The Power of Pilots

Leaders are tempted to decide on organizational or workflow changes and reveal them with a “big bang.” The reveal will often include a new org chart with the instructions that we’ll figure out the details later. As organizations grow larger and more complex, the success of implementing change in this way becomes questionable. At the very least, the changes will be stressful but they are often painful to those affected.

As I see it, here are a few of the problems with using the big bang approach when it comes to organizational change.

First, the changes are often designed in isolation. Change originated in isolation is rarely received well – even if the change being designed is solid and sound.

Second, the changes are often reactionary. Change originated as a reaction to a negative event or issue will often bring emotion and politics into play.

Third, the changes are often made in desperation. Change originated from desperation will limit options and creativity.

An alternative approach would be to use pilots to prepare and engage an organization around the change. Pilots are small, controlled initiatives with a select group of people or teams. During our Agile transformation, we used pilots extensively to see what would work with our organization and what would not.

There are cases when a change cannot be piloted but if you start early most of them can. Here are a few of the advantages in piloting organizational change initiatives:

They put ownership in the hands of those most impacted. Change is not easy on people. Most people do not like change and they especially don’t like it when they feel like they have no control over what is changing.

They allow you to experiment with your ideas. Looking to merge departments or remove constraints in the value stream? Setup a small transformation team to capture the current pain points and use the pilots to experiment with new roles, activities, or work products.

They allow adjustments to be made. Once the pilots are underway, use them to learn how the changes are received and if they are effective. Make changes as necessary and pilot them again.

They build examples and evangelists of the change you are looking for. Once a pilot is deemed successful and the change is moved to a broader implementation the people on the pilots become advocates and evangelists for the change.

Again, starting change initiatives early and getting those who are impacted involved will allow organizational change to be truly transformative…and you may find that you have created an empowered workforce along the way.

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