All MLG consultancy projects involve working with our clients on making changes so we have built up substantial experience of managing change in a variety of environments.

We have examined many theories regarding the management of change, starting with the psychological in works such as Donald Schon’s ‘Beyond the Stable State’ (ISBN-13: 978-0393006858) published in 1973. In this work, Schon discusses the tendency of all organisations to resist change, and in our experience, this remains true. Another popular and well-published author is Donald Lewin who argues that organisational change is a three-stage process of firstly attacking the inertia and defence mechanisms, secondly making the changes and finally re-freezing the new approach. Lewin describes these as “unfreezing”, “transition” and refreezing”, although the middle stage is often referred to as “confusion”.

While we can see much logic in such texts and can understand the part that the human psychology will inevitably play in any substantial change such as those within the Business Process Reengineering or related fields, there is a danger that we allow them to lead any change team into an excess of analysis and academic theory. Certainly, the thought of a business in a state of confusion following a change has to be recognised as unacceptable. All commercial organisations, in all sectors, operate in competitive markets and do not have the resource or time buffers to operate if confusion abounds.

We try to remain practical in such matters while recognising that the psychological elements of any change programme must not be ignored. Many of the early BPR implementations failed because they were approached from a mechanistic point of view and took no account of the fact that the major change in most exercises was that of culture. People’s attitude to their work was the ultimate determinant of success. Equally, much of the published material in recent years has appeared to view BPM as the design and implementation of Information Systems solutions.

Within change exercises we incorporate elements which we feel are appropriate to the particular client but they always include:

  • Understanding the ‘emotional journey’ as it affects both project team and other people within the business
  • Establishing goals to act as a focus for everybody involved in the exercise
  • Applying change tools and communication processes to manage the change activity

Key elements in terms of activities are:

    Pick The Right Team

    There are many qualities required of project team members in any major change programme. Obviously, intelligence and knowledge of their subject come high up the list, but others are an ability to communicate, to listen to others and to enter openly into debate. Such debate may often lead to somebody else having a better idea and the confidence to accept this without fear of being seen as weak may be as important a requirement as any other. 

    Establish Future Vision

    Defining the result of the change process is the first pre-requisite for success. This is equally valid for a relatively small-scale reorganisation of a single office department or production cell as it is for a complete reengineering of a business and all its major processes. All improvement exercises must have a clearly-defined goal in terms of how things will be. 

    In the case of process change then a high-level map should be drawn up as soon as possible – the detail may not be available at the outset but its development must be driven by the ‘bigger picture’. The high-level vision provides a reference point against which the project can be judged at any stage. The project team and steering group should ensure that the question “are we still heading towards the simple business that was the objective at the outset?” is asked on a regular basis. Undoubtedly in such exercises, some compromises will be made when certain types of customer order, for example, don’t quite fit the template drawn up in the initial vision or the IS department can’t quite provide the solution envisaged. Some objectives of the exercise may not be sufficiently clear from the map so a few one-line statements of objectives (e.g. “all supplier invoices to be matched with Goods Receipt Note within 3 days”) may be published.

    Similarly, in the adoption of Lean techniques such as ‘make complete’ cells driven by visual signals the future vision can be presented in visual form – an outline layout of the area drawn up at the outset of the project will be refined as the details are refined but provides a reference point against which progress and compromise can be judged. Again, one-line statements of objectives (e.g. “only gauges used on a daily basis will be stored on workbench shelves”) can be used to supplement the picture.

    Where the project is one of implementing a computer system, the future vision element is very much the driver. As described elsewhere in this web site we believe that the implementation of packages such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) should be approached as a process improvement exercise. After all the workload of such a project is not insignificant; the business needs to retain focus on a clear justification for the investment.

    Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

    While the future vision or new way of working has to be the driver for any improvement project, some form of quantifiable measurement is essential. A subjective assessment is undoubtedly of value but the acid test has to be in numerical performance.

    Several points are worthy of consideration when setting KPIs:

    • Any indicator has to be something that can be measured consistently throughout the change process. For example, if the change involves a move away from something being recorded then the KPI cannot be based around that – one MLG client’s legacy planning system had always measured on-time delivery as ‘shipped within the required week’. The future vision was based around measuring by day and so the legacy system was changed to provide a consistent performance indicator.
    • KPIs have to be established with care – the axiom ‘you get what you measure’ must be born in mind when selecting. If we measure simple quantities in a production environment, we provide the incentive for supervision to ‘cherry pick’ easy work in order to hit targets. Equally, if we simply measure on-time delivery as ‘the number of orders shipped on time’, we encourage people to focus on current requirements and ignore those that are already overdue.
    • We must never forget that KPIs should be used to highlight problems before they have impacted the fundamental measurements of bottom-line profit or customer service. A measurement that highlights a backlog of new business to be entered beginning to rise in the Sales Office enables action to be taken before the reason for this delay has led to genuine reductions in business performance.


    The need for communication throughout can be viewed from either the positive or ‘avoid the negative’ standpoints. On the positive side, people who understand what is happening around them feel valued and are more likely to take a constructive view and play their part in bringing about project objectives. Equally, if people feel that they are excluded from the future vision they feel anything but valued; all organisations have a number of troublemakers who can use the absence of communication to stir up resentment.

    This communication can take several forms. For example, where a physical reorganisation of a facility is being undertaken, a chart of the new layout, displayed prominently, can have two benefits. Firstly, people feel valued, as noted above. Equally, somebody who has not been involved in the design process may well have a valid contribution to make. “Why not do it like this?” should be most welcome. The project team will either have good reasons which can be explained and win over the person asking the question or the alternative will be an improvement. This then gives two benefits – the improvement and, crucially, somebody else within the organisation who feels both valued and a sense of ownership of the revised future.

    Of course, setting communication as a key factor within a project must be backed up by the practical steps necessary to make it happen. If the mechanism adopted is to be a monthly newsletter then the resource to compile and issue the newsletter must be available. Although the administration for this could be provided by the HR department, progress reports must still come from the project team. Equally, we need to establish the principle that the project team make time available to talk to people, explain the objectives, the issues, the techniques, and so on. This means that the project plans need to allow time for this activity.

    Project Tracking

    Having set a project plan we must measure progress against this plan, maintaining a record of project status and maintaining the forward plan in line with progress and events to date. In this we must always remember that most crucial of definitions – a plan is what we intend to do. We may set ourselves slightly challenging targets on the basis that if we aim for an eight-month completion we will hit nine or ten, whereas if we aim for ten we may be lucky to achieve twelve. It is a sad fact of life that many people work better when up against deadlines; if they feel comfort they will work less efficiently and less hard.

    None of this changes the fact that we must monitor progress and revise the forward activities in line with the latest expectation.


    All improvement programmes benefit from the maintenance of momentum, so every chance for ‘quick wins’ should be taken where possible. If, by making a short-term change, we can make somebody’s life easier then we can generate commitment to the exercise.

    In the case of major reengineering projects, there is a balance to be set here. We can, within such an exercise, identify a significant number of incremental improvements to individual functions within a process. If we dedicate resource to these incremental changes, however, we may delay the ultimate step change that is the goal of such a project. There is no rule – other than that judgement has to be applied.

As ever this is but a summary of a subject on which many textbooks have been published and on which new books appear all the time.