Description: When circumstances change such that team plans or goals no longer makes sense, the team does not recognize that fact—or if it does, it does not react—until too late. The most comprehensive solution is to convert to agile methods of work management. Non-agile teams, or those still struggling with major changes, can be helped by the following techniques.
Create a new team procedure entitled, “Response to Change.” Possible steps include:
- If a member or manager gets any information that might require a change in a goal, procedure, or team plan, that person provides the information immediately to the team.
- The facilitator puts the topic as a new issue on the next team meeting agenda and invites any nonmembers who might have insights or be affected.
- At the meeting, the person who raised the issue discusses why they think this information might require a change.
- The facilitator leads the team through the following questions/steps. Note that the questions focus on possibilities, not on whether or not the change or its effects are definite:
- “How might this impact the (procedure/plan)?”: List all possible outcomes, positive and negative.
- “How likely is each outcome?”: Have the team rate them “high, medium, low, or none.”
- Quantify the effect of each outcome in terms of time, money, or performance standards.
- “How would the (procedure/plan) need to change to exploit the positive changes or accommodate the negative ones?”
- “How much would making each change cost in time or money?”
- Determine which, if any change(s) should be made, based on each outcome’s:
- Net cost of making the change, found by comparing the estimated cost to the estimated benefits.
- If changes are to be made, assign action items.
Risk management planning is a more proactive version of the previous technique, and is a best practice for project management. The idea is to predict some of the changes that might impact the Continuous Improvement Plan or a work plan and identify ways to address that impact in advance. Although these are called “risks,” they can be positive changes as well. For example, if you finish one task way ahead of time, but the next task cannot start until another team provides a deliverable, what is the best way to use the extra time?
A simple risk management approach appears below. Notice that rough statements of impact and likelihood are good enough for this exercise, since it deals with a very uncertain future. Do not let the team get caught up in detailed estimates.
- In a meeting, ask the team:
- “What could go wrong in this work that would affect our ability to complete it as planned?”
- “What could go right that would affect the plan in a major way?”
- Using “Brainstorming” or a similar technique, have the team develop a list of possible answers (called “risks”).
- Ask: “How much of an impact would each risk have?”
- Have the team rate and assign impact numbers to each risk using this scale:
- Using the same scale, ask and rate: “How likely is each risk?”
- Total the numbers, and for each risk scoring at least a 4, determine which of these methods should be used to handle the problem:
- Avoid—Change the plan to get rid of the risk.
- Transfer—Shift the risk to someone else (for example, by outsourcing part of the work, or buying liability insurance).
- Mitigate—Take steps now to reduce the impact or likelihood of the risk, such as building extra time or money into the plan to cover the possibility.
- Accept—Take no action unless the risk arises.
Note: Base this decision on each outcome’s:
- Net costs (not only money costs) of addressing the risk versus the possible loss or benefit.
- Determine what, if any, specific changes should be made based on the decisions.
- Assign action items to record this information as the team’s “Risk Management Plan” and make the Step 7 changes.
This exercise should be used if people have started talking about a potential change and seem concerned. Its purpose is to reduce resistance to the change before it happens.
Create Force Lists
- Define in a short sentence or two the change that seems to be coming.
- Draw a line down the middle of the board.
- On one side write “Forces for Change,” and on the other, “Forces for Stability.”
- Help the team identify the forces pushing and resisting the change, and list each on its appropriate side of the board.
- Forces for Change:
- Management directive.
- Customer request.
- Market changes.
- Supply changes.
- Labor shortages.
- Forces for Stability:
- The success of current approaches.
- The investments required to respond to the change.
- Attitudes expressed by statements like “That’s not how we do it,” or, “That’s not our job.”
Note: The resources and effort already spent on current approaches should be ignored. Economists call these “sunk costs,” resources that cannot be recovered regardless of what you do next. Focus on the return on future investments.
- For each Change Force ask:
- “Is it inevitable, or can it be avoided?”
- “If it is avoidable, are the possible costs of avoiding the Change Force (not only money costs) higher than those of adapting to it?”
- Move any force that can be avoided to a new list labeled “Avoidable” and erase it from the Change Force list.
- For the remaining Change Force(s), ask: “Who is behind the change force?”
- Compare the answer for each Change Force to each Stability Force this way:
- Ask: “Will the individual(s) behind the Change Force consider this Stability Force a viable argument against the change or for modifying it?”
- If the answer is “yes,” put a check next to the Stability Force each time.
- Erase any Stability forces that receive no checks.
- Ask, “Given the balance of Change and Stability forces left on the board, how inevitable is this change?”
- If the change still seems inevitable, move on to the “Change Management Procedure” above.
- If not, mark the item as “Avoidable.”
- Create action plans for avoiding each “Avoidable” force, such as creating an argument against the change or trying to alter the change or its impact.
If a preferred course of action must be abandoned due to a change, acknowledge the loss. Mentioning it and expressing sorrow is usually enough. But if you want, you could hold a moment of silence or a silly wake for it. People come to identify with plans into which they have invested time and effort. Teaming experts suggest it is easier for them to let go if they take the time to acknowledge the loss and its impact.
Full citations for the footnotes are here.
 For more information, see Project Management Institute 2017.
 Based on Weaver & Farrell 1997.