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When you move your family, even if it’s into your (and presumably their) dream home, the inconveniences outweigh everything you love about the new place.

At least they do for a while, which is why, if you’re in the change business, you should read and re-read William and Susan Bridges’ Managing Transitions. It clarifies the essential divide separating a change’s immediate annoyances (the transition) from its ongoing joys.

Which is why I had my annual physical before upgrading our household to Microsoft 365.

I wanted my blood pressure to look good.

So while I like my terabyte of cloud storage and 50 more gigs for email, I didn’t at all appreciate the three multi-hour chat support sessions required to make them available (don’t ask).

Not to mention the time spent finding all the features that have been rearranged.

Which brings us to why, if you’re in the change business, you should also ponder how and why it is that plug-in hybrids and pure-play electric vehicles are more likely to dominate future driving than the vastly superior alternative — cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Disagree? Explain why in the Comments. For our purposes today just go with it.

The problem with hydrogen powered vehicles when compared to plug-in hybrids or pure-play electrics is as easy to grasp as it is difficult to solve.

Pure-play electric vehicles need electricity. As a nation we have an electrical grid that delivers it. It might (and does) require upgrading, but it’s there. Plug-in hybrids need the grid, along with gasoline or some other hydrocarbon-based fuel. We have a deep and rich system in place for obtaining, refining, distributing, and selling this stuff in massive quantities.

Hydrogen? Even overcoming the unfair perception, created by the Hindenberg, that hydrogen is too explosive to ever be safe. I’ve read that most of those who died were killed by the fall; the hydrogen itself, being lighter than air, floated up as it burned).

Where was I?

Overcoming the complete absence of a hydrogen distribution network will most likely prevent hydrogen from ever catching on as a fuel.

Now about that software project you’re running.

By now, assembling requirements or their Agile user-story equivalents, is something most IT shops know how to do. Your developers know what outputs the software is supposed to deliver, and the inputs and algorithms it needs to deliver it.

Your testers have the same knowledge and know how to turn it into an organized, and ideally automated test plan and program. Your project might not deliver bug-free code, but its bug count won’t be the sort of embarrassingly huge number generally reserved for astrophysicists trying to describe the age of the universe in months. No worries on that front.

You’ve ticked all of the check boxes put in front of you by the Change Advisory Board (CAB) and Architecture Review Board (ARB). These i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed.

And you’ve involved Organizational Change Management (OCM) throughout. They’ve communicated with everyone to explain why the change is necessary and good, and they’ve put a training plan in place which you’re ready to launch just as soon as you know the official deployment date.

What could go wrong?

Welcome to the problem of hydrogen logistics. Sorta. It’s an analogy. Don’t worry if it’s not a perfect fit.

Anyway, imagine, for the sake of argument, the software your team is preparing to deploy is to consolidate the 17 supply chain management systems that are the legacy of past corporate acquisitions.

You might have designed the new software to be flexible enough that all 17 supply chain managers can use it to manage their supply chains as they like (the car will run on hydrogen, gasoline, diesel fuel, or batteries) at which point you might as well have designed and developed 17 separate supply chain management systems. You’ll deliver all pain and no gain.

Or else, all 17 supply chain managers agree to standardize their processes so they can use the same software the same way. It’s as if enough gas stations start selling hydrogen, fuel delivery trucks are retrofitted to transport it, and so on that anyone driving a hydrogen vehicle anywhere can fill it up before it runs out of fuel.

Let’s hope process standardization is the plan. If it is, make sure your OCM trainers avoid a common mistake: Teaching business users how to operate the software, not how to do their jobs a new way with the software.

That leaves you with one advantage over hydrogen: You don’t have to convert supply chain management all at once.

But you do need to figure out who will go first.

And last.

# # #

Want to be more adroit at making change happen in your organization? Get yourself a copy of There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project. It’s nothing but practical ideas you can put to use tomorrow.

Assuming, of course, you’re a fast reader.

Comments (20)

  • Hydrogen systems are likely to utilise ammonia as the ‘carrier’ if you like. Safer to transport and store. You still need a vastly different infrastructure for it though.


  • “I’ve read that most of those who died were killed by the fall; the hydrogen itself, being lighter than air, floated up as it burned).”

    So? They were just as dead as a result of falling vs. burning. And it’s not clear they suffered any less pain either.

  • I’ll bite.
    Hydrogen fuel cells because of greater energy density? No need for lithium mining and recycling?

    On the EV side, I’ll put down that the need to transition was/is urgent, and the easier distribution network allowed a few million people to not just imagine a future without dinosaur juice, but even get downright excited about it. Granted, if we had a functioning energy ‘Architecture Review Board’ etc., my favorite car in my driveway might very well leave a trail of water vapor instead of just a pleasant hmmm in its tracks.

  • Bob,

    Japan is providing incentives for energy exporting nations to ship them Hydrogen, they want a viable global hydrogen economy by 2030.

    The form hydrogen is shipped in isn’t fixed at the moment – NH3 – ammonia – is an option. Apparently it can be burnt, but they’ll not allow tonnage to be shipped through towns.

    This could be a consumer, not supplier, driven change.

    Lots of stuff on this page

    I know there’s some good slides in there somewhere 🙁

  • With regards to hydrogen as a energy transfer mechanism (it isn’t strictly a fuel since we generate it from another source and that is the fuel), unfortunately hydrogen efficiency is not nearly as good as promised. A perfect fuel cell (theoretically perfect) is around 85% efficient turning oxygen-hydrogen into electricity. That’s pretty good. However, the creation of hydrogen by electrolysis is quite inefficient. A colleague who is well read in these matters tells me the overall efficiency windmill to electricity to hydrogen to fuel cell to motor to axle is sub 20%. At this point batteries are more energy efficient and are only getting better as time goes on.

    Thanks for great columns Bob. I highly recommend your columns to my friends and colleagues.

    • Thanks for the stats. Thanks more for the compliment, not to mention the referrals.

      On the efficiency front, presumably this is subject to improvement. Or else … see my comment on sun-mining. A whole new profession!

  • Electrics will dominate because of marketing and image.

    What goes on behind the scenes, I suspect, is not so glamorous. For me, I have a better understanding of manufacturing processes than most. My concern is many components of electric cars require rare earth materials like neodymium and others I can’t pronounce, cobalt, lithium, natural graphite, etc. Nearly all these materials come from countries that have very poor environmental protection policies (China, Congo, etc.). We have some of these materials here in the US, but our policies (perhaps rightfully) are such that it’s not environmentally economical for companies to mine and process them.

    In short I have a bit of a like/dislike attitude on electrics. I think clean diesel is the way to go from an overall impact standpoint. But ya’ know, VW, scandals, marketing, and all give it a bad image.

    • I have only limited knowledge of such things: While electric cars do need a variety of exotic substances, so do conventional vehicles, not to mention all the other consumer electronics devices we use and dispose of on a regular basis.

      My unlettered hope is that we’ll become more ingenious in our use of carbon-based exotics like graphene and carbon monofilament.

      As I say, unlettered …

      • (1) I suspect that the ultimate technological solution to The Battery Problem, if there is one, will be some sort of fancy capacitor made of non-exotic materials. The big problems to be solved: how to regulate the discharge of electricity to a controlled tiny trickle, how to prevent entirely (and reliably) an uncontrolled discharge of the entire thing in a huge fast blast, and how to vastly increase the amount of energy stored per kilogram of storage device. Something like this already exists called “supercapacitor” or “ultracapacitor”, and has useful specialized applications in its current state, but a much-improved version could serve as a replacement for chemistry-based batteries.

        (2) The ultimate electric-energy-per-weight problem is probably aircraft. One partial solution might be synthetic jet kerosene, or synthetic aviation gasoline (for propeller planes); something similar (but impractically expensive) has existed for decades; and the big issue for making it environmentally sound would be how it is produced, rather than what it actually physically is. I’m also wondering just how far away cellulosic ethanol is from being a practical aviation fuel. Another thought here: is there a market for huge but slow and energy-efficient propeller planes?

      • “Is there a market for huge but slow and energy-efficient propeller planes?”

        I don’t suppose I should introduce the idea of Zeppelins.

      • The problem with Zeppelins is, of course, what gas do you fill it with? Hydrogen brings back bad memories in the minds of potential passengers, helium is expensive and in limited supply, hot air isn’t buoyant enough to really be practical.

        That’s why I was imagining something like a Q400 turboprop; enlarged to the size of a 737, or even to the size of a 787 Dreamliner. Something vaguely like this, called the Bristol Brabazon, was developed up through the prototype stage but canceled before it came to market. It was a double-decker monstrosity, and one of the selling points was intended to be how spacious and comfortable it was for the passengers.

        So, for example, my usual 1100 mile flight currently takes 2.5-3 hours (depending on if I’m flying with vs. against the Jet Stream). An entire vacation day is lost to travel anyway, so I wouldn’t mind if the flight itself took 5-6 hours, if I had perhaps 50% more room and the ticket cost 20% less.

  • Hydrogen has many problems as a fuel. It’s not an energy source (you can’t mine it or drill for it), it’s a storage medium, that must be manufactured using energy (that may or may not be ‘green’).

    Then there’s storage – either as a liquid (requiring refrigeration close to absolute zero) or in a high pressure (i.e. heavy) tank. And being one of the smallest molecules, hydrogen will slowly seep through even solid metal containers.

    Oh, and it’s explosive when mixed with air. So not an ideal energy storage medium, really.

    With science and technology as currently understood, for most forms of transport there’s no realistic alternative to burning hydrocarbons – they don’t necessarily have to be made from fossil fuel, though.

    • You’re right about hydrogen having to be manufactured … unless we want to mine the sun. (Old joke: it will be safe, because we’d land at night.)

      So far as storage is concerned, I’d thought that was solved, at least in principle, by storing it in metal hydrides. I’m far from an expert, though.

      On the explosivity front, gasoline is also explosive. Perhaps more so.

      But then, on this subject I’m prone to confirmation bias, so take my preference with a grain of palladium hydride.

  • Two observations on hydrogen as a fuel from my distant past:

    In 1978, my freshman chemistry professor Hans Jonassen, a noted expert in inorganic and physical chemistry, devoted an entire class to discussing hydrogen as a fuel. He laid out how the existing methane distribution network could be adapted to hydrogen at a fraction of the cost of developing a whole new energy technology from top to bottom. He addressed Hindenburg questions by pointing out all flammable gasses (gasoline vapors, methane, etc.) are dangerous, but the spectacle of the Hindenburg burning had settled into the public consciousness.

    A slightly less distant memory comes from the 1980s when I was working in the NASA Shuttle External Tank program. I was not involved in fuel delivery design, but folks who were marveled at how mobile hydrogen fluid was through seals, a characteristic inherent to hydrogen’s relatively tiny molecular size. The leaks were troublesome and difficult to solve.

    Solutions to leakage issues would be part of any adaptation of existing distribution network, but the batteries in cars pose issues that are no easier to solve. Batteries require costly rare elements and mining for them does no favors for the environment. The batteries themselves are expensive, have a limited life, and come with fire and electrocution risks.

    Hydrogen just burns away into water, without eventually leaving behind millions of old batteries to manage through waste recovery. I’ve been surprised how little progress has been made in putting it to work.

  • Thanks Bob for the gem: “… how to do their jobs in a new way with the software.” Will definitely incorporate that principle into my OCM playbook.

    Now regarding the Hindenberg disaster, I must apologize in advance for my pedantry in pointing out that few if any died from the fall. Rather, it was the rapid deceleration trauma that got them!

  • “the essential divide separating a change’s immediate annoyances (the transition) from its ongoing joys.”

    This idea sounds to me like a cousin to the Gartner Hype Cycle, which has served me very well in preparing people for the ordeal (it’s ALWAYS an ordeal) of transitioning to a new software system:
    . the Technology Trigger
    . the Peak Of Inflated Expectations
    . the Trough Of Disillusionment
    . the Slog To Enlightenment (my name for it)
    . the Plateau Of Productivity

    What I call the “Slog” to enlightenment, Gartner calls a “Slope” to enlightenment. I consider Gartner’s name for this a pathetic euphemism; I feel that everyone would be better served by a name that more realistically describes the emotional experience, hence my alternate name for it. So long as people are FOREWARNED about the Slog before it happens, they won’t be quite so DISCOURAGED by the Slog while it is happening. They can also feel better about the Slog looking back at it afterwards: “Golly, that really WAS a Slog, you weren’t kidding! But yeah, we got through it.”

    • I suppose there’s no point griping about it at this late date, but I’m pretty sure Gartner’s Hype Cycle started life as my Technology Lifecycle, which I mentioned back in 1996 or thereabouts during the “Great TCO Debate” at Gartner’s annual symposium. My formulation was Hype -> Disillusionment -> Application.

      Anyway, to give Gartner credit where it’s due, my mention was a wisecrack. Gartner turned it into something useful.

      Speaking of useful: Cousin, yes. Same? My point is the difference between buying a crockpot and enjoying a bowl of chili made in it.

      Something like that.

  • And to loop the metaphor back around, when implementing new systems, we must stick the landing! Through high quality systems and very thoughtful and managed organizational change management.

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