When it comes to managing change maybe we all need to become mixed martial artists?

In a 2011 study of project failures amongst of over 150 executives and $200M in investment it was found that over one-third of these projects were at risk of failure1.

Compare that with the seminal study of project failures carried out in 1995 by the Standish Group that showed 31.1% of projects fail, and over 50% over run their budget by almost 200%.

Based on research though it would appear that the widespread introduction of structured project and change management methods has done little to improve the chances of project success.

The list of change and project management methods to choose from, has certainly grown over the last two decades.  During my  career I have seen at least a dozen come and go, with each method building its own brand, loyal following and often being accompanied by significant investment in training and certification.

Maybe it’s the continued focus on singular methods over the past 17 years that has kept failure rates at one in three?

Could adopting a blend or “mix of styles” reduce your risk of failure, and save your company  thousands or possibly millions of dollars along the way?

Lets begin with an overview of some of the more popular methods.

Agile, PRINCE2 and PMBOK

Agile devotees claim speed and agility as benefits over their more rigid PRINCE2 and PMBOK colleagues.  Agile certainly works well in small teams, with a strong focus on delivery.  It replaces the “product description” of PRINCE2 with “customer stories” used to describe the key outcomes that project should deliver.  Would I feel comfortable using Agile methods to manage a company wide change program where comprehensive documentation was a key requirement? Probably not.

Lean and Six Sigma

Both Lean and Six Sigma have a strong track record of delivering significant benefits in the manufacturing sector with “hero” case studies from Toyota, GE and Motorola.  More recently it is being adopted by services industries with the major banks looking too them to remove cost and waste from their organisations.

Six Sigma uses its DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) approach to eliminate defects (OK, you’re allowed 3.4 defects per million opportunities, but that pretty close to elimination in my book)

Lean focuses on reducing and eliminating the seven sources of waste in a organisation.  The approach is well know for bring us the “Just In Time” philosophy, as well  as “Jidoka “ where any employee is empowered to stop the production line if they detect a fault in the process.

Both of these methods can be extremely powerful methods to take cost out of an organisation,  and raise overall levels of quality.  They do however leave a critical component out of the equation, namely the customer.  Womack and Jones address this to some degree through their introduction of the eighth form of waste in Lean.  Defining it as any process, service or product that does not deliver value as defined by the customer.

Design Thinking

If you are looking for an approach that puts the customer as the heart of its philosophy than Design Thinking must rank pretty highly.

Championed by Tim Brown from IDEO. IDEO are credited with designing Apple’s first mouse, and Professor Roger Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management who in his book “Why Design Thinking  is next competitive advantage” he says “The most successful business in the years to come will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality”.

Steve Jobs’ success is often linked to his unique ability to stand at the junction of technology and the humanities. The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in the biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.”

And if you think that Design Thinking’s customer focus means more focus groups and opinion poll think again. Design Thinking puts abductive logic at the heart of its process by making “logical leaps of faith” on behalf customers, based on deep understanding and empathy.

“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

Jobs goes on to quote Henry Ford: “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'”

It was only in a recent documentary that I realised that Face book’s Mark Zuckerberg studied  Psychology as well as Computer Science at Harvard.  Another example of a multidisciplinary approach yielding extraordinary results?  Is it Facebook’s superior technology platform,  or Zuckerberg’s interest in human social interaction that won Facebook its 900 million users?

What if we followed Bruce Lee’s example?

During the 1970s Bruce Lee caused controversy amongst the martial arts world claiming his mixed martial arts style Jeet Kune Do was superior to traditional methods. In his eyes these traditional methods had become too rigid, focusing more on “display” and  fixed patterns, rather than effectiveness in real combat situations.

His philosophy included some interesting parallels for today’s fast paced and unpredictable world:

  1. “Be like water”.  Move fluidly without hesitation;
  2. Economy of motion. Efficiency, Directness, Simplicity;
  3. Combat realism. “Boards don’t hit back”
  4. It’s only a name. I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or moulds”;
  5. Absorb what is useful and discard the remainder.

1. “Be like water”.  Move fluidly without hesitation

What if, armed with a broad knowledge and experience of a number of change management disciplines, we were able to moved fluidly between them as the situation demanded?

Break through innovation required? No problem switch to “Design Style”.  More speed and agility needed? Switch to “Agile Style”.  Concerned about change control and documentation? Switch to “PRINCE” style.

2. Economy of motion. Efficiency, Directness, Simplicity

Don’t get bogged down in project status meetings, and steering committees just because the manual says we should have one.  Keep them short, sweet and action oriented “Agile Style”.

And did the project really need comprehensive sampling and statistical analysis, or was this a Six Sigma Master Black Belt equivalent of a kata? See 5

3. Combat realism. “Boards don’t hit back”

This one is most relevant to your project managers and project teams.  Match your project manager to his or her opponent (i.e. the difficulty of the project or challenge they are taking on).  Some projects and challenges will need a more experienced hand.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers repeatedly mentions “the 10,000 hour rule” as a key to success in any field.  That’s almost five years of full time project or change management based on a 40-hour week.  Not someone who’s read the books, and just completed a crash course in their selected discipline.

4. It’s only a name. “I hope to free my followers from clinging to styles, patterns, or moulds”

This is building on point number 1.  Certifications, belts and methodologies have their place, particularly from an employer’s perspective.  However, keep an open mind when it comes to other “styles”.  Respect each style for its strengths, and actively seek out practitioners from other disciplines to share and exchange ideas and experiences.

Maybe adopting the Japanese “Kaizen Style” for continuous improvement is a personal philosophy we should all follow?

5. Absorb what is useful and discard the remainder.

This one speaks for itself, and will be different for every organisation and individual.

Over the years I have built my own mixed martial art method for change, based on what has worked for me in the past, and continually updated with new methods and approaches.  If you haven’t got a “toolbox” of methods and approaches that work for you, start building one.

The next time you are at a project kick-off meeting,  think of Bruce Lee.  You never know, it could make the different between defeating your opponent at hand, or suffering an embarrassing and expensive defeat by rigidly sticking to one style.

Search on YouTube for Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris.  I know which character I want to be.

1source http://www.pmsolutions.com

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