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Change; where process and complexity collide - CITI
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Change; where process and complexity collide

Change; where process and complexity collideProcesses are good; as far as they go. Complexity, however, is their enemy and the main problem in a change environment. Change; where process and complexity collide

The default response to a repeatedly problematic situation is to develop a process to overcome it.  Crossing the road for example.  All of us face the generic risk of getting squashed when we try and cross the road.  The solution?  The Green Cross Code.  Taught to all children as they reach an age of comprehension/independence (or both), a standard operating process for safely crossing the road that we are all encouraged to use.

So, processes are good, they de-risk and bring efficiencies to addressing repeated risks or problems.  It is no wonder that people seek out, practice and become attached to processes.  They make the world both safer and comfier.

Now, we all face change all the time and our employing organisations need to keep up with change.  Sometimes in response to market forces, legislation, competition or share-holder interests.  Sometimes they also wish to change, to achieve a strategic stance or to pursue opportunities.  So, change is a repeated problem; we have to do it, just like crossing the road, but how do we do it safely?  What is the process?

Well, this is where we have to do some more thinking; rather than just reach for our ‘favourite’ process.  Processes are essentially simple solutions to simple problems; their common ‘Achille’s heel’ is that when applied to a more complex problem they are likely to fail.  For example, if you applied the Green Cross Code to trying to cross a motorway you would almost certainly get squashed – which is probably one of the reasons why it’s illegal to try and cross a motorway!

More complex situations require more complex solutions.  As for everything else this is true of change.  At an organisational level change is almost invariably complex and so addressing it becomes decreasingly susceptible to resolution through a set process.

For example, Agile is good as it provides a framework to ‘evolve’ solutions and is therefore, in step with the way much change occurs (imposed by external agencies and fate), but two weaknesses are a lack of predictability and difficulty with scaling the model above the product development level.

Other popular and commonly used process models covering change can be good because they provide a framework that allows for clarification and separation of some important facets of change; however, these are almost always one-dimensional, phased, process models that do not readily accommodate differing levels or rates of change.   You see, organisational change is not a single process, but a series of sub-processes that happen at different rates at different levels, and therefore provides a more complex problem.  Most frequently, for organisations, the problem concerns embracing and managing the totality of the change.

Organisational change is aimed, unsurprisingly, at an organisational level.  But within any organisation there are units and individuals who will change, semi-autonomously, at different rates and with different priorities.  The upshot is that organisational change is unlikely to fit neatly into a single phase of any model of change; indeed, we commonly see organisations in multiple phases of such models simultaneously.  Sales and marketing might be cheerfully trying to sustain their new model whilst logistics are still bickering about preparing for theirs.  Such change cannot be neatly corralled into a single process model – far less any single phase of such models!

Per Agile, there is an Achilles heel to most proposed change processes, and indeed all standardised, repeatable processes – it is that one size definitely doesn’t fit all.  Simple processes are sought to try and make problems or situations manageable.  For simple problems or simple situations, set processes often prove highly effective.  The mistake is to assume that this strategy will cope with more or increasingly complex situations.

This means that we should have a good understanding of the change situation and its complexity, at all levels, before we reach for any process or approach.  It is this outlook that has helped CITI’s clients to achieve safer and more predictable change over the last thirty years.  The trick is knowing what questions need to be addressed and by whom, before deploying or developing the ‘right’ process; do you know those questions?  Do you frame those conversations?  Or do you reach for the old ‘trusty’ process?  We’re keen to discuss this further with you; so please contact us through CITI Centre of Excellence Club (CofEe) network.

Nick Dobson

Nick Dobson, Principal Consultant

Nick is a highly experienced consultant in project and programme management and the sponsorship of such initiatives.  A practitioner, with over 25 years of experience, he has been deeply involved in projects, throughout the lifecycle, as well as discharging operational management functions in a variety of sectors. Nick can be contacted via email at


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