Three Steps to Change Management

LinkedIn Group Discusses Change Management

The idea of effecting change within a business is exciting and positive, but it can, at the same time, cause some stomach turns for Lean professionals. Even with experience, and sometimes because of it, the task of changing minds, processes, and habits can be daunting.

Users on LinkedIn Six Sigma, Change Management, and Lean Methodology groups often bring up the topic of which tools and habits make for the most effective and easy-to-implement improvement projects; it’s no secret that overeager or under-qualified evaluations, resistant workers and management, or unpreparedness can turn a well-meaning improvement effort into a nightmare.

As such, Ricardo Anselmo de Castro asked users what their “number ONE” rule was for “making things happen” with their Lean efforts. As usual with these things, there was some consensus, and some divergent thinking, but the ultimate conclusion I could draw from this one is that the idea of “ONE” cure-all just isn’t a realistic pursuit. Instead, I’ve gone ahead some of the best points from the discussion into a quick, simple, 3 Step Guide; here’s to hoping it helps you get things done!

Step 1. Lay A Foundation

One of the first steps to bringing any project to completion in the business world is making sure that you’re working on the correct project in the first place. Throughout the conversation, a common belief was the notion that you had to have hard facts and data to back up your projects before you started formulating a specific strategy, let alone trying to convey that strategy to others and sell them on your ideas.

Desk Audits

User Parashuraman Ramaswamy suggests “desk audits” to identify problem areas in your business, and as a good starting point for backing up project plans. The term “desk audit” refers to close scrutiny of various workstations or individual units within a business. These audits look for problems or slowdowns, much in the same way Lean practitioners use a “Gemba Walk” (the two are really the same thing, in most senses).

Using a such a strategy with an open mind and no agenda can help you objectively spot things you might have otherwise missed. Showing that you’ve audited many aspects of a business before deciding on one process to tackle can help assure others that you’ve done your homework and are going to be dedicating resources where they’re most needed.

Value Stream Mapping Pack
Value Stream Mapping Solution Pack

Visual Mapping

User Prashanth Baragi’s number one tool is Value Stream Mapping, or VSM. VSM is another tool for holistically evaluating an operation, thought it works in the reverse of auditing; instead of focusing on small individual units first and comparing them later, you map an entire overview of production, and then assign values to the efficiency of various processes and decide which area you’ll focus in on.

Both approaches are valid, and the main point, again, isn’t that one tool is the end all be all, but that you’re using something effective to help back up your projects.


Ultimately, all auditing, visual mapping, and whatever else you use are meant to get you to the goal of step one: Documenting your process and making an informed, research-based decision.

Step 2. Cultivating Buy In

GEMBA - Observe, Improve, Engage
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Everything you did in step one to lay a foundation for your change management is to aid you in the biggest hump in the system:  Getting buy-in. ‘Buy-in’ is the mental currency of all audiences affected by your projects, those whose support you’ll need to move forward. While I’ve done an entire article on cultivating buy-in for continual improvement/Lean projects before, the two main parties you need to be concerned with – and thus the ones we’ll skim over here – are your directly affected workers, and management.

Management: Love it or hate it, wooing those in power is pretty much a necessity; if you aren’t completely autonomous in your decision making, then the biggest barrier you’re likely to encounter is simply that someone in charge doesn’t see the value in what you want to do. At worst, they may simply see the re-organization, new systems, etc. that often come with continual improvement/LSS as wastes of time that divert their workers and resources.

Luckily, you’ve got a secret weapon, and it’s all that helpful research you collected in step one. When you don’t fully understand a topic, you might be impressed by someone else’s knowledge of it, but that doesn’t mean you agree with everything they’re saying, because you don’t have the authority on the subject to.

Don’t give management this same excuse; you don’t only need to use your research to prove that you’ve done your homework and know exactly what the company needs to improve (and how to do it). Instead, what you need to focus on is how to present that information so well that management feels educated enough to agree with and understand your ideas and goals.

This not only helps with initial approval, but also project longevity. Your boss is going to feel much more comfortable having an understanding of what’s happening as time goes on.

Employees: Depending on the setup of your company, those on the ground might not have as much of a say in whether your project gets off the ground or not, but they certainly have an influence on how far it gets. Buy-in with workers is absolutely essential as you’ll be asking them to learn to do things in a new way, etc. for weeks, months, or even permanently depending on your aims.

A great quote to come out of the discussion was offered up by Kevin Erickson and reinforces the need to be receptive to the needs and concerns of your audience while carrying out step two (and even step one, for that matter):

“This is why the number ONE rule for me is to LISTEN. I mean really listen, in order to understand what the process, current and potential, means to its stakeholders. What do they like and dislike about current? What do they like and dislike about any proposed change?

Nothing else matters unless we get this right and getting this right will support the change that matters.”

Step 3. The Follow-through

The last step is to follow through on what you’ve set in place. It’s easier said that done, and it’s not even said that easily because how you keep your program on track is largely a function of individual circumstances. Even so, keeping your original goals in mind (not getting sidetracked), keeping your two primary audiences informed every step of the way, and having an effective method for measuring the impact you want to have will all help you succeed.

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