing this and how this work benefits anyone.

At the same time, we need information (knowledge, communication) to circulate through the company by its very structure. Rather than structuring your organisation according to the antiquated principles of monarchs and barons (as most companies have done), a modern organisation needs to be structured according to the required knowledge flow. More about this, of course, in my book Orchestrated Knowledge.

Need

How do we get information to the people at the right time?

How do we allow the knowledge held within the business to be used effectively?

How do we allow team members to be properly immersed in their work without distractions and interruptions?

Approaches

Emails

There is no need to read, respond or even react to an email the moment it comes in. A basic principle is that an email should be answered within 24 hours, if it is more urgent than that, there are better ways: walking over, telephoning, or using one of the large number of messaging applications.

http://www.internetlivestats.com/one-second/#email-band

My general recommendation (and personal habit), is that you should only access your emails 3 times a day at most. In the morning, check what there is, what is important, what can be deleted, what needs a response or action; again in the middle of the day and at the end of the day. The rest of the time, switch off your email system completely (and yes, if you use an email system like Microsoft’s “Outlook”, you can write emails without starting up the app).

Knowledge Management

There are sufficient tools available on the market place that allow for a structured approach to information sharing and knowledge management. The basic idea is that, when you need some information, you can rapidly and easily find it. Lessons learnt can be integrated into the tool, as well as design decisions, requirements, best practices, progress reports, and other key components that people will need at various times. The main issue with these tools, and where most companies in my experience fail, is that it is not enough to purchase the tool, you also need to get an expert in who will take time to study your needs and problems and will set it up professionally so that you get the most out of the tool. Too frequently, companies get won over by an impressive pre-sales demonstration, then find they have no idea how to use it once they have paid for it.

Coaching

Sitting down on a regular basis for a “one-to-one” with your colleagues and those who report to you, will allow you to have a focused conversation, that may cover more than work items. On average, I would recommend having a one-to-one discussion every day with a different person. This should be in their calendar and considered as an important meeting.

During the discussion, make sure that you listen as much as possible and talk as little as possible, especially with your direct reports. You should not use the meeting to give them instructions and demand progress reports, there are other meetings for that. This is a discussion to find out what is bothering them, what are the obstacles, concerns and worries. Make some helpful suggestions or recommendations, but make sure that these are just suggestions or recommendations. If the person has a serious issue, make sure that you follow up soon after the meeting.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/7-actions-parents-can-take-when-sports-coaches-act-like-bullies_b_4954874

One of the traps to avoid in these types of discussions (other than bullying your colleague, of course) is the risk of falling into psycho-therapy concepts and terms. It is important to make sure that you understand what is making your colleagues unhappy, what is motivating them, but you are not (I presume) psycho-therapists and you should not try to be diagnosing depression, hyper-activity or other disorders: the purpose of the meeting is to have an honest discussion and see how things can be improved in the work place.

One-on-one discussions need to be done in an atmosphere of trust. Your colleague needs to feel that you will not misinterpret anything, assign blame or use the contents of the discussion to determine levels of reward or punishment. This is a very big request and obviously very difficult to implement: most people do not really trust their manager until the manager has earned that trust, and you can only earn someone’s trust by knowing something confidential and be seen not to betray it. This is why I would recommend getting an external consultant to conduct regular meetings with key players. Someone who can be trusted to speak truth to power, but not betray their sources.

Office Space

http://nihilist.fm/et-ei-tapaks/open-plan-office/

The ideal office size is one in which a small team (5 to 7 people) can work together, focus, celebrate, discuss problems. The open plan office has been costed many times and the cost of the continuous interruptions on any intelligence-based activity is too high to be acceptable. Of course, having individual offices creates other problems and there is no point avoiding one extreme for the other.

A good working space would probably have offices for a half-dozen people all around the floor, each office with a window (if a hotel can manage to have a window in every room, so can your office building). Meeting rooms are available and are probably clustered into the centre of the floor, around the elevator shafts – meeting rooms generally do not need a window as nobody should be spending all day in there.

Maybe I will write more about environmental issues at a later date. The communication issue I want to cover here is that a team should be able to discuss or celebrate together without disturbing other team members who are concentrating on their work.

Value

A lot of processes and procedures are written in most companies. I recently worked in an organisation that regularly produced “policies”. These were produced under the good idea that they were necessary, by different people, with little or no consultation, for various reasons. Some were created to please an auditor, some were produced to solve an immediate issue. Mostly, these policies were stored in different places, in different formats and were not appropriately cross-referenced or enforced. They were certainly not communicated to the people who should have been applying them.

Communication needs to have value.

The value needs to be perceived on both sides: “this is something I need others to know” and “this is something I need to know”. If the recipient does not see the value of the information received, they will not give it the attention that might be necessary. When preparing a communication, the author should

  1. Clearly identify the message to communicate
  2. Clearly identify the public or recipients who should be receiving this
  3. Make sure that the content is not redundant or contradictory with other communications
  4. Make sure that the contents are unambiguous and clear (for more on this point, I strongly recommend Tom Gilb’s books on Value Planning and Clear Communication).

Conclusion

Communication is not a difficult issue, but it is an extremely important topic and should be given careful consideration. There is value in getting key people to have one-on-one coaching sessions with an independent, external person on a regular basis (two to four times a year), who will have the ability to anonymize statements and tell senior management what employees might not want to say – including the fact that they are not sure what senior management is actually saying to them.

https://www.moneycrashers.com/where-donate-used-books/
Take time to listen, take time to learn, take time to understand – the time investment is small, the return is never-ending.

Pragmatic Improvement

The approach to improvement involves the use of pragmatic improvements, realistic changes and processes that are selected because they support the people doing the work in producing higher quality.

  1. Challenge the self-evident. If you have always done it that way, if this is the way the boss wants it done, if this is what was recommended in the latest book or by your favourite consultant, question it. Why should this be the right way to do  things for you?
  2. Take time away from work. Change your mind, go for a run or a walk, read a novel, do something other than sitting at your desk from time to time to refresh your mind. Don’t take your phone, don’t browse the internet if you work on a computer all day, but move away, change the focus of your eyes so that you can see and think something different.
  3. Question why you are being asked to do something and what is the point. So many of us do not know the value of our work. I have missed my children’s birthday parties in order to make rich people richer, to fix a minor defect in a product that has no real impact on anything that matters. Is that really how you would like to sum up your life?

Dare to ask the questions, dare to challenge the data

Making Change Management a Success

In most cases, when talking about change management, continuous improvement, process change, etc. there is an assumption that the exercise should be done in three steps:

  1. Define and document the current state (the “As-Is”);
  2. Define and document the desired state (the “To-Be”);
  3. Plan a route to get from “As-Is” to “To-Be”.

This seems fairly obvious and simple and is the process that is followed by the majority of organizations and consultants; if I point out that the vast majority of change management programs fail, perhaps we need to wonder whether there is causation or just correlation in this.

Let’s start by asking why people believe they need to change things: the most common responses refer to failed projects, missed deadlines, unhappy clients, budget over-runs, key players leaving at a critical time, unclear requirements, etc. It becomes apparent that teams that need to change things because they cannot run a project successfully will run their change management program by running a successful project…

Perhaps they seek help from a consultant at this point, who will tell them to do what they already knew, then leave them to fail on their own.

Making Change a Success

Don’t Waste Time on the As-Is

The attempt to define the unsatisfactory, failing status as it currently stands is an exercise in self-humiliation. It is an attempt at identifying what you already know to be a failing situation. There is a good reason to perform an analysis of the As-Is, and that is if you are planning on maintaining it, e.g. you are planning on developing an automation tool (e.g. software) that will facilitate or speed up the work, but you don’t actually want to change it.

If you know that the way you are working is not satisfactory, there is not much point on doing more than a simple root cause analysis to identify the failures.

Forget the Plan

If you have very good at estimating and planning techniques for jobs that you have never done, I would recommend you proceed as usual to estimate and plan your transformation program. If, on the other hand, you are seeking to transform and improve work practices because it is apparent that you do not have a good track record and tend to deliver late, over-budget and/or below the expected level of quality, then there is not much point in applying your methods for a type of project that is different from all your previous ones.

Get and Independent Point of View

You probably know what is wrong, but do you actually know what is wrong? It is very useful to have an outsider come in and look at what are the issues, someone who does not have to prove that they were right “3 years ago when we implemented this”, someone who is not trying to demonstrate that their predecessor was wrong. This is a challenge, of course, because every independent outsider who might come in and give a valid opinion is trying to sell you something at the same time. This might be a personal service as a consultant or a contractor, or a ready-made solution, model, theory. The choice is difficult and the scope of the work should be clearly limited from the start.

A good independent person will look at the state of affairs, help you formulate a reasonable objective and assist in identifying the main issues, risks or roadblocks you may come across.

Clarify your Vision

Over my career, I have often been confronted by managers, directors and executives who believe things need to change; but, when asked for further information, they are not sure what they actually would like, there is no clear vision or objective, just that “things need to change”. I have recently worked for an organization that wanted to improve quality, but blocked any attempt at increasing control over peer-reviews, did not accept that stricter processes should be developed, did not want to “waste time and money” on training, publicly announced that metrics of client complaints had nothing to do with quality, and did not think the staff was competent to either define their own processes or review the work of their colleagues. They just wanted to improve quality without changing the way things were done. Even when I requested for a formal organization chart with names, roles, responsibilities and areas of authority, that was declined because they did not want to encourage people to restrict their activities to limited areas of responsibility.

If you don’t know where you want to go, how do you expect to find a road to get there? If you don’t want to move, how do you expect to go anywhere?

In order to clarify the vision, you need to know what is the vision of the company you want to give your clients, and what is the vision you want to give your employees (these need not be identical, but must not be contradictory) – then look at finding the overlap and the complementarity.

Determine the Consequences

Vision statements are nice, succinct sentences or paragraphs that don’t mean a lot in themselves, even if they do give you a nice warm, fuzzy feeling. If you believe in your vision statement, it is necessary to pick it apart and determine what it actually means. What is the thought behind the value statements, what is the meaning hidden behind those nice words like “respect” and “cutting edge” that you have used?

The vision statement is the basic idea of what you want your organization to look like in 3, 5, 10, 50 years time, it is the thing that makes you different from everyone else; the consequences are how this vision is reflected in day-to-day life.

The consequences need to be expressed in simple, pragmatic, down-to-earth statements of how you expect people to behave, what is happening in the work place on an ongoing basis, etc.

Identify the Risks

One of ongoing battles, for the past 40 years is trying to get people to understand that risk management is at the heart of the industry and of every single project and undertaking. This is where the CEO, the project manager and the front-end support person need to concentrate most of their efforts if they are going to succeed.

Losers plan for success only; winners plan for defeat. From the start, your focus needs to be on what may go wrong, what are the reasons, the problems that might lead your project or activity to fail in the short or long term. So many managers, when seeing estimates and plans, focus on trying to cut down the required time, cost and risks related to the activities: they are only increasing the chance of failure. Instead, they should be challenging the planner to identify what has been forgotten, what has been missed, what could go wrong: have you thought about all the imponderables? Have you considered what needs to be done if…?

By identifying the risks from the start of your transformation project, you can identify what needs to be managed in order to change the way things are being done and start working directly on the right things. After all, if you remove all the risks and things that could stop your vision becoming a reality, then your vision must become a reality!

Measure Progress

Over the past years, too much emphasis has been placed on the statistical analysis of human endeavours. There appears to be a belief in many circles that events from the past are repeatable in the future. Statistical analysis is valuable and does allow demonstration that we are moving in the right or wrong direction and I would highly recommend its usage in many cases for validation purposes.

Measurement of achievement and progress is however critical and is too often ignored, frequently out of fear of judgement, and thus we end up with projects that remain over 80% complete for half their lives. Sudden surprises and delays at the last minute.

Measuring progress needs to be done according to the count of tasks completed and not by estimating a “percentage of task” completed. If your task remains open for too long, it was not small enough. Break it down to something that you can place in one of three states: not started, in progress, finished. On a regular basis (weekly or, at most monthly), have a list of tasks that should be completed for each individual and monitor that the progress is being made to achieve the result. Don’t make it more complicated than strictly necessary.

Conclusion

A change management project should be initiated based on three concepts:

  1. Vision statement of what the end result will look like
  2. Consequences of a successful implementation of the vision
  3. Identifying and managing all the risks that could stop the vision from being implemented

You will have more chance of success with this than with a complicated project plan based on all your previous failed plans.