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Lean Change Using Innovative Practices


Organizations are looking for ways to do continuous change to increase their agility. There’s an interest in practices that managers can use to make change happen in their organizations.

Jason Little wrote the book Lean Change Management. At the Dare Festival Antwerp 2014 he will talk about innovative practices for managing organizational change. InfoQ will be covering this conference with Q&As, write-ups and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Jason about his book on lean change management, what inspires him, and on using options and innovative practices in change.

InfoQ: Recently your first book Lean Change Management has been published. Can you explain to our readers what the book is about?

Jason: This book is a collection of practices for modernizing how change is managed within today's organizations. Many people, the Agile community in particular, cite Kotter's 8-steps as being a great model for managing change but it's almost 20 years old. The world of work is drastically different than it was back then. The traditional approach to change involves picking an off-the-shelf change method, planning it upfront, assigning a change team and then running into a wall of change resistance. I wrote this book to help people discover more effective practices for managing organizational change that are relevant in today's fast-paced, digital world.

InfoQ: For who is this book intended?

Jason: This book is primarily for anyone who is responsible for introducing and managing change in their organization. That includes Executives and managers who work as employees in organizations, as well as change management consultants, organizational development practitioners and Agile Coaches. I believe managing change is the responsibility of the people in the organization, not the consultants that are usually hired to hammer change into an organization which is why they are my primary audience. What I mostly see is consultants coming in with their 'best practices' and 'prescriptive change method' which makes perfect sense to them, but not to their clients. I want to change that. I want people who work in organizations to understand that they own the change and the process for introducing it. I want consultants to use the ideas in this book to help their clients understand this.

InfoQ: In the book you've combined ideas from agile, lean startup, change management and behavioral sciences. How did these ideas inspire you?

Jason: Back in 2010 I worked with Michael Sahota and Alistair McKinnell on a medium sized Agile Transformation. Michael introduced me to the A3 problem solving report and that became a focal point for the transformation 'continuous improvement' program. That one-page plan was an eye-opener for me but it didn't work really well for managing change. It was great for specific improvements but it was really low-level and tactical.

At Agile 2011 I ran a session titled "How to Get Started with Agile When You Don't Know Where to Start". In that session I debuted a one-page change plan that was inspired by the simplicity and power of an A3 report and expanded on a 4-step model I started experimenting with in 2009.

In this session I had a mix of executive, managers and consultants, all of whom had a drastically different stance on how to introduce Agile into their organizations. That experience led to me creating a video series for Inform IT and Safari Books titled Agile Transformation: A Guide to Organizational Change. That session and video series was the beginning of an almost 4 year journey to figuring out a better approach for introducing and managing change because I learned the process didn't matter nearly as much as understanding the dynamics of change. Before then, the AYE conference I attended in the fall of 2009, with it's focus on Satir and MBTI, was a huge influence on me as well.

As I learned more about Satir and MBTI, that led me into a whole other world of neuroscience, psychology and change management. In 2011 I found myself working as a product owner in a small company where I launched 2 new products using the Lean Startup method and then in January of 2012, I won the Lean Startup Machine in Toronto.

So that's the long-winded way of saying I spent a lot of time in multiple communities from Lean to Agile to Organizational Development to Change Management and beyond.

All of these communities have so many great ideas, and some really horrible ones too, so I decided to pick the ones I thought worked best and combine them. That idea was inspired by Jurgen Appelo's Mojito Method: Combining ideas from many areas is more effective than the individual ideas themselves.

InfoQ: One of the chapters in your book talks about options. Can you explain what they are, maybe give some examples how they can be used in change programs?

Jason: I was working with Andrew Annett and when we were talking about introducing changes, he suggested the term 'Options'. At the time, we didn't know that Real Options was a 'thing', but it turns out they are very similar. From Andrew's perspective, Options has a cost and value. That's how we prioritized changes. Using the idea of Options allows people affected by the change to be more informed about which changes make the most sense.

Over the years, I expanded the approach of using Options to also include an Impact. The Cost of an Option can be hard-cost like consultants or tools, but the biggest cost is time and loss of productivity. Both of those factors cannot be predicted or measured...they are based on gut feel for the most part. The Impact of the Option factors in the organization's culture, nature pace of change they can handle and how much of the organization would be affected by that Option.

In change programs, applying the idea of Options helps the change team and executives understand where the trade-offs are, which changes are most likely to work based on the parameters of their organization and which changes are a good idea, but not likely to work. Options have a shelf-life too, if executed at the right time, they'll work, otherwise it simply might not be the right time to implement it.

The underlying meta model behind Options is by making these Options visible, including the ones that might not work yet, you start to get people thinking about the future and possibilities. As a consultant, I find this approach extremely effective because at some point, usually months later, my words come out of my clients mouth! Sometimes that is frustrating, but sometimes it takes people in organizations a long time to understand what is as simple as breathing to me.

InfoQ: At the Dare Festival in Antwerp you will be giving a talk about innovative practices for organizational change management.Can you gives some examples of practices from this talk? How can people use those practices to drive change?

Jason: This talk is designed to illustrate why it's time to change how we think about change. Static, linear and standard change processes don't make sense anymore. It's time to stop 'driving change' and start moving towards continuous change. Some of the practices I'll talk about will include how to build your own change management process including developing and building your own change canvases to suite the organization and the type of change being introduced. Since "one page change plan" isn't cool or buzzwordy enough, now I call it an Organizational Change Canvas! Humour aside, the name and format of the canvas doesn't matter, the conversation that happens in front of it does.

Others practices will include practical exercises for architecting change. While that might sound nuts to some people, or sound like big-plan-upfront planning, it's not. It's about exploring the impact of change with the people affected by the change so they have a sense of ownership about the change.

At the end of the talk, people will be armed with practices they can use right away.

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