Top 5 Challenges with Current Ways of Managing Multiple Change Initiatives

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Managing multiple change initiatives is not a new concept nor is it new to organizations.  What is perhaps ‘newer’ is how change practitioners are using data to manage multiple changes.  Change practitioners that manage a portfolio of initiatives used to focus on building capability in various arenas from employee capability, leadership capability, through to the effectiveness of engagement and learning channels.  However, using business and change management data to help companies is just as critical. 

In this article, we will explore the top five challenges associated with the current approaches to managing multiple change initiatives.  We explore these common approaches and critique key challenges, along with alternatives.

1) Using Change Heatmap to Classify Departments Impacted

Change heatmaps have become a popular tool for classifying departments based on the impact of a change initiative. However, two key issues often arise with this approach: the oversimplification of the traffic light classification system and the lack of granularity at the department level.

One of the most common ways to visually depict the impact of multiple changes is to use the heatmap.  This is normally using a 3-point rating system (high, medium, low) to determine the level of impact across the various departments across the organisation.  Whilst the rating process is an easy exercise, there are some very serious challenges:

  • Even for the 3 level rating system the change practitioner may be challenged with how this rating is determined and what it is based on.  Not every team within the same department may be equally impacted
  • There may be different impacts for different roles within the same team and department
  • The impact may be different depending on whether the focus is on employees, customers, process, system or partner
  • Typically most use a monthly rating scale.  However, for busy organisations with lots of changes, the change volume may go up and down within the same month.  With one rating it oversimplifies what actually happens throughout the month
  • With only 3 levels of ratings, a lot of departments end up having the same rating level for months, meaning there is not much they can do with this data.  
  • In Summary, the summarised monthly rating for one department indicates medium-level change.  But at what time of the month, for what role, for what team, and for what type of impact? 

The below is an example of a change heatmap from the University of California, Berkeley.

a. Traffic Light Classification Too Simplistic:

The traditional red, yellow, and green traffic light system used in change heatmaps is a simple way to communicate the status of a department’s readiness for change. However, this simplicity can be misleading. Red may indicate a problem, but it does not provide insights into the nature or severity of the issue. Likewise, green may suggest readiness, but it might hide underlying complexities or dependencies. 

Even for the 3 level rating system the change practitioner may be challenged with how this rating is determined and what fact it is based on.  Also, the impact may be different depending on whether the focus is on employees, customers, process, system or partner.  Typically most use a monthly rating scale.  However, for busy organisations with lots of changes, the change volume may go up and down within the same month.  With one rating it oversimplifies what actually happens throughout the month.  Even if the singular departmental rating is split into rating by initiative, this does not provide an aggregate department-level rating that is aggregated based on logic.

To overcome this challenge, organizations need a more nuanced classification system that takes into account the specific issues within each category. This could involve incorporating additional colours or using a numerical scale to better represent the diversity and complexity of challenges within each department.

b. Department Level Not Granular Enough:

While change heatmaps provide a high-level overview, they often lack the granularity required to understand the specific challenges within each department. Different teams within a department may be impacted differently, and a broad classification may not capture these variations.

To address this issue, organizations should consider adopting a more detailed classification system that breaks down each department into its constituent parts. This granular approach allows for a more targeted and effective change management strategy, addressing specific issues at the team and role levels.

In Summary, the singular monthly rating for one department indicates medium-level change.  But at what time of the month, for what role, for what team, and for what type of impact?

2) Using Project Milestone Roadmap to Sequence Impacts

Project milestone roadmaps are commonly used to sequence the impacts of change initiatives. However, this approach faces challenges in terms of the sufficiency of milestones and the difficulty of overlaying multiple capacity considerations.

Below is an example from Praxis Framework.

a. Milestones Are Not Sufficient vs Overall Aggregate Impact Levels:

While project milestones provide a structured timeline for change initiatives, they may not capture the full scope of the impact on the organization. Milestones often focus on project-specific tasks and may overlook broader organizational changes that occur concurrently.  For example, adoption may require months and is not a single point-in-time milestone per se.

To overcome this limitation, organizations should supplement milestone roadmaps with an overall aggregate impact assessment. This holistic view ensures that the sequence of milestones aligns with the broader organizational objectives and minimizes conflicts between concurrent initiatives.

b. Difficulty of Overlaying Multiple Capacity Considerations:

Managing multiple change initiatives requires a delicate balance of resources, and overlaying capacity considerations can be challenging. Project milestone roadmaps may not adequately address the interdependencies and resource constraints that arise when multiple initiatives are in progress simultaneously.

To enhance capacity planning, organizations should invest in advanced project management tools that allow for the dynamic adjustment of timelines based on resource availability. This ensures a realistic and achievable sequencing of impacts, taking into account the organization’s overall capacity.

3) Relying Purely on Excel and PowerPoint to Manage Multiple Change Initiatives

While Excel and PowerPoint are ubiquitous tools in the business world, relying solely on them to manage multiple change initiatives presents challenges related to the agile nature of changes and the difficulty of having interactive data-based conversations.  This is especially the case that most change initiatives are digital changes, and yet they are been managed using non-digital means?  How can change practitioners ‘be the change’ when they are using dated ways of driving digital change?

a. Agile Nature of Changes Means Ongoing Updates Are Required:

Change initiatives are inherently dynamic, and their requirements can evolve rapidly. Excel and PowerPoint, while useful for static reporting, lack the real-time collaborative capabilities needed to accommodate the agile nature of changes.

To address this challenge, organizations should consider adopting change management and collaboration tools that enable real-time updates and collaboration. Cloud-based platforms provide the flexibility to make ongoing adjustments, ensuring that stakeholders are always working with the latest information.

b. Difficulty of Having Interactive Data-Based Conversations and Federated Model of Change Data:

Excel and PowerPoint may struggle to facilitate interactive discussions around change data. As organizations increasingly operate in a federated model, with dispersed teams working on different aspects of change initiatives, a more collaborative and integrated approach is essential.

Implementing dedicated change management platforms that support interactive data-based discussions can enhance collaboration and provide a centralized repository for change-related information. This ensures that all stakeholders have access to the latest data, fostering a more transparent and collaborative change management process.

4) Preparing Business Operations Readiness for the Amount of Change

Preparing business operations for a significant amount of change requires a strategic approach that incorporates capacity and time considerations while maintaining granularity in data.

a. Using Business Operations Speak: Capacity, resources, time.

Business operations readiness is often discussed in terms of capacity and time. However, the challenge lies in translating these concepts into actionable plans. Capacity planning involves understanding the organization’s ability to absorb change without compromising existing operations, while time considerations are crucial for ensuring a smooth transition without disruptions.  

Change practitioners need to distill the ‘ask of the business’ in business speak.  Business stakeholders may not be interested in the various classifications of change or the varying degrees of cultural changes involved.  What they are interested in is what you want from my team, how much time you need them to dedicate, and for what team members, so that they can plan accordingly.

b. Granularity of Data:

The granularity of data is essential for effective business operations readiness. Generic metrics may not capture the specific needs and challenges of individual departments or teams, leading to oversights that can impact the success of change initiatives.

Implementing a comprehensive data collection and analysis strategy that considers the unique requirements of each business unit ensures a more accurate understanding of operational readiness. This granularity allows organizations to tailor change management strategies to specific needs, enhancing the likelihood of successful implementation.

5) Getting Executive Engagement and Decision Making

Ensuring executive engagement and decision-making is critical for the success of change initiatives. However, achieving this engagement poses its own set of challenges.

To overcome this challenge, organizations should:

Establish Clear Governance and Engagement Channels:

Ensure that there is in place clear governance bodies making decisions on the overall control of initiatives across the organisation.  Communication channels between change management teams and executives should also be well-defined and effective. Regular updates and transparent reporting on the progress and challenges of change initiatives build trust and encourage executive engagement.

Align Change Initiatives with Strategic Objectives:

Demonstrate the alignment of change initiatives with the organization’s strategic objectives. Executives are more likely to engage when they see how a particular change contributes to the overall success and growth of the company.

Provide Decision-Making Frameworks:

Equip executives with decision-making frameworks that guide them through the complexities of change initiatives. Clearly defined criteria for evaluating the success of a change, along with potential risks and mitigation strategies, empower executives to make informed decisions.

Highlight the Business Impact:

Clearly articulate the business impact of change initiatives. Executives are more likely to engage when they understand the tangible benefits and potential risks associated with a particular change. Use data and analytics to support the business case for change.

Offer Ongoing Support and Education:

Ensure that executives have the necessary support and training to navigate the complexities of change management. This includes providing relevant information, resources, and expertise to help them make informed decisions and actively participate in the change process.  Creating ‘bite-sized’ and summarised insights is key for executives.

Effectively managing multiple change initiatives is a complex task that requires a holistic and adaptive approach. By addressing the challenges associated with classification, sequencing, tool reliance, business operations readiness, and executive engagement, organizations can enhance their change management strategies and increase the likelihood of successful outcomes. Embracing innovative tools, fostering collaboration, and maintaining a strategic focus on organizational goals are key elements in overcoming these challenges and navigating the ever-evolving landscape of change. 

In this article, we’ve stressed the importance of data.  You may wonder about the amount of time and effort required to establish all the various points mentioned in the article and if this is even doable.  Well, using Excel and other static non-digital ways of managing change data will mean a significant volume of work, and even then it may not provide a clear picture that gives you the various cuts of data required to drive meaningful conversations.  Resort to automation provided by change management software such as The Change Compass to assist in data capture, data analysis, and dashboard generation.

To read more about managing a portfolio of changes check out articles here.

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