Shrink the change

Why don’t you try some other dish this time

says my wife to me when we are at the restaurant.

No, I like this one

I say.

And why change when I have found something I like?

This is me. I’m very reluctant when it comes to trying out new food or using a new store of any kind. This is also true for technology and development tools. When I find something that I like I tend to stick with it. At the other hand I usually don’t have any problem to adapt to new environments and circumstances. So when I do take the leap and try I seldom regret it and often it turns out to be a new favorite of mine.

Just as it is sometimes hard for me to try a new dish at the restaurant, helping organizations to change is often not easy. When you introduce new ideas and behaviors most people tend to resist just as I do with new food.

For a few years now I have been acting as an Lean and Agile change agent. I have done this both as an employee and as a consultant. I have had my share of successes and failures. When I look back and see what have worked and what has not I have come to the conclusion that it comes down to the size of the proposed change.

The bigger the immediate proposed change the stronger the resistance.

The way I have consistently succeeded in helping organizations change has been by shrinking the change. I break down the change in small, small, non threatening steps.

Well begun is half done.

This is one of my favorite Aristotle quotes. This is also related to shrinking the change. The more time people spend analyzing before they begin doing the greater the resistance becomes. I therefore suggest people to set up the change as a time limited experiment. When the short time limited experiment is over the change will be evaluated. If the change was not to satisfaction the change can easily be reverted, as it was a small change. This shrinks the change even further as people don’t have to analyze everything before they commit. They can try before they buy.

You can find much of this thinking in the great book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. You will find that shrinking the change is a core part of the Kaizen mindset in Lean. My favorite Lean book on this topic is Mike Rothers book Toyota Kata. The Kanban Method is also all about small evolutionary changes. I guess that is one of the reasons I find it a very useful method of changing and improving knowledge work processes.

I try to incorporate the thinking from the Switch Frame, the two katas from Toyota Kata and The Kanban Method when I act as a change agent. Here is my recipe for successful change when change is hard:

  • Shrink the change
  • Introduce changes as small time boxed experiments
  • Start by doing

Lets change the world one small step at the time!


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