Five factors which expand change programmes

Beautiful additions or unwanted accretions?

Beautiful additions or unwanted accretions?

Change programmes often do too much.  If you are taking over a change programme, or you are the sponsor of a change programme, the first thing to do is to make absolutely sure that everything that’s happening is purely and simply in service of your stated objective.  This may seem obvious. However there are many factors which increase the size of change programmes, and there mighty few which decrease their size. So if you have a limited budget, or limited time, and I’m sure you do, then you’ll be vigilant to ensure your programme is contained, and you’ll want to manage expansion very carefully.

Here are five factors which expand change programmes.

1) The “while you are up there” phenomenon

You know the scenario. A person is up a ladder, to adjust a loose roof tile, perhaps. It’s a 10 minute job, they’ll be finished in time for lunch. However while they are up there, their significant other shouts: “While you are up there, can you have a look at that guttering? It was blocked last time it rained. And, oh, should you fix the TV aerial properly? It is at a bit of an angle…”. And so the small job expands, and person up the ladder doesn’t come down until it gets dark, and there are still a number of jobs to do tomorrow.

"….and while you're up there, can you….?"

“While you’re up there, can you….?”

The same thing happens in change programmes.

Unlike a rolling stone, a rolling change programme gathers moss. Once the programme is funded and on the move, suddenly everyone’s related task becomes a contender for inclusion. Often, excellent cases are made for doing this. After all, it’s just a small adjustment to the schedule. However these small adjustments add up. If the job is to streamline the invoicing process, then we must do just that.  We must not get embroiled in redefining invoicing standards. We must resist entering corporate combat about governance along the whole supply chain. We must not get stuck into transforming the corporate budgeting cycle. If these things need doing, then fine, but they are different projects, and, importantly, they need new resources and budget. Resist attempts to add small tasks that are incidental to the main objective. Stay pure.

2) The drive to solve the root cause

It is the mentality and training of engineers and other analytical people, of whom I’m one,  to want to tackle the underlying problem.  If we are asked to improve the accuracy of invoices, we are inclined to make a survey of the entire supply chain, end-to-end. We inevitably uncover deep-seated problems whose resolution demands renovation of a large part of the company.  This may not be what was envisaged by the project sponsor, and will almost certainly blow the budget. It also may not be necessary to do all this simply to solve the problem as presented. In times of constrained budgets and limited timescales, it is expedient to address the symptoms and not the causes. We must become expert at mending things. It may be helpful to know the root cause, but its not always necessary to fix the root cause.

3) The bandwagon effect

If  a project is going well, then people want to be part of it.  Existing projects, and initiatives that have previously been shelved, suddenly manifest themselves and become part of that dynamic movement forwards. This slows down the original project, dilutes its effect and absorbs its budget. Beware of the bandwagon effect: maintain focus.

4) The revenue incentive

If the project team consists of members of a consulting firm, then they will be motivated to increase consulting revenue.  One way to do this is to increase the size of the project: to extend its scope and to lengthen its duration. This is not bad or wrong, it’s just good commercial sense from the point of view of the consulting firm. There’s nothing the matter with it, so long as you, as the client with the objective and the budget, remember that this is the case. Take this into account whenever you are reading a report, assessment, diagnostic or position paper.
There is also a milder version of this when internal teams are used.  A good team has a survival instinct. If their project is going well, they will want to do more, address more issues, continue the good work. This expands the project and may not be in budget. Again, it’s not a bad thing, it just tends to expand the project. As sponsor of the change, make sure you factor  the motivations of your advisors into your decision making.

5) The inflation effect of reviews

Governance reviews tend to add things, not take them out. A common contribution is “Have you thought of this….?”
If you take a project plan to a review, it will come out with more activities in it, not fewer.
So, if you are planning a review of the plan, make sure you signal that you want activities scrutinised for removal or reduction. Try, even as an exercise, asking ‘what is the worst that could happen if we don’t do this?’ Make sure that every activity is delivering something tangible towards your objective. Activities to scrutinise for possible removal are:

  • benchmarking
  • data collection
  • consultation
  • status quo mapping
  • gap analysis
  • reviews

This is not to say that these activities always can or should be removed. But they should at least be challenged. Remind people of the programme objective. Demand that each activity is justified in terms of this objective. Insist that data collection and consultation are important, but they are not a substitute for timely management decision-making.

I am sure that these are not the only factors which expand change programmes.

What tendencies have you noticed to expand your programme, and what counter-measures do you have in place?

Categories: The process of business change

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