Tools for Visualizing Complex Change

A few years ago while attending PSL, myself and a group of people decided to tour around New Mexico. None of us were familiar with the area, but our rental car did have a GPS so what could possibly go wrong?

We needed to find an ATM so we typed that into the GPS and off we went. The tool directed us off the beaten path, so to speak, and we found ourselves traveling down a private road that led to a secured commercial campus for a company who’s name I can’t remember. If you’ve seen the X-Files movie, Fight the Future, the area we found ourselves in was not unlike what Mulder and Scully discovered in the middle of the corn field. Except we didn’t need to run away from a mess of bees.

Turns out this campus had an ATM! The tool worked! What didn’t work was that none of us were employees of this company, so there was no way to get past the front gate and into the compound to use it. Whoops.

While this story isn’t as dramatic as the stories of people who followed their GPS onto the runway at an airport, it was another lesson in why tools can only do so much for you.

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Tools don’t care about context.  Tools don’t tell you how to use them. I was recently talking with Jochen Kraus who introduced me to a book called “Tools for Thinking”** by Dr Gerhard Wohland.  Dr. Wohland’s ideas are inspired by the system theory developed by Luhmann.  He also told me an interesting story from the book about how a hammer can be used to hit a nail, but it can also be used as a doorstop. The hammer doesn’t care how it gets used. The Agile community likes to use the hammer metaphor as well.  “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” It’s cute, but I disagree. If all you have is a hammer and an instruction manual that says hammers are used for hitting nails, THEN every problem looks like a nail. On it’s own, a hammer doesn’t prescribe it’s purpose.

“Tools for Thinking” opens with an interesting diagram for what approaches can be used to solve different types of problems.  While the book is in German, Jochen explained, and translated it for me:


The basic premise he describes with this diagram is that the purpose of organizations is to solve problems. When problems happen, they are not events that can be ignored. He describes two causes of problems:

Problems caused by ignorance (Blue): These are problems caused by lack of knowledge. If your organization lacks knowledge that your competitors have, chaos increases. These problems can be fixed by increasing your knowledge through process, planning and methods. What’s important here is how to solve the knowledge problem, whether that be learning, new process, new rules etc.

Problems caused by ideas (Red): These are problems caused by disruption to your market. These problems need to be addressed by tools, value-based cultures and principles.  You couldn’t learn a new process to solve this type of problem, but you could use some tools to help you solve the problem. What’s important here is who creates the idea? Are you being disruptive or are you being disrupted?

When organizations ask me to help them ‘go Agile’, two underlying problems jump to mind. They may have heard a competitor is ‘going Agile’ and they need to increase their knowledge or Agile processes which will help them remain competitive.  On the other side, competitors and startups could be disrupting the market with new ideas and they need to innovate in order to remain relevant.

Sometimes process will work. Sometimes process alone isn’t enough.

Tools and methods are needed to solve problems. That said, the tool that comes in the same box as the method might not work. Confused? ADKAR® is a method. ADKAR® also comes with tools, like an assessment. There’s no reason you can’t use different tools from other methods within the ADKAR® method. There’s no reason why you can’t use the ADKAR® tools within other methods.  Less confused?

In my last post, I showed why it’s important to build your own change framework. What ultimately will work best is when you create and constantly evolve how you implement change in your organization. You may use the ADKAR® method, you may use Kotter’s method or you may use PCI’s method. In all cases, here are four visualization, and thinking tools that you can use to make sense of complex change no matter which method you use:

Perspective Mapping: All change methods state the importance of alignment and communication. Few provide tools for how to do it. No, an intranet site doesn’t count. Neither does a newsletter. Perspective Mapping combines ideas from various Agile retrospectives techniques with Kurt Lewin’s force-field analysis to create a powerful visualizing that provokes open and honest dialogue.

Organizational Chart Landmines:  Change resistance will happen. People all respond to change differently. Mapping out where the landmines are in your organization, a more effective implementation plan may present itself.

Blast Radius: Organizational changes cannot happen in isolation. Mapping out the intended, and the possibilities of un-intended, consequences will help you understand how much of your organization will be affected by the change. It’ll also help you visualize where to start and what area might be best left alone.

Interconnectedness: Combining Lean Change Management Options and McKinsey 7S creates a powerful visualization for digging into the details of complex change. Change is not a linear process and this tool will help you anticipate what effect your change may cause.

** German only: Actual book title is – Denkwerkzeuge Der Höchstleisterwie Dynamikrobuste Unternehmen Marktdruck Erzeugen

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