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An interview with Vasco Duarte and Jason Little on Lean Change Management by Happy Melly Express

Posted by Ben Linders on Nov 07, 2013 |

Change agents need a “constant stream of high-quality content to support their work” as Vasco Duarte from Happy Melly states. InfoQ did an interview with him on a new publishing business that aims to connect authors with their audience in a sustainable way, and with Jason Little, an author that will be publishing about Lean Change Management.

Earlier this year Happy Melly was started. Lisette Sutherland explained the purpose of Happy Melly in the interview Happy Melly: A Business Network to Help People to Become Happy Workers:

Happy Melly believes that a business is a community of people working together for a shared purpose and creating value - and it’s best to grow it like that. We want people to join us, and help grow healthy, adaptive organizations that are more like communities.

Happy Melly has started a publishing business called Happy Melly Express. In the blog post Happy Melly Express: a system to make ideas stick and change an organization, Vasco Duarte discussed the needs that change agents have to be able to implement changes in organizations. InfoQ contacted Vasco to talk with him about Happy Melly Express, a new publishing business:

InfoQ: Vasco, can you describe what Happy Melly Express aims to reach? And what makes it differs from other publishing businesses?

Vasco: We see many good experiences being shared in conferences. Once in a while we see breakthrough presentations - ideas that could really transform the world of work. We've been writing about some of those experiences in our blog. But those ideas need to reach a broader audience. This could be achieved with a traditional publishing contract, but that is not interesting for many people in our community who would like to write a book to get their idea talked about, and in the case of independents, promote their work.

Independents are, more and more tempted by self-publishing. This is a great opportunity for people to expose their ideas to the world and collect feedback but single individuals do not have the time or money to invest in creating a high-quality final product.

Happy Melly Express is right in the middle of these two worlds, with the added advantage that we understand that conveying knowledge and helping people benefits from many different media, for example through videos (maybe your boss only has 5 minutes to get into the idea, a video is a good option!) and other additional material (templates, guides, how-tos, etc.).

Happy Melly Express is about helping the authors create high-quality content that goes beyond sharing an idea. And it helps our readers to get started. To get change going in their work place. 
It is a wonderful coincidence that our first project - Lean Change Management - is about Change at work.

InfoQ: In essence, books lead to knowledge transfer in one direction: from the author to the reader. Also reader cannot interact with the author while reading the book. Will Happy Melly Express changes this? How?

Vasco: The formula for a book is: audience + idea + author + media =  impact. All are needed. At Happy Melly Express we want to experiment with formats that help the author develop their idea and the format of the content by including the audience in the process. We will do this in many ways. In our crowd funding project for Lean Change Management, for example, we are selling a reward called "Early Adopter". The word is borrowed from the Lean Startup movement and reflects the people who are already interested in the subject, that know about it and want to help the author develop their presentation and content further.

By being an Early Adopter, people can receive an advance copy of the book and other material and interact directly with the author. Helping the author, and at the same time developing their own knowledge of the topic further.

InfoQ: Why did you choose to use crowd funding as a way to finance the first Happy Melly Express project?

Vasco: A good quality publishing project requires a lot of effort and commitment from the team producing that project. The author has to write for a long time before the first draft is ready. The editor has to read and change the manuscript to make it more readable and help the author develop the way the information is conveyed. We have to record and edit videos with additional material. And so on.

All of this requires an investment - some of it time, some of it money. Crowd funding is a recent development that allows the people interested in a book (the audience) to make it happen. Crowd funding helps us ensure that the project happens by supporting its creation with money - and get great rewards for that!

Crowd funding provides us the opportunity to reward our supporters with exclusive access to the author and to the content. Some of the rewards available in our crowd funding campaign will not be available later on when the final content is produced. For example, businesses get a unique chance to record a video with the author and use that to promote their own work. For anyone working in the broad Change Management sector, supporting our Lean Change Management project is a great opportunity to get early access to the content as well as exclusive access to Jason, the author of Lean Change Management.

InfoQ: Will there be more Happy Melly Express projects? Can you give the InfoQ readers a sneak preview of them?

Vasco: Yes there will! There's been a lot of interest in Happy Melly Express and we are currently preparing 5 other projects from all over the world. They are not yet ready to announce, but we will for sure keep the InfoQ community informed first hand! Stay tuned!

A first project has started by Happy Melly Express called Lean Change Management. InfoQ did an interview with the author involved in the project, Jason Little:

InfoQ: Jason, can you explain to the InfoQ readers what Lean Change Management will be about?

Jason: Sure. I suppose Lean Change Management is inspired by The Mojito Method that Jurgen Appelo wrote about. . The idea is that combining ideas from multiple sources is more useful than the individual ideas themselves.

This book is about how myself and a team of Agile coaches I was working with combined ideas from Lean Startup, Agile, psychology, neuroscience and behavioural science to whip up a delicious cocktail that when sipped, provides a more useful and satisfying approach to organizational change.

I tell many stories in the book about how this approach to change evolved over the course of a year, including example, stories and case studies about outcomes and also how it forked from the ideas behind Jeff Anderson's Lean Change Method. I also include some information about other people who have been experimenting with these ideas like Clemens Frowein, Jen Frahm and Angel Diaz Maroto.

At its foundation, the book is about debunking the notion of "resistance to change" which I feel is an offensive term.  People don't resist change.  They resist being coerced and manipulated and having change forced on them.   The "resistance" phrase implies that those pesky humans that don't want to change are bad people so if I label them as resisters I can deflect the responsibility off me and push it onto someone else.  Humans are awesome at externalizing blame.  If you look at Version One's Agile surveys, "resistance to change" has consistently been one of the top 3 reasons for "Agile failure" over the last number of years so I think it's important that people learn more about the symptom of resistance so they can focus on meaningful change.

InfoQ: Thank you.  You mentioned "meaningful change", what do you mean by that?

Jason: To me, meaningful change is change that positively impacts the lives of people.  I met Darryl Conner who wrote the book The Speed of Change and was truly inspired by his keynote.   He talked about how change agents have to love bringing meaningful change to organizations.  He also expressed concern that the change management world was heading too far down the process and tools path and losing site of the people aspect.   That was obvious when one of the presentations at that conference was about a new 15-step process that ensures successful change!

Many (all?) change "processes" are focused on improving the organization's capabilities and oh, if it so happens to improve the happiness of the people in the organization, yay!   

That's a little backwards for me and backwards for most of the people I know in organizational effectiveness, HR and change management roles.   They want meaningful change, that improves people’s lives at work, but are often hand-cuffed by systemic problems like having to 'ensure' some type of outcome by a certain date or worse, their performance review is dependant on implementing an organizational change by a certain date.

InfoQ: You mentioned Jeff Anderson's Lean Change Method.  What's the different between that and Lean Change Management?

Jason: Jeff was using Lean Startup approaches to Lean transformation when our team started working with him.  Right away we noticed the emphasis was on following a process and while we were using the right lingo (validation, pivot, cohorts etc), the essence of Lean Startup was missing.  That essence was Customer Development which, applied to change, is involving the people affected by change in the design of the change.

During my first week I remember Jeff asking me to say something "fluffy" during a retrospective because I was the A-typical people-person Agile coach.  Don't interpret that as a knock, we had some great fun with it.  I used to joke that if everything was up to me we'd all be hugging and singing Kumbaya!  We liked to have fun!

So I brought up my observations that we were burning people out by "pivoting" too often and that we weren't really applying any Lean Startup principles.  That changed our approach substantially over time.

The main differences between Lean Change Management and the Lean Change Method is that my book is more about the art side of change whereas Jeff's is more detail oriented as far as defining and executing a process.  This is natural because his analytical skills are top notch and he's one of the sharpest people I've ever met.  Me, I'm less formal, less process driven and spent the last number of years diving into the physiology and psychology of change.

Both approaches are based on the same principle, shorter feedback loops and thinking of the process of running an organizational or agile transformation is similar to running startup. That is, there is lots of uncertainty. Both focus on involving the people being affected by the change into the design of the change and accept the uncertainty that comes with organizational change.  

InfoQ: Many change initiatives fail as you mention. Is that also the case for initiatives around adopting agile or lean ways of working in organizations? If so, what are reasons or root causes for failing?

Jason: I'll have to back-peddle here a bit!  It's true I quote that 70% failure rate and so do many people in the change management world but I recently wrote about whether or not the 70% failure rate is a myth.  Perhaps more importantly, can organizational change be effectively measured for a binary success or failure criteria?

There are plenty of causes for the perception that change initiatives fail but again, we're left with perception and perspective.  There is no solitary root cause.  When I work with organizations bringing in change triggered by Agile and Lean adoption, I ask them how they'll measure success.  If they're ok with Happiness Index or simply answering "does it feel better to work this way?" that's good enough for me.  Some want outcomes tied specifically to change events and that's fine, that's how hypothesis work in Lean Change Management. 

Start with a hypothesis, define an outcome measure AND some diagnostics to see if you're headed in the right direction.  Coming up with leading indicators of success is really difficult when you're taking about organizational change.

Essentially figure out what is most likely to work given the organization’s culture, the products or services they offer, and other factors and let them decide how to measure success vs hitting them with the Agile stick.

InfoQ: Many say that enterprises need to continuously adapt and improve. As change becomes the only constant, is it still feasible to deploying changes in organizations using projects? Or do we need different ways to manage change?

Jason: Excellent question.  In the Agile world this is often referred to as a 'mindset shift' or a 'continuous improvement culture'.  Change projects, from my experience are typically at odds with that.  When change projects are treated like a regular project, they're subject to the same broken processes that other projects are.    That is they have a schedule, scope and budget:   Hey look, we're going to "be Agile" by Dec 1, 2013 according to the schedule.  Where's the status report?  All green!  Awesome!

In larger organizations a problem with using projects to manage change can be how organizational funding works.  Who's paying for the consultants?  Op Ex?  Project budget? No no no, you're not taking budget from my project!!  It's a broken system.

What I like to do is establish a change coalition (Kotter's 2nd step in his 8-step change model) and call it whatever makes sense in the organization.  That could be "Agile Steering Team", "Agile Centre of Excellence" or what have you.  I am clear with people who volunteer to be on this team that it will be extra work being part of this team and I make it clear with management that this team needs to operate in the whitespace of the organization. 

The best way I know of to facilitate change is to guide it towards the direction you want but allow it to morph organically.  Again, I'm referring to organizational change.  A "change project" in the sense of business process change probably should be handled as a project as long as it recognizes the unpredictable nature of people.

InfoQ: You use the terms "feedback-driven approach to change". That sound like common sense to me?

Jason: It is.  Looking at organizational change models out there, they imply a linear process for "ensuring successful change".  To me, that is selling the illusion of certainty.   Change brings un-certainty and our brains don't like un-certainty.  When the chemical reactions happen in our brains we can feel threatened by change and we will react with the symptom of 'resistance'.

That said, planning make us feel certain and it is necessary.  Lean Change Management simply moves the slider further towards the feedback-driven side from the plan-driven side.

Starting with Insights in the Lean Change Management loop makes it explicit that you must listen to the people and the organization through a variety of techniques.  You start with the feedback of the organization, not the plan.

InfoQ: You mentioned that ideas from lean startup are being used. Can you tell us more about that?

The best answer for that question can be found in this 2-minute video on Lean Change Management.

Lean Startup references an MVP, or, Minimum Viable Product.  Lean Change Management changes that slightly and refers to changes as MVC's, or, Minimum Viable Changes.  The objective of referring to changes as MVC's is that is gets the change agent focused on small changes that don't exceed the disruption tolerance threshold of the organization. 

I'm not sold on the term because what's minimal to me isn't necessarily minimal to the person within the blast radius of the change but again, it's deliberately used to get people thinking differently about change.

In a nutshell, form a hypothesis, figure out how you're going to test it, introduce it and review it.   Essentially you develop the change with the people affected by the change before planning and introducing the change.  That is NOT consensus building, that is understanding the impact to the organization and figuring out a solution that people affected by the change can live with.

InfoQ: The lean change management project will not only deliver a book; there will be additional materials. What kind of things can we expect, and how will they help people to implement changes in organizations?

Jason: We are planning on offering change canvas templates with video instruction, book study groups, coaching circles, other video tutorials and interactive Google Hangout sessions.

Happy Melly Express is doing a fantastic job of pushing the boundaries of traditional publishing and I am beyond thrilled that my book is their first experiment!

About the Interviewees

Vasco Duarte is an experienced Product and Project Manager and currently is an Agile Coach at Avira. Having worked in the software industry since 1997, Vasco has also been an Agile practitioner since 2004, he is one of the leaders and catalysts of Agile methods and Agile culture adoption at Avira and previously at Nokia and F-Secure. Vasco's contributions to the development of the Software industry and professions can be read at his blog or you can follow Vasco on Twitter: @duarte_vasco

Jason Little is an Organizational Change Coach at Leanintuit and Leandog, licensed Management 3.0 trainer, international speaker and author. Jason is passionate about bringing meaningful change into organizations and has been officially helping organizations adopt Agile practices since 2007. In his spare time he runs Lean Startup workshops with the Ivey School of Business and University of Waterloo.

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