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Change Management Aboard the Titanic

Posted Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

James Moody, aged 24, was a junior officer aboard the Titanic. Among his duties were standing the late watches. Moody was on watch when the Titanic struck the iceberg. At about 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, he answered the phone from lookout Frederick Fleet, then reported those fateful words to the First Officer “Iceberg right ahead!” During the ensuing evacuation, Moody heroically helped fill three lifeboats, sacrificing his own safety to help others. He was presumed to have gone down with the ship and his body was never recovered.

titaniciceberg.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxWhile nowhere near as tragic, we have all been aboard projects that suffered the same fate as the Titanic. Despite plenty of resources and fanfare, they dramatically failed to meet their goals. Those who survived scrambled for too few lifeboats; others did not outlast the experience. The memory of the failure looms in the organization, whispered in dark corners as half legend, half cautionary tale. What is the role of an organizational change manager when she sees the iceberg? Like Moody, she can dutifully report the demise and try to mitigate the losses. But this always ends badly. Or, she can use her perspective, influence and tools to steer clear of the icebergs altogether. Here are 3 steps to take to avoid going down with the ship:

1. Talk to the captain. Change managers usually meet with senior executive sponsors regularly during a project. Combine this access to leadership with a knowledge of the project team and your ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and you have a unique 360 degree perspective of events. You may even be the first to see that the project is in danger. If so, bring this to the attention of the “captain”, however, be factual. “Last week’s change-readiness survey (the Darwin application has such a tool) reveals only 14% of employees are ready to implement this project. Seventy-two per cent of respondents say they are too busy to participate in the project right now. How should we address this issue?”

2. Suggest a course change. Little changes can make a big difference. Perhaps you see your development team struggling over the waterfall project management process. They are frustrated at the slow pace and the delay is causing resource issues. Suggest to the project manager if an agile approach may benefit the team and make them more productive and self-directed. Offer to facilitate the dialogue for making these changes happen.

3. Talk about the icebergs. No one likes an alarmist. From Winston Churchill’s unpopularity in the 1930’s to climate change, people often disregard the danger others can see clearly. As a vital part of the project team, however, and given your 360 degree perspective, you need to use your tools and communication skills to facilitate an engaging dialogue about risk. While project teams identify risks, they view them from a narrow perspective. They are unable to see things like organizational change saturation, change resistance, apathy and a lack of middle management support. (All of which can be measured and addressed using the Darwin change management app.)

It’s risky to stand watch over a big, important project. It’s easier when you know the project from top to bottom, and you have tools to measure critical aspects of it – the potential icebergs! It never ends well when you go down with the ship.
See how Darwin can help you avoid disasters and manage for success.

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