Agile Development, Information Technology, Life, Product Development

Manage change with agility, not just ability

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.  When I pondered over this popular quote of Charles Darwin, the other day, it occurred to me that ‘change’ is a profound phenomenon that impacts the way we live, work and do virtually every task. Change affects to a large extent, every human being in every phase and walk of life…young and old, rich and poor. Not only people, but organizations too have ‘change’ staring in their face and they have a greater responsibility to manage it and use it to their advantage. In this post, I will touch upon the key aspects of managing change and how organizations need to respond effectively.

The writing is on the wall

When they say that change is the only constant in this world, they meant it to the letter and spirit. Understand that everything is bound to change one day or the other in one way or the other. Don’t think that change is a negative thing and that we need to avoid it, evade it or confront it, to the least. On the contrary, change is for the benefit of all of us and take it as a positive factor that drives us in our lives and careers. Change is inevitable, be prepared for it and embrace it with all the preparation you can.

“Change, for your good
Change to take the lead
Change to be the best!”
 
Ride on the waves of change

In the context of product development and management too, change does play its role to a large extent and leaves its rather heavy imprints. Here, it does touch and signify its presence across all the strata starting from stakeholders, to customers and from partners to the development team. And to manage this change at various levels, organizations need to rely not just on their traditional abilities such as reputation, market capitalization, production capacities etc. To stay ahead in this game of managing change and lead the pack, organizations need to be nimble-footed, flexible and embrace change and act swiftly. Don’t fight change, you may not win the battle and it is not worth the effort. Instead try and ride on the waves of change and you will potentially have a joy ride.

Factoring for change – external and internal

The most important reason for success is to aspire for and be prepared for it. I like the Scouts movement started by Robert Baden Powell and the motto with which the cadets are trained. Every Scout lives by the motto “Be Prepared” and is ready to face, come what may. The Scouts go through a series of training sessions, equipped with the right tools and techniques to be prepared all the time. Similarly, organizations and especially product managers have to follow a few things to do as a precursor and warm up to the game of managing change effectively.

Identify all the potential factors that could affect your organization and products. Categorize them into external and internal factors for easy listing. Some of the external factors that are possibly candidates for change are the market forces, competition,  out-of-control factors related to demand and supply dynamics, Government policies etc. The internal factors could be the capabilities of your own development teams, their skill sets, organizational set up, company policies and politics, to name a few. Of course, these factors could vary from industry to industry and also depends on the nature, size and type of the product you are developing or managing.

To be and to do 

The most important thing is to know what you want to be and what you need to do to reach that stage.

  • Identify the strategic vision of the organization
  • Put together the long term, medium term and short terms goals for the business
  • Identify the key stakeholders who directly influence or influenced by these goals
  • Get all stakeholders aligned and seek their commitment

After you are done with listing the ‘to be’ goals, map them with the internal and external change factors that you identified earlier. The next immediate step is the creation of a ‘to do’ list which is derived from the mapping of ‘to be’ and the internal and external change factors. Often this list of action items is all you need to kick start a movement in your organization. I can’t prescribe the ‘to be’ points as they vary to a great extent based on the industry, domains, your own organization goals, products, people and processes. When you have this list by you, your product can be said to be put on the track. Once on the track, it is entirely up to you as a product manager to drive it in a way to meet the ‘to be’ goals.

Making elephants dance

What among the two items do you think makes it to breaking news- a dancing hyena or a dancing elephant? You are right, its the dancing elephant that makes it to the rolling marquee. It might be for various reasons, but sticking to the subject of the post, I wish to focus on the abilities of a dancing elephant such as its size, presence, and respect that make it a head-turner along with its newly acquired talent of dancing. The combination of agility with the abilities such as market presence, strong brand, talented workforce etc., would work wonders for your organizations and products. It is this healthy blend of the critical success factors and better change management tactics that make successful companies and products.

When I was doing my MBA, a few years ago, I read a book written by Louis Gerstner “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? – Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround”. I loved the way that a company of the size and presence of IBM could be successful despite its size. IBM today is a 100 year-old organization which has seen itself grow from a company making ‘adding machines’ to a pure-play services company that it is today.

   

Everyone would have been surprised when IBM (I guess in 2005) announced that it was selling their PC business to Lenovo. I still remember some people questioning the decision to move out of the business which the company had grown out of as bread and butter for almost 50 years. Even Mr.Gerstner would not have imagined that IBM would rewrite its own History in such a bold way. But, IBM stood by its decision, after reading the writing on the wall, assessing their own strengths and heading up the path of action. A classic case in managing change, using the agility as the key over abilities as the key differentiation.

Agility is the key 

Think of something that could work. Try it for sometime and check if it  is working or not. Adapt it to suit your goals and continue the process. This is the only way to manage the ever-changing landscape of products market. To be able to manage change on a continuous basis, it is not enough if you do the above things once and leave them there.

Here are my tips for making agility as your all-weather friend!

  • Take a few tasks and stick to them religiously. Discipline is paramount for success
  • Be always on the lookout – learn, apply and share the learning
  • Look, observe, listen and understand what is happening around you
  • Revisit your change factors, to be and to do items continually
  • Assess where you are, where you need to go and re-plan how you can reach there
  • Restructure your teams to suit the ever changing demands
  • Try new and different ways of doing things
  • Don’t be too rigid with products, processes and people

Hope you have some useful takeaways from this post. Try the tips I gave here and see if it works for you. Let me know your views and ideas. Till the next post, ciao!

7 Comments

  1. Diane castor

    Wonderful article. I’m struggling with exactly the same difficulties that you mentioned and I find your tips help me overcome those problems. Thanks very much!

  2. Terry S

    Like your blog post on the change management. Specially love the way you related agility and adaptability to change and how you can leverage them to respond to change. Keep posting similar good ideas!!!

  3. Somesh

    I agree with your points .. This also stretches my understanding of agility in terms people, process and product.,… However, I am more concerned about of agility in with respects to software delivery model which traditional companies have been following so far.. and now customer’s demand for more agile approach adds more trouble for managers..

    there are questions, which needs to be answered from agility in service providers perspective. I would love to see some more articles in near future.

  4. Vanessa K.

    Great blog post on managing change…very practical dos and don’ts. I am keen to put your suggestions to test in my job as a product manager. Keep up the good stuff!

  5. Adrien Byron

    Hey, you stated in a much more direct way what I was trying to communicate, Thanks. I will recommend your site to my friends.

  6. Richie J

    Really impressed with your views on the change management. When you refer to agility, i guess you mean the larger context of responding to change and not just agile development methodology. Good post overall. Keep it coming!

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