A Custom Change Canvas

People I’ve talk to about Lean Change and organizations I’ve used Lean Change with all seem to love the idea of change canvases.  For me, I like to use them as thinking and sense-making tools.  They make planning for change a whole lot faster and they do what they are intended to do.  Provoke conversations.

Over the last couple of years I’ve experimented with a few different canvases ranging from the ‘official’ Lean Change Canvas to the one-page change plan, mentioned in my Agile Transformation video series and A3-style problem solving reports.  Of course there is also the Toyota Kata canvas and Clemen Frowein’s Transformational Design canvas.  Recently I find myself creating custom canvases for clients because often there’s a particular style that ‘speaks’ to them.

Today I tried a split test during a Lean Change workshop to see which canvas they liked working with.  There were about 15 people in the workshop and half tried the official Lean Change Canvas and the other half tried a custom canvas that I had used with another organization recently:

a leaner lean canvas


We started the workshop talking about why canvases work and what questions they are designed to help you answer:

1) What’s our long-term vision?

2) What’s our current state?

3) What’s our target state? (AKA: short term wins)

4) Who’s affected by the change?

5) What’s supporting the change? (people, departments, existing processes etc)

6) What’s working against this change? (people, departments, existing processes etc)

At the bottom is the simple Kanban board that visualizes your change plan.  The interesting part of this canvas is the add-on of the force-field analysis section.    Generally speaking, when I help organizations adopt Agile/Lean practices, they tend to not understand that some existing processes can be removed.  Usually they see Agile as ‘additive’ and ‘more work’ and forget about the stuff they won’t need to do anymore.    If you’re interested, the thinking behind the feeling of loss associated with change comes from William Bridges.   “Changing” process brings the fear of losing something about yourself.

As an example, this team was planning to adopt Kanban.  What is in their way is their existing change request process.  With Kanban, that’s built into your queue replenishment cadence so the perception might be that now we have another process/meeting/touchpoint when in fact it should remove some existing process and process artefacts.

At the end of the session we talked about which approach they liked best and here were their comments:

Custom Canvas:

  • less formal
  • easier to create
  • doesn’t follow a linear process to fill out, you populate based on the dialogue that’s happening
  • felt like they could add/remove pieces based on need

Lean Change Canvas

  • felt too processy
  • too much overhead
  • great to be explicit about urgency
  • confused about the difference between vision and target state

One of the models that is the underlying inspiration to Lean Change is Kotter’s 8-Step change model.  Creating urgency is his first “step”.  The problem I have with that is Kotter didn’t intend for his 8-steps to be executed in a linear way.  Asking an organization “what’s your urgency to change?” hasn’t worked very well for me so I don’t do that anymore.   Again, Kotter says urgency emerges from the enablement of honest dialogue so that’s how I approach establishing it.  Whenever I’ve started with helping people understand the urgency to change, it’s usually a biased opinion and usually you end up with a vague, buzzwordy or corporate mumbo jumbo statement which isn’t at all what Kotter talks about.

Once I started taking a more organic approach to create a transformation or change plan, I found that right type of canvas had a way of presenting itself.  It also helped clients realize that they own the process.  I’m not going to prescribe they follow a linear model, that defeats the whole purpose of Lean Change!  In fact, I don’t even talk about canvases directly anymore,  I help clients make sense of where they want to go and how they plan to get there and then those thoughts naturally fall into a canvas.   As a change agent, that works for me but if you’re brand new to Lean Change, start with the Lean Change canvas and adapt it over time.

As a hint, if the people you’re talking to have a background in Lean or understand Lean better, starting with an A3 or a Toyota Kata improvement canvas might be a better option.  For starters, they’ll probably ‘get it’ faster and it’ll probably squash early resistance to trying something new.

The next release of the book is going to have many more examples of canvases as well as some other goodies you can only find out about by subscribing for updates from Happy Melly Express!

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