project: Marah

project management for the things that really matter

Change Happens…

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Change Happens.

Last week, I was driving on a major highway. It was one of the first nice days we’d seen in some time, and dusk was falling. It was a classic February Tease of the Spring yet to come to the NorthEast. You could see the grassy median thawing on the 6 lane behemoth of access into the city.

With no warning, the 2 cars in front of me stopped short, jerked to the right, and caused me to snap out of my audiophile reverie during my routine commute. What was happening was a chain reaction – and I was far enough away to witness the shock wave happening, and avoid it.

Change happens,that’s indisputable, it’s what we do in the face of change that is important… and how well prepared we are to handle the change when it occurs. In the case of my driving exploits, all the defensive driving classes paid off as well as years on the road. Having the a well built and German engineered vehicle doesn’t hurt either, along with proper planning, appropriate following distance, general driving skills and awareness, all combined provided the formula for avoiding a multi-car accident on a busy roadway at dusk.

This quick incident got me thinking about the catch phrase Change Management, which is really a misnomer. Change happens, and we react to it. As project managers, we are mitigating risks, understanding root cause, leveraging available resources, etc., and managing reaction to change.

Virginia Satir was a psychotherapist who among other things, talked about change. Her model was designed around the family, but it has gained popularity in corporate circles as well. The idea is that when change occurs, we move through an stages of acceptance and each stage of acceptance also correlates to how well we “perform”.

In the case of the video-game like traffic New Jersey often presents, all of the drivers were moving along at the status quo, and then something happened (a foreign element, in Satir nomenclature) and that corresponded with a drop in performance (cars slowing down and swerving) as the drivers, one by one needed to stop resisting the chaos the newly introduced foriegn element.

What was this foreign element that caused the traffic ? Via experience and backed up by queuing theory / traffic analysis we learn that these waves persist well past their originating point. And even in our projects, events that seem insignificant may indeed be the linchpin event that sends ripples throughout the rest of the time line. Sometimes we never get our curiosity satisfied as to determine the soliton, what caused the wave in the first place.

However, this time, curiosity was satisfied when I passed the originating point and saw that the root cause for the erratic traffic was a white plastic resin lawn chair quite calmly and jauntily landed on all four legs in the middle of the lane. I’ve seen a lot of things on the road, but a single lawn chair, waiting for an occupant during the evening rush has definitely topped my surreality meter.

Returning to the change process model by Satir, our status quo of evening driving was impacted by the decidedly foreign element of a lawn chair, causing a bit of chaos, accompanied by a drop in performance(the second phase). As a whole traffic mass, we adjusted to the new element, integrating the lawn chair into the traffic flow and regaining competent performance, (the third phase) creating a acceptance  new status quo. Ms. Satir posited that the fourth stage of a new Status Quo was operating at and above the performance level of where the group was previous to the introduction of a foreign element.

For us, the lawn chair was not something we expected. It was a change we couldn’t manage. It happened, regardless of our skills and experience as drivers.

Instead, we all managed our reaction to the change. and that the reaction to change is associated with a drop in ability, but over time, an increased skill is achieved.

Change Happens, and It’s good for you, Even if it’s a lawn chair.

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Written by marahrosenberg

28 February 2009 at 12:07 am

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