One of the most potent forces preventing successful implementation of change is over analysis. If there’s one thing that will stall implementation, if not kill it off completely, is paralysis by over analysis. I’ve seen it many times over the years and it’s not just a mistake made by process improvement novices. It’s also done by seasoned improvement consultants too.
Paralysis by over analysis – what do I mean?
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re with a client and it’s clear that she has a problem – yet it’s seemingly impossible to agree on what she actually ought to do?
The client has presented the data – which you have analysed and you’ve spoken to stakeholders confirming they indeed have a problem. However, when you point towards a ‘fix’ you are asked to look at yet more data. This loop can happen several times…
Why does it happen?
Put simply, in my experience, it happens because of one, or a combination of, the following;
Inexperience – the transformation / change lead is probably inexperienced and doesn’t have the foresight to see what is actually happening i.e. the project is getting bogged down in treacle
Procrastination in decision making: This is closely linked to the point above. For some senior managers there is an inability to make an effective decision. It could be an attempt to shield oneself from blame or criticism. Think about it, if you don’t do anything then no one can find fault with you. It happens more frequently than you’d imagine!
Busyness is equated to effectiveness. It certainly is NOT the same thing. Whilst having your team members ‘dutifully’ employed it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are being effective
A mountain of data: There genuinely may be large volumes of data that you need to sift through. You could identify what project deliverables are needed and prioritise the data requirements to deliver change
What’s the effect on the change programme?
There are several things that are effected, all unhelpful in getting your programme delivered on time.
Cost: Procrastination, inexperience and ultimately not doing the right thing at the right time costs money. The cost is ultimately borne by the client. This money could have been better spent on other things.
Stakeholder confidence: Inactivity erodes confidence in your ability to deliver results. Perhaps worse than inactivity is doing those things that yield few or no results. Stakeholders will have a good idea of what needs to be, and doesn’t need to be done
Time lost: For every day that is wasted over analysing data, time and resources could have been allocated to tasks that actually did need doing.
Personal credibility: This is perhaps the most negative impact of all. Your personal credibility takes a hit, whether you realise it or not. It can take a long time to recover your position. My view is don’t risk getting yourself in this position in the first place!
Here’s what I would do?
Always, always start a change programme with the question ‘What do you want and when do you want it by?’. It’s a great question to get your client thinking.
When you reach a point where you’re in a perpetual cycle of looking at data, then looking at more data and so on, it’s the answer to the latter question where you can leverage a break in the paralysis of over analysis cycle. You can voice the risk on failing to meet agreed upon deadlines. It focusses everyone’s minds.
Another strategy is to find a coalition of the willing. These are a handful of stakeholders who are prepared to make some, small change happen. Because you’ve spent time and effort building good working relationships, across different levels of the organisation, you will know someone who will have the courage (probably through sheer desperation of current ways of working) who will welcome your expertise with open arms and work with you to make things better!
Finally, be tenacious and don’t accept that there is nothing you can do. There is always, always a way to break the paralysis of over analysis cycle – all it requires is effort on your part to go find and speak with people who will help you move things forward!
Getting caught up in a seemingly endless cycle of data analysis is frustrating and readily saps motivation. Be aware of this potential trap and do you best to avoid it BEFORE you hit it. It really does depend upon how you engage and manage your clients expectation. You need to be driving the change programme and using your experience to steer your client away from pitfalls. I’d argue that in the early stages of a change programme small changes are more beneficial than larger changes and more likely to materialise.
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About the author
Abdul Ghani is founder and director at Exceed Excellence. Abdul has twenty year’s experience of hands on Lean implementation, project and change management. He is an improvement coach and an inspirational leader with multi-sector continuous/quality improvement expertise.
Abdul’s key strengths are seeing through complexity, identifying and delivering improvement and to quickly establish rapport and trust with stakeholders. Abdul has project managed, delivered improvement programmes and mentored / coached staff, at all levels, through major transformation programmes.
About Exceed Excellence
Exceed Excellence are process experts that get things done. We know you are busy and that your time and improvement resources are finite. That is why we take a very pragmatic and practical approach to everything that we do. Working with you, we ensure that you achieve sustainable change and realise required benefits.
With hands-on multi-sector experience, our expertise lies in consultancy, Lean Six Sigma, coaching, facilitating process improvement projects and providing Lean training and Operational Excellence masterclasses.