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Be the Change Maker: Leading Change & Transformation

I didn’t know it then but looking back I can see that each program leadership role that I had was really a change maker role. I was often assigned to lead teams and programs that needed help to stabilize and scale, and I gradually became known as someone who could rescue programs and put them back on track to accelerate. 

My first formal change making opportunity came when our investment bank CIO decided that the entire IT team should become CMM Level 2 compliant. Two consultants were hired and they went from team to team with their thick green book that outlined methodology and processes that they advised teams to adopt. The quickest way to “transform” was to adopt the off the shelf process and call it done. 

Not surprisingly (for anyone who knows me), I was a hold out. We were one of the last — maybe even the last — team to engage in the process. The thought of someone telling us how to work didn’t sit well with me. I resisted as long as I possibly could until we became the barrier to the entire organization achieving certification. Eventually, when we had to bite the bullet, we did it our way.

I never was a fan of unnecessary processes that didn’t add value — in fact, my mantra has always been  “no process for the sake of process”. When I investigated what CMM Level 2 really meant to understand what was needed to become certified, I was delighted to learn that it simply meant that we (a) had to have a process and (b) show that we followed that process. 

At the time, our product development/operations team had a software development process that was loosely defined, not well documented and some things slipped through the cracks. This meant that the software wasn’t as reliable as it needed to be, and wasn’t ready to scale. Cross functional teams didn’t collaborate as well as they could and this resulted in disconnects and missed opportunities. The team worked really hard and did great work, however sometimes we didn’t have the results to show for it. 

Without any formal change management training, and leaning heavily on John Kotter’s principles of change, I coined an initiative called “SPICE”, which stood for “Software Process Improvement and Capability dEtermination”. Apparently there was a formal process using this acronym, however I liked the acronym — it grabbed attention and it didn’t indicate anything to do with process improvement — so I went with it.

spice presentation

In the kick off meeting with the team, we laid out why we were doing this – and managed not to mention process improvement or the big green book anywhere in the discussion. I found a paper copy of the slides when I was cleaning out my office sometime ago and kept it as a keepsake – the approach is as solid now as it was back then.  

My manager pulled me aside after the meeting and said that he was amazed that we had gone all the way through the meeting without mentioning “process improvement” once. That wasn’t intentional, we didn’t deliberately avoid using those words — our focus was just on figuring out how we could work together more collaboratively and innovatively, producing higher quality outcomes in a more predictable and consistent way. 

When I look at the details of our “why”, these issues are still an issue for many teams today, so I thought I’d share some of the content here. We started with outlining our compelling reason to do the work:

“But Why…. (do I really really have to…?)

Programs are meeting targets for the most part, so what’s wrong with what we’ve got…?

Problems cited included:

  • Missed opportunities due to lack of awareness, knowledge, big picture/strategic vision
  • Lack of impact by not being focused – context switching makes it difficult to focus
  • Some programs have a mature process while others don’t have a process at all
  • Overlap between teams with unclear division of responsibility, which results in unclear ownership of tasks, delayed response time, reactive rather than proactive response, and multiple points of contact
  • Large number of projects in-flight with limited awareness by the full team”

It finished with the section that clinched the deal for the team and allowed them to buy-in:

“We are not maximizing our potential as a team – we could be making a greater impact –

  • Currently not taking advantage of the expertise within the team
  • Could make better use of architects during design
  • Architects could use input from development team and subject matter experts during policy design and governance
  • Need to make sure that the right people are getting involved in the right projects across the team, at the right time.”

The result was that we did achieve CMM Level 2 within a few months. A year later, we were one of a handful of teams that had managed to stay in compliance. We adopted a continual review and refinement approach so a year later, we were running the programs much more smoothly. The process improvement initiative acted as a catalyst for a true transformation for how we worked as a team, and dramatically boosted the value we provided to our business users.

The teams that adopted the off the shelf process rather than customize a process that worked for their program, fell out of compliance quite quickly. They found that “process for the sake of process” didn’t work and instead the effort wasted a lot of their time. A year later, while they were getting the work done, they still faced the same challenges and limitations. 

Here are the steps that we used to create this transformation:

  1. Create a vision that is bigger than you 
  2. Collaborate as a team to develop the vision, and outline outcomes and approach
  3. Build a coalition – get buy in from the team, your executives and stakeholders
  4. Implement changes in steps, enabling and empowering the team along the way 
  5. Build in continuous improvement with continual review and refinement 

Leading change that transforms teams and organizations requires work that goes beyond communications and messaging. The messaging is important and shouldn’t be overlooked, however, messaging won’t compensate for lack of vision or a lack of alignment on the required outcomes. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing additional articles on how to be a catalyst for change in your organization, how to establish the climate for change, and how to lead change effectively.  I hope you can join us in the conversation here. 

Can you 𝒃𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆 you’d like to see in your organization?

Are you ready to be a change catalyst or lead the change?

What change would you like to see in your organization?

If you’d like to explore having our help enable your team or accelerate your transformation, reach out so we can find a time to talk.

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2 Comments. Leave new

Gerard Begley
May 18, 2022 7:24 am

This is elegant and it makes sense. In the end, change won’t happen without good communication. In my role, I often receive emails from other managers talking about a changed or new process that must be followed, with the new process attached. I almost invariably reply with a suggestion that the ‘change owner’ organise a couple of short sessions (15 minutes) for those who are expected to embrace and embody the change so that all those stakeholders who make the time investment can learn and understand what, why, who, when, etc., and ask any questions they want. Sessions like these also allow people from different departments to understand the impact of the change on the whole organisation.
So, in short, without effective communication (and prior communication planning), there won’t be any change, and sending an email with a new, mandatory process, just doesn’t cut it.

Reply

    Well said Gerard. Process-centric approaches and process for the sake of process never works. A people-centric approach engages the right people from the inception of the idea, through design and implementation and then continuously afterwards to refine and improve. This people-centric approach works for large system implementations or small process improvement initiatives. Thanks for chiming in with your story!

    Reply

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