Monday, 16 January 2012

The Human Face of Transition

One of the people I’ve connected with through Twitter is Bas de Baar. He’s The Project Shrink and in his own words he makes ‘complex people stuff less complex’. I like the way Bas writes and I particularly like the way he uses hand drawn images to simplify difficult problems without trivialising their importance. In a recent post The Project Story Circle. Talking About Transitions he’s used a simple yet very effective drawing. A circle as the cycle of a project and through the centre of it a horizontal line representing the project itself. The two halves can then be viewed as project and non-project time. Read his post for all the details because here I’m picking up on one particular bullet point he makes:

This will focus attention on the transitions organization-project and project-organization.

What Bas suggests is that the shape can be used when discussing projects and where in the circle people join, become active, and where they expect problems to occur. As a delivery specialist I see companies and their people struggle repeatedly with transition from project to organisation and believe the struggle can be simplified by using this drawing. Let’s take a look at an approach to change management and transition that most will be familiar with then see how this simple drawing could help.

First, what resembles a fairly typical approach?
A company embarks on a change programme and include in their project organisation a workstream responsible for change management. Primarily that group is tasked with delivering Culture (shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that form the work environment) and People (organisation structure and charts, roles and responsibilities, governance, FTE [full time employee] changes etc) change. Bottom line they tend to have an HR and organisation structure focus. The workstream responsible for developing and deploying the solution works with business representatives or subject matter experts (SME’s) to ensure the receiving organisation has the right people in the right place at the right time with the right training and skill competencies in order to receive and operate the deployed solution.

It sounds good and should work, right? On paper yes but in practice it's a bit hit and miss. Why? Because the change management team is concerned with form, structure, and control mechanisms and the solution team is concerned with well, the solution. Yet the big challenge in transition is operational acceptance and uptake, ie: the human bit that uses the solution. It’s this gap in the organisation-project / project-organisation flow where I see Bas’ drawing creating opportunities for increased value-add and cost savings. 
If the project manager, business owner and change manager actually worked together ego, methodology and agenda free for the good of the business, they could use this drawing to jointly and objectively uncover, plot and properly address all the human related capabilities, needs, issues, and challenges likely to occur in the project lifecycle. Result? An instant visual of the gaps usually left unattended until they hit the proverbial fan during training or, worse still, on deployment weekend.

Beware, this isn’t a one off exercise. Successful transitions need more than hard skills alone. By the various workstreams approaching this with a different mind set then really working together they will create sound transition plans that combine both the hard and soft skills necessary to deliver successful change programmes. Remember an intelligent transition begins early and continues to evolve throughout the project lifecycle, shifting and morphing as the business and its operations respond to market conditions.

My advice and approach is to use the tools and techniques that make sense rather than those dictated by a method. Simple is often best.

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