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08th Jun 2023
Desmond Chin FAIPM CPPD
What can project managers learn about change management from an old frog fable? Plenty, as it turns out. Desmond Chin FAIPM CPPD shares his perspective on managing project change, including tips on using a decision model called the OODA Loop as an adaptive framework.
There is a frog fable that says you can slowly boil a frog alive by gradually increasing the water temperature around it. The frog fails to detect and understand this change until it’s too late. The frog can’t or won’t get out of the steaming hot water, and alas, it dies.
This old tale, as gruesome as it is, interestingly has some lessons for project managers.
Let’s now imagine you, a highly evolved and intelligent project manager, standing in your own murky pond called the project environment when you detect a change. Would you make better survival decisions and actions than our doomed frog? It might depend on whether you:
Detecting change is only half the battle. You also need to understand change and how it impacts a project which can be complex. Just because you can see change doesn’t mean you understand it or know what to do about it.
For example, some project teams have an overreliance on earned value data to forecast adverse changes. Getting alerts for a serious budget or schedule variance is one thing, but you also need to understand the causes, the impact and the best way to mitigate it. Follow-on analysis is required to get the complete picture.
Project managers need to be also aware that change can be missed through personal bias or blind spots that derive from being unable to detect changes due to societal aspects (such as people’s resistance to change, politics and internal and external influences), and personal biases and preferences (shaped by our personality, professional background, experience, and relationships).
When changes are detected, further analysis is required to fully understand and inform decisions.
For time-poor project managers trying to make sense of the myriad of changes in your project environment, below is a simple process that might help.
The suggestion is to adapt the OODA Loop (Observe, Orientate, Decide and Act) decision making model developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd to help fighter pilots survive air-combat. Fighter pilots exist in an extreme change management environment. Pilots must detect the enemy, analyse their actions, develop change response options, decide how and when to act and then action their new reaction plan, all within extremely short timeframes. Missteps can be fatal.
The OODA Loop is just as valuable for the more sedate world of project management. Here’s how to use it as a framework for managing project change.
Change is ever-present in the project environment, so project managers need to be capable of dealing with it. The OODA model gives you an agile framework, but you need to adapt your use of OODA as changing circumstances dictate and be agile too. Even more importantly, you need cognitive input, judgement, action, and personal agility to deal with change and help you and your project win and survive.
Notwithstanding all the above, using OODA is about giving you a framework to help you and your project win and survive – in doing so, then for another day you’re still smarter than the frog.
This article is taken from the Autumn 2023 edition of Paradigm Shift
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