Building resilient programs – 7 tools for success

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Does anyone have an example of a change that went completely to plan?  It’s common for all sorts of changes to take twice as long and cost twice as much as anticipated.  So what differentiates those that go well from those that don’t? 

To my mind, there’s broadly three aspects to building resilient programs:

  1. Prevention
  2. Recovery
  3. Learning

Prevention

  • Go Slow to Go Fast.  Take the necessary time to think through and plan the approach to change.  Many of us in change have a real bias for action, we want to get on, get moving and make progress. However, we do need to plan and have the difficult conversations upfront to avoid creating larger problems further down the path.
  • Challenge cognitive biases.  We have a tendency to look for evidence that proves what we were already thinking, and ignore disconfirming evidence.  We commonly also anchor numbers to the first one we hear, or the most recent number we came across.  ‘How much will this program cost?’  Once someone says $40m, every other guess will come in close.  Get some informed experts to each make an independent estimate, average them out, you’ll get a much more robust result. 
  • Ask questions.  Ask with the curiosity of a child.  Ask ‘Why?’ five times.  Encourage your teams to challenge assumptions and challenge the status quo.  At Three Chairs, we always ask the question “How do we know what we know?”    

Recovery

  • Recover with grace.  It’s difficult to admit failure.  The best leaders I’ve seen take full accountability when things go wrong, leaving credit to their teams when things go right.  Further still, they inspire their teams with the opportunity for learning.  They use the energy of ‘crisis mode’ to get the best out of their people and turn the situation around.  They communicate with their employees and their customers, and they keep on pushing forward until they make it right.  These leaders help create a resilient, transparent culture which is a key change success factor.
  • Plan to recover.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that something went wrong.  Any project, small to large, set to finish at the ‘go live’ date is set up to fail.  A post-implementation recovery framework is a brilliant tool to have up your sleeve.  You don’t have to call it that! For example, consider using short stand-ups as a way to help your organisation to quickly smooth over the issues arising immediately after the button is pushed.  These can go from daily to weekly and taper off as needed. Ensure that the decision makers and key stakeholders come together (phone is ok!) so decisions can be quickly made and actions taken.

Learning

  • Capture your learnings.  When a project is complete, we often just want turn to the next thing.  Stopping to celebrate success is important, and so is taking the time to stop and learn.  A Post-Implementation Review (PIR) is a must if you want to drive organisational learning.  This involves capturing what has worked well and what hasn’t worked so well.  These have to be facilitated carefully to ensure constructive dialogue can emerge rather than blame shifting.  However, when successful, they can create an incredible sense of commitment to bringing learning forward into the next project.   

 

  • Learning from your learning.  A PIR as described above is a great one-off event.  They often carry forward with the participants to the next project.  To really maximize the learning opportunity, it’s important to reflect back on previous PIRs, particularly from similar projects, and those run by different teams.  However, it’s not common for teams to dig out those old documents, and rarely do they feel poignant at the optimistic beginning of a new project.  One way I’ve found to bridge this gap is to turn the PIRs and Projects into mini case-studies.  These narratives set the context and are a much more engaging and creative way of inducting teams into the business or onto new projects.