Why do companies decide to embark on process improvement and transformation initiatives in the first place? And who is making that decision anyway? Do they understand how this works, and are they ready to go through it?
Transformation success depends on our attitude and expectations. They’re generated from our background and context, but we need to shape them properly so we’re not becoming our own worst enemies. The greater the transformation we expect, the higher the cost we have to pay, and it usually starts dramatically.
Why does a company take off on this journey?
Let’s imagine the company you’re managing is not the tiniest couch startup anymore. You’re either the owner or a high-level manager who has come to the point to realize that your company needs a refill of organizational caffeine. There are 50-100 employees in several departments and teams, and there might be some outsourced work as well. The wheels are turning, but the results are not bright. The ugly truth reported weekly is delays, gone customers and lost opportunities, over-budget deliveries, waste and rework, unengaged teams, high employee turnover, low quality, and constant complaints from all parties.
I can tell you right away that you’re the most challenging company profile for a transformation project. Not because of the problems, but because something seems to work; however, it will have to be transformed to start working better. The biggest challenge is for you, as the sponsor, to understand that the big jump in productivity and customer satisfaction, which are going to be the results of this project, are not for free. The other key factor for the success of the initiative is to lead by example.
Process improvement never ends, and it starts with demolition.
Yesterday, my two-and-a-half-year-old son and I played with his couple of hundred lego bricks. We were building garages for the as many car toys he has. My design resembled our underground parking lot with garage cells. I used all of the bricks, and we built six cells. I was really pleased with the architecture.
Then he started getting the cars out through the back wall.
Startled and disappointed that he was destroying my beautiful garages, I realized that we didn’t need the back walls at all!
So I removed the back walls, doubled the cells, and increased the functionality of the whole thing – now we could come from wherever and get out both ways, saving plenty of time in maneuvering.
Have you started a reconstruction project at your home? Whether you rent or own it, there’s always something to repair. And if you want a greater redesign in UX and functionality, you might need to destroy a wall or make a window bigger. You will need a big heavy hammer for that.
You have to be completely aware of the process improvement mechanisms before giving that project the green light. Your ‘house’ will get dirty, and there will be a sudden hole behind your TV, a wire cut, and why not a new leakage.
The process improvement project will inevitably muddy the waters for your company at the beginning. Your results will worsen temporarily. You will be paying both the consultant and your teams not to produce and deliver but to learn.
It will also take more than initially anticipated because it’s a relationships-intense project. Your ‘hammer’ – the transformation ambassador – will need mostly time and primarily for building relationships with you and your team, and if you’re ready to go all the way – with your customers as well.
It will be hard for you to observe this in the short term. But remember – getting better is not for free. Depending on how big your company is, your performance will degrade for a month or two or more. And yet, you have to embrace this degradation.
The status quo must be destroyed to establish the new one, which is also subject to continuous improvement.
That’s right – the new system will never be ready. It’s not something you build and forget about it. You need to review, evaluate and be prepared to tweak it often. At the same time, you also need to give it a chance to work for a while, so you have enough data to make an informed decision about what needs to be further adjusted. That’s also within the project’s scope – continuous training and support from your coach.
Transform top to bottom. Lead by example.
We can call it change management, agile transformation, management consulting, business process optimization one way or another. They are not the same thing, of course. However, as initiatives, they start the same way and, unfortunately, very often end the same way. They fail. Why? Very simple – impatience, miscommunication, and wrong scope.
I’ve just failed my first official “agile transformation” attempt. Well, perhaps not the first and not that the others were highly successful. Anyway, here’re the lessons learned the hard way.
A recent tweet from one of my favorite coaches inspired me further – Why do change management initiatives never include higher management?
It’s more than expected, and that’s the main reason for firing coaches. The upper management agrees on initiating a transformation project, but not considering that they are also within its scope. Transformation cannot happen halfway. It’s just not physically possible. If the management thinks they’re not part of the project, that’s already a symptom.
If you hire me to guide your transformation, I will need to spend a week or more with you and your management team first and last in the first round of the project. You are in the scope as well. Your management style and directives are probably the reason for the current situation, and the sooner you’re ready to change, the sooner the whole company will be.
Deliver incrementally and ask for feedback.
One of the revolutionary approaches the Agile mindset brought to software development – but not limited to – is incremental development. Imagine working six months or a year over something without getting any feedback. You’re already late because that is how it is. Then the test team reports a couple of hundreds of bugs, realizing not only that the code is a complete mess, the design is not fit for purpose, but there have been absurd contradictions in the requirements, most of them missing and no longer valid. My stomach hurts while I’m writing this.
So, we claim we’re no longer building software like this. (Call me immediately if your teams still are. It’s an emergency.)
Instead, we deliver in small, incremental, low-risk, and high-value portions. We’re keeping the customer close, and we’re asking them for feedback making sure we’re working on the right thing for them and us.
Then, is there any doubt that every project will be much more successful if executed following the agile principles?!
Build something, not the whole of it, still as much as it can demonstrate enough. Ask for feedback – is this what you need? How are you going to use it? Does it cover all the aspects of your intent? If yes, proceed. If not – change, destroy, build again.
In a process improvement project, there are two customers. You are the customer for the transformation agent, but your team is your customer. The excitement in their voice, saying “good morning,” indicates if hope has returned to the teams and they’re feeling the wind of change.
Lead by example, and your team will know you care for them. Show that you will not cope with being a mediocre company serving just enough customers to pay the bills. Prove that you want to grow and exceed your customer expectations by following processes, policies, and practices that your team has developed.
If you think you’re ready to take off, book an appointment. We’re going to identify where your shoe pinches the most and explore the starting strategies for your context.