Where to Start a Transformation?

So you’ve decided to go ahead with a transformation. How should you go about it? Where should you start? And whom should you start with? Does it matter? I suggest that it does indeed matter, and a lot.

For me anyway, one method has worked so much more successfully than the others that in my mind it is a “no-brainer.” That method is to cultivate fully the most fertile plot first. I call this the depth-first approach. Let me explain that. One of the first decisions that need to be made is whether the transformation will be attempted by moving everyone in lockstep, or whether there will be some form of staggered rollout and whom to start it with.

False Choice

Forgetting for a second the irony of using a big batch approach to lead a Lean or Agile transformation, we find that even the lockstep method ultimately devolves in a gradated approach. I’ve never seen a sizable group of people in which everyone is subject to identical constraints or internalizes new concepts at the same rate. Thus, even when the big batch method is attempted, you end up with pockets where certain concepts are applied ahead of others. Therefore, in no time at all some individuals and teams require a different kind of coaching. Whatever economies of scale are hoped for with the big batch approach, they quickly evaporate due to the now differentiated demand for coaching. Since coaching and mentoring capacity is usually limited, the change agents have to prioritize the opportunities for assistance.

The Who

Perhaps you pick the toughest critics and attempt to convert them first, figuring that if you can move them, you can move anybody in your organization. Or perhaps you are better off aligning with like-minded people and equipping them to evangelize on your behalf so that you can magnify your influence.

The Where

Space-wise, you could identify some of the organization’s biggest problems and attempt to solve those with the Agile mindset. If you crack one of those nuts, the likelihood that the others can be cracked too increases. On the other hand, maybe you should be wary of what is likely to be a tougher slug and instead pick a space where success is both more likely and less distant.

Mind Your Credibility

If you work in an organization that looks anything like the ones I’ve worked in, you know that people are more swayed by results they can see than unverifiable tall tales of riches. I try to never forget that as the change agent, I’m also perceived as the salesman. Increasingly tangible evidence of success may be required to move the transformation through the typical phases of adoption. This is where native stories are so important, and why I set out to create and record them as soon as possible.

Selecting the Right Investment

Every bit of transformational success is akin to making a payment to the bank. With that payment usually comes a deadline extension and an increase in credit score. Over time, as a portfolio of native successes is built, there are fewer resistors. Success begets success.  That’s why I choose to cultivate deeply the most fertile organizational plot I can find.

I’d sincerely love to hear from those who have experienced success with the breadth-first approach. I’m curious to know what conditions had to be true to make it work.

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