Revolutionary change? What is it? Why is it risky?

This article is also featured on LinkedIn by Kyle Chandler

You’ve known for a while now that something has to change. You’re losing customers, and you need to get business back on track. You have been planning a transformation for six months, and it will be a massive undertaking. You slump back on your chair and put your hands on the back of your head. You let out a sigh. Today is the day. You know it’s time to execute. 

Will it work? According to global consulting firm BCG, “75% of transformation efforts don’t deliver the hoped-for results.” Will you get the return on investment you hope for, or will it flop? It has to succeed. Your business and your career are on the line. 

Have you ever been in this situation? Are you in this situation right now? What can you do to increase your chances of success? Let’s explore this together.  

What is Revolutionary Change?

A revolutionary change effort is a signal that the once well-adapted status quo is no longer performing. Customer satisfaction, acquisition, or retention may be in the red zone and may have been for a while. Once you start looking for solutions, some damage has already been done, and now the business is set for reparation.

Changing Customer Expectations

Under these circumstances, companies tend to embark on a revolutionary change. They redesign parts of the organization to elevate their capabilities so that they match or exceed customer expectations. The redesign often includes drastic overhauls of existing processes, roles, processes, tools, technologies, responsibilities, departments, and staffing. It is thorough and all-encompassing. In a waterfall-based software development organization, that may mean dismantling existing teams, creating new cross-functional teams, and installing unfamiliar processes/practices, like scrum. 

Revolutionary change is a significant undertaking and your team’s capabilities can take a deep and lengthy dip as a result

Revolutionary change is a significant undertaking and your team’s capabilities can take a deep and lengthy dip as a result. During this, they are likely to struggle to deliver as effectively as usual. With time and a toll, they will adapt and a new higher-performing status quo will emerge. Will your sponsor be patient enough to persist?

J-Curve

When the Change Agent Get’s Fired

With revolutionary change, the amount of pain felt can be too deep and last for too long. That’s when the sponsor tends to panic, and the person conducting the change gets fired.

During this dip, leaders are left explaining to customers why things aren’t being delivered at their usual cadence. You may have even prepared customers in advance for expected delays during the transition. But if the pain of a change lasts for too long, sponsors can lose confidence and patience. With revolutionary change, the amount of pain felt can be too deep and last for too long. That’s when the sponsor tends to panic, and the person conducting the change gets fired. I’ve seen this happen. It’s not pretty. 

When the change agent gets fired

Unfortunately, this may leave your team without the support they need. It is unlikely that they achieve the desired capabilities and in some cases, your team can end up performing even worse than the original status quo. If they don’t achieve the desired capabilities, the change has failed, but a solution is still required. The organization will hire yet another change agent to plan another revolutionary change. Unfortunately, that means your team may be subject to more failed changes. Instead, it may be time to explore the benefits of an evolutionary change approach.

Evolutionary Change 

The Kanban Method rejects revolutionary change and embraces evolutionary change because large changes are less likely to succeed and cause too much pain for everyone involved.

Instead of a systematic redesign, the Kanban Method installs mechanisms across your existing teams that enable continuous learning and improvement, starting from where they are now. It makes how effective the organization delivers value to its customers visible and encourages smaller safe-to-fail evolutionary changes that get’s no-one fired. Although small, these changes tend to have a profound impact on the organization’s capability and business outcomes.

With evolutionary change, your team’s capability will temporarily dip as well, but each dip is much smaller and more tolerable than in revolutionary change. The payoff is also faster. This increases the likelihood that the changes will succeed, and that your investment will pay off. 

Kanban J-Curve

What if you’re already improving?

The Kanban Method harnesses our natural tendency to find better ways of working and provides guard rails that help accelerate improvement toward desired outcomes. 

Many organizations are quick to point out that they are already evolving. It is inhuman to believe otherwise. People usually find ways to make their work easier and more effective. The Kanban Method harnesses our natural tendency to find better ways of working and provides guard rails that help accelerate improvement toward desired outcomes. 

Continuous Improvement With Kanban

In my experience, it is common for organizations to feel that improvement is the same as reacting and putting out fires and preventing those fires from reoccurring. If you car keeps catching fire, and you fix and prevent each fire does it make the car run more efficiently? faster? Not necessarily. Instead of encouraging a haphazard focus on random, reactionary, or today’s hottest issues, the Kanban Method focuses on optimizing issues that align with the desired state, which optimizes for improved capabilities, and business outcomes.

In summary, evolutionary change is more likely to help you achieve your business outcomes. Even if you are already continuously improving there may be a case for you to accelerate it with the right techniques. Finally, we’ll leave you with one thought. If your team is continuously improving using evolutionary change, will they ever need a revolutionary change?

More Resources

To learn more check out our ultimate guide or get a copy of these books:

  • Essential Kanban Condensed by David J. Anderson
  • Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business by David J. Anderson

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