Star Wars guide to Change Management

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … there lived a project manager who worked for the Empire. This project manager was in change of the project to build the Death Star but this project manager forgot the importance of change management.

Being a large, command and control organisation the Empire did PRINCE projects. They were big fans of controlled environments and the Empire appreciated the structure, formality and rigour of a PRINCE project approach. They would happily leave being agile to those cheeky rebels with their lack of respect for authority, scruffy clothes and long hair.

Like all big projects the Death Star project was running a bit behind on schedule and somewhat over budget. So along came some consultant chap called Darth Vader who was good mates with the CEO of the Empire (the Emperor) to sort things out.


Now being a consultant project manager with his consultant mind tricks Darth was able to work his magic on the project and get everything back on track. Well almost. You see the Death Star was completed on time and (we assume) on budget only in the rush to do this they ‘de-scoped’ some basic stuff. Darth also managed to upset a few of the project team so they no longer cared about health and safety matters, and to make matters worse he also upset the local residents with the somewhat careless blowing up of Alderaan.

What resulted is quite possibly the most predictable change management cock-up in the galaxy. Having felt the glory of a project completed Darth had totally overlooked the key change management features resulting in a perfect storm which very neatly came back to bite him.

  • Change resistance from the wider population, not happy with the Empire’s scant economic resources being wasted on a big weapon when the Empire Health Service and Schools were short of funding were now even more unhappy over Alderaan-gate.
  • A disgruntled whistle blower from the project team, working extra-long hours in a culture of fear, uses wooki-leaks to make the Death Star plans available to the Rebels. These plans help pinpoint a critical health and safety gap in the Death Star’s infrastructure.
  • Change fatigue within the Death Star crew means that trained military pilots are too tired and/or demotivated to compete with the rag-tag Rebel forces whom they greatly outnumber. So when the tiny Rebel fleet attacks it holds its’ own against the mighty Empire fleet.
  • A radicalised farm-worker (recently befriended/groomed by a hoodie wearing hermit and a criminal gambler-cum-occasional murderer) gets his first chance ever to fly a space ship and is quite bizarrely pretty good at it…The rest you probably know.

The moral of this little story is there is more to success than completion. If you want outcomes, not just outputs, then you need to look beyond project management. Try a little bit of change management: listen to your people, involve them in decisions, don’t annoy the locals and embrace the rebels (they are the ones who change the world).





Five words of guff to avoid in 2017

Certain words or phrases annoy me. Bah humbug and all that. I never want to hear them again. I understand the sentiment behind the words but when they are overused as management drivel then enough is enough. It is time to stop using them and discard these words into bullshit bingo. There will be a punishment for anyone I hear speaking the guff below:

  1. Innovation – everywhere I go someone is innovating this or innovating that. Really? Most innovation appears to be churning out the same old thing only marginally improved. That my friend is not innovation. Real innovation is rare, exciting and sometime life-changing. Let’s not confuse the two.
  2. Engage – these days everyone wants to engage with you. Interestingly some of the synonyms for engage include arrest, capture and seize. I do not want you to arrest, capture or seize me with your project/plan/idea. I want a conversation. I want a two-way process. So lets drop engage and find a better word.
  3. Transformation – like innovation, every change these days is a transformation. Transformation means a complete or marked change in form. Rarely is an organisational project transformational, at best it is reforming what you already do to cost less/be faster/do it better etc. So call it what it is, you ain’t transforming you are just changing it (a bit).
  4. Agile – Saying you are agile, or worse still you are ‘doing agile’, when you wouldn’t know your agile from your elbow is not helpful. Please stop. It is most likely what you are doing is ‘fragile’ (see what I did there?) If you are truly agile you probably don’t go around saying ‘hey everyone look at us, we are agile!
  5. Resources (meaning people) – this is a heinous crime in my book. Resources means stuff e.g. information, materials, money BUT it does not mean people EVER. To refer to a person as a resource is wrong, wrong, wrong. Nuff said.

If in doubt, just watch this excellent Weird AL video.

Some words I would like to see more of: conversation, customer, co-creation, collaboration and change


Imagine the look of surprise on your colleagues’ faces when you add DAFUQ to the next team meeting agenda….

Now if you are ‘down with the kids’ you might think I am being rude. If not you may have no idea what the title of this post is all about. This appropriation of a trendy phrase is a brilliant tool for meetings, particularly those type of meetings where things can often go unspoken. This is a Discussion About Frequently Unasked Questions.

You know the scenario, a project or client meeting where you have been talking about the latest project issue and developing a plan to fix it but you have a sense that not everything is out in the open. Or large forum discussion where several members are being quiet as they try to working through a proposal but the agenda is so tight it is time to move the discussion on to the next topic.

There are many examples of meetings, conversations or simply personal reflections for which a bit of time spent exploring what wasn’t said could save you future embarrassment/time/problems etc.

  • Why did Fred not comment on my proposal?
  • What have we missed?
  • Which users have not contributed to the discussion?
  • What do we need more time to reflect on?

So set aside a few moments for a discussion on the frequently unasked questions, find out what hasn’t been said, and why. Then learn to ask the right questions, every time.

So sort that agenda now – item 4: DAFUQ



“Balance of Constraints and Freedom”

In another change conversation I recently talked to the inspiring, enthusiastic and incredibly knowledgeable Benjamin P Taylor of Red Quadrant.  As well as furnishing me with enough reading to last until 2020 we discussed what makes organisational transformation successful and I asked for the essence of his philosophy to change.

The answer, according to Benjamin, is about finding an appropriate “balance of constraints and freedom”. This means the answer is not command and control with top-down directive change programmes. Neither is the answer adaptive organisations with bottom-up emergent change.

The answer is … it depends.


The challenge is to understand and find the balance that is right for your situation. What are the absolute non-negotiable elements and what is open to participation and co-creation?  What are the necessary, fixed constraints regarding this change and what do those affected by it have the freedom to chose for themselves. Change leaders can often assume far too much of one and very little of the other, whereas in practice there might be more opportunities for freedom than first considered (as neatly summarised in the diagram below):


Make it clear where the boundaries are as a lack of boundaries between constraints and freedom is a recipe for disaster.

So that was lesson number 3 from my change conversations. Coming soon Helen Bevan.





“The people who write the plan, don’t fight the plan”

In another one of my recent conversations with inspiring people I spoke with Jason Little of Lean Change. When asked to sum up his approach to organisational change the following statement was quickly provided: “The people who write the plan don’t fight the plan”

This simple yet elegant phrase neatly captures the critical importance of going beyond communication to achieve participation and co-creation in plans for change. It recognises the value of working together for a common purpose and it deals with the root cause of so-called ‘change resistance’ by actively collaborating.

I love this phrase. I will put it on a poster and hang it on my wall. I might even get a t-shirt printed.

So next time you are busy writing your plan for the next big thing. Stop writing, start talking and create the plan together. Simple.




Change Resistance

In one of my recent conversations with inspiring people the following statement was mentioned:

“The amount of change resistance you experience is directly proportional to your leaderships skills”

I love this statement. This is profound in so many ways. So profound that I needed to share why it is important, what it means to folk doing change and why it is so frequently overlooked.

This simple statement challenges something that many people believe to be true and it moves the onus of responsibility for change resistance away from the people being changed. This suggests that resistance is not a feature of them (the people being changed) which needs to be trained / coached / performance managed away. Instead resistance is a product of you (the one pushing out the change) which means you need to change too. This highlights the importance of collaboration, common purpose, shared learning and the basic premise that the ability to lead is not about telling others what to do it is about co-creating a vision of where we want to be.

Too often change is ‘rolled-out’ or ‘landed’ on people by managers who believe they know best. But without leadership there will be no followers and without leadership there will be resistance. Change managers will do well to remember that resistance is a problem that lies with themselves not with those doing the resisting. So when there is resistance, remember it is you who is not doing something right. They are not the problem.

Thank you to Stephen Parry for this little piece of wisdom (coming soon Jason Little)