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What is a major change?

I recently gave a conference in France on “Changeboxing”. This is an approach, based on timeboxing and emerging organizational change techniques that I developed to help client organizations accelerate the implementation of new project-oriented management processes (project, program and/or portfolio management). The approach considers that “major” cultural changes are associated with implementing these processes and proposes collaborative ways to get people to agree rapidly on how, when and what they will change.

The conference I gave aimed at explaining what were “major” changes, (often also called “transformational” changes), and at demonstrating that Changeboxing could accelerate those changes. But while preparing my arguments for the conference, I eventually got very confused, because I could really not pinpoint exactly if a given change was or was not a major or transformational change.

In my readings, I found out that “a transformational change implies a loss of original identity (purpose, values, beliefs); it is a significant alteration or disruption in peoples’ expectation patterns”. Wow! So people do not get what they expect any more and the change they see around them put in question their current values, their beliefs and even their very purpose in life. So this is very big stuff happening! I also found out in my readings that “transformation” was different from a normal “small” change in the following manner:

  1. It goes on inside a person, not outside…..well how can we say that? What goes on outside has surely some effect on the inside of a person, those are not mutually exclusive.
  2. It takes much longer…..sure, because it questions your identity, something you have lived with for a long, long time before this change.
  3. It starts with an ending…..sure, the ending of your status quo and the disappearance of your current comfort zone.
  4. It finishes with a new beginning…..let’s hope you end up at a better place than where you were at the start.I if not, why would anyone desire this change?
  5. In between is a neutral zone…..basically saying that we have no clue about when and how this is going to happen, because how someone with react to a major change and accept it, if not desire it, is quite unforeseeable.
  6. Transformational processes apply to organizations as well as individuals.

The sixth point was the one that really made me understand why I had such a hard time discriminating between major and minor changes. It’s bcause it really depends on perceptions and on who is being affected by the change. The same change might appear minor for an individual but it will impact the organisation s/he works for in a big way and vice versa.

I remember a presentation made by the communications specialist working on a major capital project from Hydro Quebec. In a given situation, she found out that “skidoo” roads were a very important matter for some people in Northern Quebec. Before she spoke to them, neither she, nor Hydro Quebec thought that changing the path of one of these roads was a big deal. After talking to those people, the urbanite that she was just realised she was changing something that people had been doing for generations, that this was a major transformation of their habits.

It is also the same for the two last survivors of a close-to-be-extinct species of frog in a small pond that we will dry out to build a new road. What are two frogs, anyway? Well, for the two frogs, this is of paramount importance and their dismissal is a major change to them!!!

So next time you want to know if the project you are about to realise involves a small or a major/transformational change, you do not need to look too far for an answer. The answer is always that your project implies a major change for one or many people having a stake in this project. There are no small changes, when it comes to the person who will experience this change, often without being asked. Your project will always include a major change for someone. In this respect, change management on a project is always required.

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