Managing Change the Systemic Way

From the Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders Blog
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Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

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Luisa Cristini
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We live in an age not just of accelerated change but of complexity: we can never underestimate the importance of understanding the interconnections and interdependencies that underpin everything we do. That is why at Intelligent Management we look at everything through a systemic lens. This includes managing the process of change. 

How do we do it? The Deming cycle of Plan, Do, Study, Act is an ongoing process of improvement and innovation that any organization needs to embrace to face complexity and remain competitive. The Thinking Processes from the Theory of Constraints provide a solid, systemic analysis and roadmap of what to change, what to change to, and how to make the change happen.

Why Change? Because our reality hurts and we need to something about it

When our reality is biting us, it’s a signal that we need to do something. The cycle of Thinking Processes we use with the Decalogue approach to managing change starts by listing the things that are hurting. In the Theory of Constraints these ‘symptoms’ are called Undesirable Effects (UDEs). We may have no desire to change, but the UDEs are a prompt that make us aware of a need to change. The Undesirable Effects we experience are the result of the network of relations we are part of and that naturally evolve, whether we like it or not. In network theory, these would be referred to as ’emergent properties.’

Thinking Cause and Effect

Though some people may try, it is ineffective to adopt a ‘whack-a-mole’ attitude to cope with our Undesirable Effects one at a time. The reason for this is that each Undesirable Effect is interconnected as a symptom of an underlying cause. Whether we can do something about the cause or not, we need to change because that cause may in time severely limit our ability to achieve goals that are critical for us. That cause is what is blocking us from achieving more towards our goal. It becomes our constraint, and as Dr. Goldratt used to say, you can ignore the constraint, but it won’t ignore you. We need to learn to understand cause and effect, i.e. to recognize the effects we experience, and link them to their cause.

The need for systemic intelligence to cope with change

Goldratt created the Thinking Processes to fortify in people the ability to reason cause-and-effect. This is a daunting task because our mind simply does not work that way. In our daily lives, most of the time we “re-act” instead of acting and we very rarely understand the full spectrum of the consequences of our “re-actions”. But change is something that can be achieved. We just need to understand that it is a process, and that process goes through various phases, or levels of resistance.

Level 1: Disagreement about the problem

To tackle this level we must identify the cause of the majority of negative or undesirable effects that are being experienced. This can be done very effectively and quite swiftly through the ‘Core Conflict Cloud’.

Level 2: Disagreement about the direction of the solution

The direction of the solution is found by identifying solutions (called “injections” in TOC) to the core conflict. 

Level 3: Lack of faith in the completeness of the solution

A fully fleshed out solution needs to be mapped out. For this reason we build a ‘Future Reality Tree’. This process gathers together all the “injections” with a supporting logic to prove that the proposed changes will bring results. 

Level 4: Fear of negative consequences generated by the solution

People will be sensitive to possible negative implications they perceive for themselves through the implementation of the solution. The Thinking Process for this is called Negative Branch Reservation.

Level 5: Too many obstacles along the path that leads to the change

At this level, it is vital to be able to address and overcome the obstacles people see and the process for this is called an Intermediate Objective. All the necessary Intermediate Objectives (IO) can be mapped out on a ‘Prerequisite Tree’ in a logical order of what needs to be done first before another IO can be achieved.

Level 6: Reservations about our ability/willingness to implement the solution (and about the

ability/willingness of others)

To be able to carry out the projects that bring the new reality, there must be complete clarity on tasks. This is a critical phase in terms of leadership and can be greatly facilitated by giving and sharing clear instructions through the use of the ‘Transition Tree’.

The Human Constraint

Change is not just about doing things differently. It’s about thinking differently in order to make change possible. Many efforts to bring change fail because they do not address the cognitive challenge. This is what we have come to call the Human Constraint. When we educate ourselves to think and act systemically, we become capable of so much more than we imagine. As Einstein put it, “Those who think it’s not possible shouldn’t disturb those who are doing it.”

Angela Montgomery, PhD Intelligent Management Inc. Canada



Posted by Angela Montgomery on: September 30, 2019 12:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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Interesting perspectives. Thank you!!

Interesting approach to the topic.
Thanks for sharing
In times of change is it possible: "In order to be able to execute the projects that bring the new reality, there must be total clarity in the tasks"?

Clarity con tasks comes from using the Transition Tree because it requires those involved to verbalize not just the action but the need and the logic behind the action.

Great point Angela, very nice article indeed! Thank you so much for sharing. For me the main constraint is to address the cognitive challenge as you very well said. "When you can dream it, you can do it".

Totally agree with you Angela. Change is the new normal.

Thanks for bringing Goldratt into the equation. ToC doesn’t appear to be discussed as much today as it was at an earlier time, although the need for systemic thinking is just as dire now as then. Your clarification of acting vs. re-acting is spot on. One must be able to cognitively juggle the full myriad of actual interrelationships with potentialities in order to design a suitable course of change.

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