Archive for the ‘Lewis and Clark Method’ Category

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 Methodologies abound in change management and process engineering. I’ve worked extensively with a few, been exposed to a few more and have read about countless others. I have my opinions on many of them but that would take days to ramble through and not necessary today.

What I want to talk about today is the need to define your own approach. I don’t mean you need to invent one (That would be quite the assignment), and I don’t wish for you to regurgitate the text book definition of a method you favor. What I mean is that we all have a way of approaching projects that have evolved over time based on our own experiences and our exposure or study of methodologies.

What is the benefit of doing this, you might ask. Sometimes we are so busy doing our jobs we don’t take time to reflect on how we are doing them. This is a good exercise to explore how we currently think even if you never show it to anyone. Our approaches should be fluid so this is good periodic exercise to see how we are changing.

I have come to find that there is nothing like having to explain your approach as a way of synthesizing what it is. You must organize all the thoughts and actions you might take into a workable and actionable framework. You must clarify the reasons and objectives behind these thoughts and actions. You must clarify expectations and roles.

You might also find holes or weaknesses in your approach. If necessary you can then go in search of tools and techniques to fill the holes. A good motivator to search out knowledge.

As you do this you begin to see where a whole trove of philosophies you’ve adopted fit. Like all the blogs that have come before this for me. These ideas and techniques all fit somewhere in my method. Then they begin to become more present. More available.

Once you have done this your ability to walk a new partner through your approach becomes much easier . Communication becomes so much easier. You feel much more in control.

You might even have more than one approach depending on the context of the project. That’s good. Flexibility is valuable.

I’ll end by giving you an abbreviated example of my approach. I call it the Lewis and Clark method. You can tell I’m not a professional method designer because first letters of the sections of the method don’t spell anything. They just make sense. This method assumes I already have a vision or a goal for my project.

Explore, Map, Analyze, Decide, Move, Repeat

Explore

Look around. Get to know the people, the lay of the land. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Map

Visualize the situation. Get down as much as you currently know that lies between you and the goal. Don’t map too far ahead. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Analyze

See what the map tells you. Gather more information and data based on what you know and where you want to go. Look at the map again. Find some places you can reasonably get to. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Decide

Make the best decision you can with what you currently know. Be flexible. Take what the beast will give. Choose your destination. Identify necessary resources, give assignments and roles. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Move

You can send a scout by doing a prototype or you can do a pilot by using a whole team. You just need to move and be directionally accurate. Educate. Build bonds. Build skills.

Repeat

Once you are near or at your sub-goal you start over by exploring the new conditions.

This is just a shell and I could add all sorts of actions around relationship building and communication and so on. I could visualize it. Make a presentation with all sorts of paths and graphics (which I did do about a year ago).

But this alone allows me to talk about my approach with ease. Once I had more specifics on a project I could begin to fill in with more specific tools and techniques I might use.

You’ll notice I repeated educate, build bonds, build skills. That’s the piece for me that is so often missing. So I put it in all phases to remind me.

Your approach will look different because we all have different backgrounds and experiences. Give it a try. See what you can learn about yourself.

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Things change. Really. They do.

Even as a change agent whose job it is to foster change you will run into change.

What you’re trying to change will change. Who you are trying to change will change. Why you are trying to change will change.

We are always telling the people we are helping that change is constant or inevitable. But we don’t always deal with change so well ourselves. It’s easy for us to latch on to a goal and not let go. To be upset when our sponsor leaves us for another position. It’s natural to react this way even when we know it’s not helpful. We have to follow our own advice.

That’s when we have to remember our role and our goal. To change culture, which is to change people’s behaviors. Everyone’s behavior. Not just the sponsor or the manager or your star employee. Don’t get me wrong. It does suck to lose a key person and it can be demoralizing at times. But someone once told me that the sign of a great leader is not how well they prepare for a task but how well they respond when things go wrong, which they inevitably do. No battle plan survives the battle.

This is where the Lewis and Clark method comes in handy. When you know where you are headed, it’s much more possible to make course corrections. If the bridge is washed out, then you must look for options and knowing which general direction you need to go makes the decision easier.

This is also where people fall off the track. At the beginning of a project they think they must and can map out all the points of failure. Endless sessions of contingency planning which suck the life out of everyone and everything around it. And you can’t do it. It’s flawed from the start. The things that go wrong are never the things you predicted. There are too many variables.

But you can prepare for contingencies without knowing specifically what they will be. Like Lewis and Clark bringing rope with them.  The rope might be used to pull something up, lower something down, hold something in place or hog tie a bear.  You just don’t know but you have a tool that can do all these things.

These concepts can be applied to people as well. You can look at it two ways. You can work to make sure you have the right people with the right skills (or rope) to address challenges that come along. Since you don’t always get to choose your people, it becomes really important to know your people, to understand what they are capable of. Like a skills or knowledge assessment. So when those challenges come you can look at your list and go, oh look, Joe has skills that would work well here.

So in the end once again it comes down to vision and people. Knowing where you are going and knowing your people and yourself is how you handle change in the change world. Educating and cultivating your people to handle change in the same way as you have trained yourself is key. Change is people, people.

Nomad Walking in Desert

That’s the analogy I use when people try to plan too specifically too far out.

In the change world the environment changes constantly while being buffeted by forces inside and out.

Trying to map too far out causes three key certainties. First, you will be wrong. Second, you will have generated solutions based on this wrongness.  Third, it will be really hard to banish those wrong solutions. These wrong solutions will persist and influence ongoing thought processes. And that doesn’t sound like a good plan at all.

So instead of bashing that approach let’s just talk about an alternate way to get where we need to go.

First, in choosing not to map sand dunes that does not mean you don’t know where you want to go. You have to know where you want to go. Now where you want to go may change as well but that’s a different challenge. For now, we’ll assume we have a fairly well defined goal.

I call it the Lewis and Clark method. Lewis and Clark where charged with getting to the West Coast. But they had very little idea of what was in between them and the coast. They had some scanty information available but hardly the kind that you would trust the lives of your expedition on.

So what did they do? The short and sweet version is this. They travelled for a distance. Stopped and mapped. Analyzed the knowledge they had acquired, chose the next direction and then travelled some more. Stopped and mapped. Analyzed the knowledge they had acquired and so on.

They adjusted. They took what the land would give them. If there was moose to eat, they ate moose. If there was bear to eat, they ate bear.  If the banks on the river were too steep to cross where they wanted they moved up or down stream. Take what the beast will give.

Think about the pitfalls they avoided by no having preconceived notions of how they were going to get to the West Coast.

What if they would have predetermined that they just had to cross the river at a certain place. But the banks turned out to be too high for the wagons to traverse. Someone would have started looking for a solution on how to get down and up the banks. A whole sub-project would be started to build ramps and sleds and whatnot. Because that’s what the plan was.

Time is lost. Resources are wasted. Attitudes are affected. Maybe that is what you have to do. You never know. But are there other options.

But by travelling and mapping and analyzing in short chunks, you are not married to a solution. Your mindset is geared to making decisions on what you know at that moment. You don’t have preconceived notions to fight through. Lewis and Clark could choose to move up or down stream to cross.

This path is never straight. That can be frustrating. But if Lewis and Clark had drawn a straight line on the map from St Louis to Portland and tried to strictly follow it none of them would have made it.

Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 2010

Hello Analyst, Engineer, Change Agent or whatever we call ourselves now days.

You’ve been assigned a project that is about change. So what’s your angle going to be?

Here’s what your angle shouldn’t be. Your job is not to attend a meeting or two and then head off into the wilderness and return with the 10 commandments. Your job is to forge a path to the solution.  This is especially important for young analysts to learn. Do not go back to your cube after gathering a few facts and drum up a solution and then present this back to your customer. Epic fail. You’ve just lost your audience.

Listen to your audience. Find out where their own personal frustrations are not just the frustrations of the process. We engineers are fond of saying “it’s the process not the people,” which is rather cold way of saying don’t blame the people. But while we don’t want to blame, the secret to success is the people.

It’s not your job to have a brilliant answer for everything. Your job is to have insight.  Your job is to navigate through the morass to a solution. You need to navigate everybody to the solution or almost everyone. If you end up there alone, no matter how brilliant the plan, the plan will fail.

Sometimes you will have to compromise. I know that’s hard for smart people with lots of experience to accept.  Win the war not the battle. Compromise. Adjust the path.

I’d love to be a dictator and tell everyone what to do, but you don’t always get to do that. If you are getting significant push back on a project point, ask yourself if you can concede that point and not jeopardize the plan. Digging your heels in like a donkey just like the person across from you will get you gridlock.

Go around it or let it be. The process is never going to be a straight path. Learn to be comfortable in tacking your way across the ocean.

Small bumps in the road often get swept up later in the maelstrom of change anyway.  Lose the battle not the war. I am always fond of saying “it’s not always worth it to be right.”

Learn to understand the power of conceding a point. Your audience will appreciate it. Good will is powerful. More powerful than you think.