Planning for Transformational Change

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The recent Lamri-sponsored CMMI Made Practical conference in London hosted a lively group workshop on the subject of Planning for Transformation Change. This lies at the heart of CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) as a working reality, for while anyone can propose change and posture about its importance, making it happen within any business can be an uphill struggle that can often be lost before any worthwhile benefits manage to show themselves.

The workshop set out to break the problem down into definable issues, and then set about brainstorming answers. The following covers the main ideas to emerge from the session, and set out a good basis for a long term plan for any business looking to implement change—even if there is no intention to go for formal CMMI accreditation.

Why change and what change do you need?
The biggest driver to promoting change is a catastrophy that actually happens to a business. But there are other drivers such as profit margins not being up to expectations, a change in external influences such as marketplace or competition changes, or business consolidation where different processes start to come into play.

How much to change?
This depends very much on the size of the company. It also depends on cultural issues within the business, so there is a need to focus on people rather than tools. In that context it is quite common to attempt change too quickly, or go too far in what is changed, so it is important to build in periods of consolidation, where the changes can be assimilated by both the workforce and other processes. This also reduces the possibility that there is a slide back to ‘old ways’ once the pressure for change is reduced. It is important to give staff ‘little wins’ as part of the process in order to demonstrate the benefits that change can bring.

How to build real and continued top management support?
The first step is to engage top management in accepting the need for change and improvement in processes. Ways of kicking this off include selling them the vision of their ability to improve areas of the business and what this is going to achieve for them. There is a need to sell what improvement means in terms that top management understand, such as impact on the bottom line. So one tactic is to suggest making improvement successes a contributor to their bonus, particularly for Line of Business managers. The consensus was a contribution of around 15% of the overall bonus and that it is for being a good corporate citizen.

It is also possible to use fear and intimidation by using available negatives—such as the damage that can be done to company reputations through poor processes and service, or the fact that they can end up spending investment funds over again, for the same thing, within three years if processes are not improved. Also suggest that their jobs are likely to change anyway within 3 years, whether they want it to or not (though it was acknowledged that this can have career limitation potential for the ‘messenger’).

It is also important to show others within the business that top management support exists. This can be done by getting top management to help deliver the message, particularly in terms of communicating directly with staff via emails, fronting workshops and the like. It is inevitable that some top management will have doubts, but even here it is important that they do not show those doubts in public—at best, they should be advised to remain silent.

Once they are engaged, there is a need to keep them engaged, and one of the key options here is networking—keeping them, along with all relevant stakeholders in the change process, not only well-informed but also showing that their needs and issues are being listened to and reflected.

Another option is to go for some form of publishable achievement. In the context of the event the suggestion was obviously accreditation at one of the CMMI Levels. The point here is that this becomes a publishable achievement that top management in the business can be seen to have bought into, even if an individual top manager changes. It is also a useful two-edged sword in that, once published, it becomes more difficult for management to back-slide away from the changes at a later date without generating the appearance of failure. In fact, the gentle pressure becomes towards more change and a higher accreditation level.

How to move from ‘talking process’ to improving business performance?
The first thing is to avoid process analysis paralysis, so you need to set some important targets. For example, set target dates for when the first drafts of process changes or new processes need to be completed. Use small groups to focus on each process development and set up a process governance or approval group, with all stakeholders participating, to oversee the operation. All process developments then go through this group.

Use peer reviews on the process developments—though it is important to ensure that the best or most appropriate individuals are involved, rather than just selecting participants on the principle of Buggins’ ‘Turn’. By all means use off-the-shelf packages to help run the development and implementation of processes if they are suitable to the job in hand and if there are sufficient people around who know and understand the package. But be aware that starting a process of major change is often not a good time to attempt learning a new package and can be a huge hindrance on implementing improvements.

It is also important to give the staff using the processes some rewards for their efforts working with something new. This need only be small, perhaps a team lunch or boxes of chocolates, but it is an acknowledgement of them doing their job with the new process. It is also a good idea to recognise good work as early as possible, as this is a better investment than offering prizes to the firefighters who can resolve, post hoc, problems caused by poor processes.

How to make improvements simple, so everyone ‘gets it’?
The key here should be obvious but is worth stating nonetheless; it is good communications with people. There is a need to make it easy for new staff to understand the processes as quickly as possible, so have processes properly documented, and use diagrams rather than text wherever it makes sense. It is also good to give users a bit of background context as to why a process improvement is being introduced—though it will be necessary to accommodate the subjective nature of that information. For example, an engineer is likely to see a different set of values in an improvement from those seen by a sales executive, so it is important to remember the audience being communicated with.

Worked examples are often a good tool for getting the idea of a new process across to staff, so examples of best practice associated with each process are worth developing. The availability of an online feedback mechanism for users is also important. This is particularly useful for the process architects.

How to use reporting?
The obvious things that need to be reported when implementing process improvement are successes and exceptions, not only upwards into top management but also across all relevant stakeholders. A Red:Amber:Green Gap Reporting system is one approach—where the ‘gap’ is the difference between what should be happening with a process or its development cycle and what is actually happening, and where ‘Red’ indicates falling behind in some measurable way.

This information is usually simple to portray and publish, and the next step is to use it to exercise the natural competitive nature of most staff by making the state of the Gap Reporting system a management competition. For example, few responsible stakeholders will want to be ‘Red’ on their part of process development more than two weeks in a row. On the upside of that, those with consistent ‘Green’ results may qualify for additional bonus or some other reward. It is also important to report how feedback is followed up and gets results, as this brings user buy-in. It is important that the metrics used are easily understood by all stakeholders, so use common ones such as Customer Satisfaction Survey results.

How to keep it going?
This is, essentially, a process of continual reinforcement of the messages about process improvement and reinforcement of the improvements themselves, demonstrated by on-going benchmarking. It is also important that a succession plan is in place to accommodate inevitable staff changes over time, otherwise improvements can be lost as staff move on.

How do you know you are changing?
There are two main areas here. One is to ensure that appropriate metrics are maintained over the long haul so that improvements can actually be measured. The other is more subjective, in that the cultural changes associated with process improvements will become apparent. At that point the ‘change’ has in fact become the ‘norm’ for that point in time.