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Velocity Part 2; Identifying the Limiting Constraint of Cultural Change Projects

A while ago, I wrote a blog entry to introduce briefly the contents of the Goldratt Institute’s new business novel Velocity: Combining Lean, Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints to Achieve Breakthrough Performance1. I did this with the intention of writing later about how I could apply the principles laid out in the novel to the management of projects involving cultural changes, like the implementation of enterprise-wide project management processes. So this is my first shot at it: “identifying the constraint of a cultural change process in order to work on it”.

From reading “Velocity” (about how to optimize continuous improvement), a logical sequel to “the Goal”2 (about how to optimize recurring operations management) and “Critical Change”3 (about how to optimize project management), one can understand that identifying the limiting constraint in a process and working to elevate it (increasing the throughput of this bottleneck) is the key to improved performance. Then, in order to improve the performance of any process (be it temporary or permanent) we put in place to foster/promote/support/accompany a cultural change project, one has to identify the limiting constraint(s) of such an endeavour.

In early 2007, I started working on implementing a project portfolio management process with the Société de Transport de Montreal4. I told the project sponsor at the time, Sylvain Gonthier, a Human Resources Management specialist and then the deputy general manager of the organisation, that this implementation implied a change in the culture of the organisation, a major move towards a highly collaborative environment. His first reaction was to say that it would be a huge challenge since “we can not decide either what, how, how much, or when other people will change individually or collectively to fit a new culture”; we could not even decide what would be the nature of this new culture, because “we cannot direct cultural change, it will emerge IF IT HAS TO”. Since that day, I have pondered very often on what Sylvain told me then, as I saw this piece of wisdom materialize often through good and bad outcomes in all the project management process implementation projects of my clients and of other organisations.

So, clearly the limiting constraint of a cultural change management process has to do with the people living this change. If we want such a project to succeed, we need to act on what those people want or are ready to change, how much they are willing to change, how and which steps they will agree to follow to make this change both individually and collectively, as well as when they will make this change materialize. The limiting constraint in a project involving cultural change is “the capability and the desire to change of the people “invited” to change their individual and/or collective beliefs, values and the resulting culture”.

I further believe that this constraint, “the capacity and the will to change”, is the same on any project requiring major change management…so on all projects, since, as I wrote in my previous blog entry5, there is always someone within a project who will experience a major change in one way or another.

Now that the limiting constraint of cultural change projects has been identified, how do we “elevate” it? This will be discussed in future blog entries.

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