Introducing a new way to do a job to experts in how it’s done now is hard.

The six dimensions of business function optimization can tell us  we need to find new and better ways to do a particular job. But, as a species, we struggle with doing something in a different way, using different tools, at least at the beginning. This struggle regularly kills business change projects, and study after study points out that paying insufficient attention to Business Change Management is one of  the top one or two reasons that a project may fail.

This isn’t new. I am guessing that some Babylonian construction engineer ran into problems with the team when he introduced them to a better way to build a ziggurat.

And, the “Remote First” approach to Project work has made Change management much, much harder.

Let’s start with trust, which is necessary for change management. It takes some different tools and skills to engage in trusted conversations in a remote meeting, and it isn’t a given.

Years ago, one colleague told me that he felt that needed to be in the same room as somebody to absorb their “pheromones” to help build trust. I am not sure those would be the words that I would choose, but it describes what some people might be feeling.

Second, the tools themselves are different for collaboration. There is a tremendous amount of innovation in collaborative tools, but with this innovation we need to do “Meta Training” on the use of new tools that help enable distributed collaboration. For example, instead of gathering around a white board, we may use a tool like Linq to map out a business process.  But, we will jointly need to invest the time to learn how to best use it so it feels as natural as drawing on a whiteboard. Even if we can do much more than we could have with the whiteboard, unless using it is intuitive we won’t get there.  Frustration with the collaboration tools could nudge us into the change resistance swamp right here at the beginning of the conversation.

So what else is to be done?  There are a lot of schools of thought on this, but I think we can get to a few takeaways that can lead to some quick improvements.

  • Use the right communication tool for the job. For critical conversations, Face to Face conversations are better than Video meetings. Video conversations are better than chat or email. And, by the way, insist that all parties keep their cameras on. Otherwise it isn’t a video meeting! Choose video because text messages with emojis may not help you get the alignment that you are craving. The overriding rule is that the most immediate and personal tool for a critical conversation is probably the best one.
  • When it comes to change, people really want two things in life—To feel like they are being heard, and to feel like they are not out of control. (This isn’t the same as feeling in control, it turns out). Simple tools (regardless of technology) that help them feel like they are being listened to, and that they are in control go a long way in building confidence. Working out rules of listening to each other, and “back briefing” of what the other party is expressing are like magic to Change Management.


  • The basic, (dare I say “Bare Bones”) tools for Change Management still work. Tools like a Stakeholder analysis, Training Plan and Culture Change Plan should be in the top tray of your toolbox. These tools will help you anticipate and plan activities that will give your business change project a fighting chance of success.

Final point– Change Management really could be thought of as another form of understanding and helping people deal with loss, and especially with the loss of the value their hard-won expertise gave them. They’re dealing, that is, with grief. People act unpredictably when they are grieving, and don’t always behave at their best.  Going with the wisdom a colleague named Daryl, I think it helps to always assume positive intent in the other parties—which is somehow harder to do when we are not face to face, and trying to read emotions or understand somebody via the small cues on a glitchy video tile.

Not to mention replacing body language with emojis when you’re trying to make a point.



When your typical consultant talks to your typical business executive, the consultant will probably promise to make measurable improvements in their business processes.

If the executive is unwary, they’ll jump at the opportunity, without asking (1) who gets to choose which metrics will be improved; and (2) which other metrics will worsen due to the intrinsic trade-offs in any business change.

In my consulting experience I’ve seen quite a few process improvement initiatives go wrong. Most of the failures were the result of just a few fallacies in how would-be process improvers think about the task. They are:

Conflating process and practice

Processes and practices are how organizations do their work … how they turn their inputs into outputs. They’re poles on a continuum. At one end are processes – well-defined series of repeatable steps. Do the steps right and the work will be done right. As the saying goes, a good process is designed by geniuses to be executed by idiots.

A practice, in contrast, is also a series of steps, but steps specified at a less granular level. In a business practice the expertise remains with the practitioner, and process success depends on the practitioner’s expertise and good judgment.

Which to use – process or practice – depends on the circumstances. Treat an assembly line as a practice and the defect rate will skyrocket. Run project management as a process and projects will implode.

Treating process improvement methodologies as alternative tribes

Looking for a packaged process improvement methodology? You can choose Lean, Six Sigma, Lean/SixSigma, Theory of Constraints, or Business Process Re-engineering. The unwary figure they need to pick one to use for all process improvements.

The wary know better. They understand the different process improvement methodologies have different points of focus. Lean reduces waste. Six Sigma improves quality by making process outputs more uniform. The Theory of Constraints removes process bottlenecks. Re-engineering? It only makes sense when you’re either starting from scratch or reconciling the processes in use in different, merging business entities.

Trying for a one-size-fits all process improvement methodology only makes sense if “improve” means the same thing for all processes. Otherwise, it’s like the scrambled version of the old saying: When you have a hammer, every thumb looks like a problem.

Setting improvement goals based on whatever sticks to the wall

“What are your pain points?” many consultants are fond of asking. People being what they are, they happily indulge their inner griper, leading to long bulleted lists of apples ‘n oranges complaints about How Work Gets Done compared to What Utopia Would Look Like.

The problem is the blank sheet of paper these gripe-fests start with. It’s a problem because when you’ve finished singing, dancing, and playing the tuba, processes can only improve in six possible ways … the six dimensions of process optimization. And at best, because there are always trade-offs, process improvement efforts can only optimize three of the six, which are:

Fixed cost: The cost of turning the lights on every day.

Incremental cost, aka marginal cost: The cost of processing one unit of output.

Cycle time: The time needed to turn one unit of input into one unit of output.

Throughput, aka capacity: The number of units of output delivered in a given amount of time.

Quality: Adherence to specifications or its equivalent, the absence of defects.

Excellence: Flexibility, the ability to tailor, and to adapt to changing circumstances.

Once you understand the six dimensions of process optimization you won’t look to fix an open-ended list of imagined pain points. Instead, everyone will first drive to consensus on how, for the process currently slotted for improvement, the six dimensions rank in priority. They’ll recognize that a given process characteristic is only a pain point if it’s one of the top three, and the current state is unsatisfactory.

Bob’s last word: Process optimization is a practice, not a process. As is usually the case with business practices the top three optimization dimensions are Excellence, Cycle Time, and Quality – the practice must be adaptable, it mustn’t succumb to analysis paralysis, and it must actually solve the problem it’s supposed to solve.

See? It works!

Bob’s sales pitch: I’m delighted to announce that KJR will, if all goes according to plan, continue to grace your inbox every week, albeit under new management. I’ll stay involved, curating topics, editing content, consulting on the weekly posts, and occasionally contributing a new post of my own.

The new proprietor and I have similar views about life, the universe, and everything, but not so similar that he won’t have quite a lot new to say, both about the kinds of topics KJR has been covering since its inception, and about topics I haven’t been in a position to take on.

I’ll tell you more next week.

On’s CIO Survival Guide:Workplace griping: The key release valve your culture lacks.” Its point? Chronic complainers are annoying. But when employees can’t complain, that can be a whole lot worse.