Use ‘What Works Now’ to deliver change

How do I get there from here?

How do I get there from here?

Visions and gap analysis produce big projects

“by looking for a gap, you find it”

Most conventional change projects proceed by creating an ambitious vision, analysing the status quo, and then conducting a gap analysis that shows how the status quo must be changed to match the vision.  This gap analysis forms the basis of a project plan which can then be implemented.

This method has formed the basis of many successful change projects.  A “visioning” process is often inspiring for the participants, since it sets ambitious goals.

However, the method has the following features, which sometimes undermine the project.

It produces big projects: often described as “step-change” IMG_2985

The dynamic of the method tends to create a gap between the vision and today’s state: by looking for a gap, you find it; The project team needs to find a gap in order to plan activities. It is in the interest of the project team to make the gap as wide as possible.

The first three steps: – Vision, Status Quo, Gap Analysis – produce no change at all, but cost money. 

If the project is stopped after six months, nothing has been achieved.

It produces feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, leading to lack of collaboration.

The status quo is presented as having deficiencies that need to be remedied.  Hardworking people who have created and maintained today’s processes are criticised and their work is characterised as inadequate or defective.  This has the effect of making people cautious about revealing data and anxious about collaborating with the project team.

 These factors can be properly managed so as to make the project a success.  Another option is to adopt a different view about how to deliver change.

The alternative is to start with what’s there now

“much of what is wanted by the project already exists in the organisation”

I call the alternative the “What Works Now” method: use what’s there already.  This method works best for structural or cultural change projects such as:

–       Centralisation or decentralisation projects, and integrations or amalgamations of departments;

–       Creating closer or different links with suppliers or customers;

–       Process improvements, for example to improve customer service, or improve the sales process.

The method starts with the bold assertion that much of what is wanted by the project already exists in the organisation.  Groups of people, or isolated individuals, are already working towards the project goals, even if they don’t realise it yet.

These elements of existing successes may be small, isolated or localised.  For example if the project goal is integration of several groups, then certainly there will be examples in the existing functions where this is happening today.  By co-incidence or design, a pair of locations might already have the same choice of software, or use roughly similar decision-making processes.  Some managers will already have seen the possibilities of pooling resources.

The steps in the method are:

1. Set the project direction

For example: “amalgamate these five departments”, “centralise the finance function”, “organise by product line”.

2. Find what’s working now

Discover and catalogue as many instances as possible which are going in this direction: these are existing successes.  Publicise these successes so people know what to aim for.

3. Strengthen, encourage and equip the existing successes, and put them in contact with each other.

Expand the existing positive elements and extend them to other area. Bring together initiatives which share common goals and accelerate them. Shape and co-ordinate the existing successes and assemble into a coherent whole.

The role of the project team is to discover, encourage, accelerate existing endeavour, and then to shape existing successes within the organisation, so as to form a well-supported flow of change in the intended direction.  This work, since it is working with existing initiatives rather than fighting them, uses fewer project staff, and engenders less opposition then the “step-change” approach, although the net amount of change produced is probably just as great.

Building on What Works Now is fast, effective and inspiring

The principle is to expand what’s working, rather than to fix deficiencies. By expanding what’s working, the deficiencies eventually get superseded by better practices.

This method has several advantages over the problem-fixing, gap-analysis method:

–       you find success quickly, starting today;

–       people want to be part of it: they are part of the solution, not part of the problem;

–       it is possible to stop the project at any stage: you have still achieved something.

This method may be combined with the “visioning” type method.  Elements of the vision probably already exist in the organisation.

Do it now

“elements of the vision will be there if you look for them”

It may seem outrageous to assert that the “vision” already exists in the organisation.  However it is my experience that elements of the vision will be there if you look for them.  It is no more outrageous to assert this than to assert that an organisation can be moved through a discontinuous step-change.  There are always elements of continuity in any change.

By working with the threads of continuity as well as the needs for change, it is possible to make a change programme which delivers early “quick hits” and which engenders collaboration and immediate payback.  It’s a low risk way of delivering change, and you can start immediately.



Categories: The process of business change

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