By Jorge Valdés Garciatorres, PMP
"There is nothing so practical as a good theory."
Every project will lead, eventually, to a big or small transformation. However, the PMBOK® Guide doesn’t outline the processes needed to prepare an organization for the transformation that will come with the project.
Organizational development, created by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, is the discipline that covers dealing with organizational transformation. In my opinion, Lewin, a natural agile thinker, was ahead of his time. If you review his intervention approach known as “action research,” which is iterative and based in retrospectives to learn and improve, you’ll see why.
Characteristics of a Successful Transformation
Organizations are open, complex and dynamic systems. Intervening within a company to transform it in any way is an adventure that should be addressed from a systemic view.
It is no secret that the transformation journey can be painful and even traumatic for some. However, if organizations want to maintain relevance, it is crucial to build resilience into their DNA. With the right approach, change and transformation can become not only a reality, but an important development opportunity for employees and organizations.
Here, based on my empirical experience, I will outline elements that must be present to enable transformation and the minimum systems that must be addressed to increase the probability of success.
In my experience, the transformation should have, at a minimum, the following five elements:
- Top-level sponsorship. Management must offer the appropriate support and sponsorship of the transformation, providing the vision or purpose of the transformation and bringing collaborators into it.
- Big ideas. As a consequence of top-level buy-in, you will typically have the end goal in mind, and you’ll need to establish a path forward. Big ideas will give direction and inspiration to the collaborators and help them to better visualize what lies at the end of the path.
- An involved team. Those who will lead and participate in the project and those who will be impacted by the change need to be considered. This could be addressed from the very beginning during the information gathering and interpretation of such information. These points of view must be taken into account from the verbalization of the opportunities or problems, to the configuration of a viable and valuable solution. Even more, you have to build a social fabric that helps enable the project. You need to lean on project internal influencers (agents of change) who will exercise their leadership for the benefit of the project.
- Identified challenges and viable solutions. Around every process of transformation there is a force field, which Lewin called driving forces and restraining forces. To bring about change, these forces must be brought into imbalance so that the driving forces are strengthened and the restrictive forces are weakened. This, in addition to the energy put into the transformation, will help the team approach the finish line more efficiently.
- Moderated action. Limit the implementation efforts so that you are always acting at a high-impact, low-complexity level. This ensures the delivery of usable results for the organization, minimizing deviations and risks. In addition, having low-complexity implementations generates a positive inertia towards the change process. Lewin’s action research approach serves as a foundation for this element.
Subsystems to Address
The change effort should be addressed in a balanced way with a systemic approach. To achieve this, I usually use the model outlined by Patrick Williams, which comprises four subsystems:
- The environment subsystem: This represents the influence that the external environment exerts on the organization, the organizational context itself and the strategic focus of competition. When faced with a transformation, the environment must be evaluated to identify which aspects must be taken care of.
- The management subsystem: This subsystem includes the vision, the beliefs, the leadership style, the way decisions are made, the way communication flows, the risk appetite of the organization and the level of commitment that management has with the transformation process.
- The technical-work subsystem: This includes aspects such as information technology, work models, toolkits, methodologies, machinery, processes, formulas, equipment, structure, and roles and responsibilities, all of which are factors that can favor or inhibit the changes that are to be implemented.
- The human-social subsystem: This represents the people who have skills, knowledge, competences, motivation, needs, attitudes, commitment and expectations, as well as the interactions among these people, how they deal with conflict and how they communicate to find the best path of action.
In my experience, using the above elements—plus acting small by using the low-complexity/high-impact approach—will put you in a better position to tackle the challenges of your transformation journey, with an agile approach.
What about you? How are you managing the transformation that comes with your project?