Iterative and incremental business change

Philip Ratcliff

Image of building work illustrating the Fairisle article Building for success

Our next-door neighbours are having some building work done; some significant building work.

Massive rolled-steel joists (RSJ’s) support the upstairs back half of the property.  Piles of bricks and blocks and timber are arranged in the garden.  Various tradespeople come and go according to what’s happening on any particular day.

It’s a prime example of a traditional approach to project management.  The space won’t be usable until everything has been completed.  There is unlikely to be a point when some of the space can be used whilst the rest is still being worked on, except perhaps when it gets to the snagging list.  Each day our neighbours come out and inspect what’s been completed that day.  But they’re no more able to use the space today than they were yesterday.  They talk about a completion date sometime in September, which is when they’ll be able to start using it.

Iterative business change

I’m no construction worker, but it’s difficult to see how you could apply an iterative or incremental approach to a piece of building work like that.  Perhaps you shouldn’t, for lots of reasons.  But organisations aren’t like buildings.  It’s rare that you can take a chunk of the business out of circulation for a significant amount of time.  It’s almost impossible to pause everything to move people around, change processes  and refocus teams before starting it all up again.

It’s much more likely that you’ll have to do the proverbial ‘change a tyre on a moving vehicle’ and undertake organisational development whilst maintaining an acceptable level of service to your clients.

Build for successful change

An iterative and incremental approach is a way to do this.  It allows you to inspect and adapt the way you’re undertaking the change.  A traditional ‘waterfall’ approach – where everything has to be finished before starting to benefit from your changes – doesn’t allow you to work like this.  Iterative organisational change means that you identify what needs to be done and create a delivery log (also known as a backlog).   You then go about working out the best (or necessary) order to complete the tasks on the log.  It’s incremental because it’s then possible to implement stages of the change alongside ongoing operations.  You can also inspect the impact of  changes and adapt your next steps accordingly.  This approach naturally allows for connection, conversation and consultation with those involved in or impacted by the change, making for a more collaborative approach.

We’re looking forward to when our neighbours’ building work is completed because they’re excellent at hosting dinner parties.  They’ve promised that we’ll be on the invitation list for the first one post-construction.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking about undertaking some organisation development and would like to learn more about how an agile approach can help, why not get in touch?


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