Vintage car with open bonnet in Havana, Cuba for Fairisle article The Low Point.

Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash  (cropped)

The low point

And how to move past it

 

BY JOHN WILLCOX

Vintage car with open bonnet in Havana, Cuba for Fairisle article The Low Point.

Photo by Remy Gieling on Unsplash (cropped)

Article Author John Willcox

John Willcox is Fairisle Consulting’s Lead Consultant

There’s a point in nearly every project that just feels horrible.

You feel like everything’s going wrong, everyone in the team is miserable and all the initial optimism has drained away. You find yourself asking ‘Please won’t someone just make it stop?’

This is the Low Point.

The first few times we experienced the Low Point on client projects we’d think ‘What have we done wrong? Where did all these problems come from?’ But over time we’ve come to accept the Low Point is pretty much inevitable. Why it happens will depend on the project, but one or more of the following reasons are typically in play.

The new team

On most change projects the delivery team is formed from different parts of the organisation. The people on the team have different areas of expertise, levels of experience and ways of working. You’ve probably heard of Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development, often just called Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Whether you believe all teams go through every stage or not, it’s certainly the case that each team takes its own sweet time to gel. When the stakes are high, every difference of opinion during that process can seem worse than it is.

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Optimism hits reality

We love it when our clients have big, bold ambitions. We usually help them to express their ambitions in a detailed Vision Board. This is a great way to set out just exactly what you’re aiming at, but it’s only part of the story. Achieving the Vision depends on planning for delivery, and the planning can take a while. We introduce our clients to Agile methods for planning and delivery which makes the process very straightforward. But we often find people massively underestimate the amount of work needed to achieve really meaningful change. Having said that, once you get started momentum builds and before long you’re making real progress. But when you’re standing on the start line, it can feel a bit daunting.

Resistance to change

Change initiatives need to get as many people on board as possible. That’s not to say everyone has a role in planning and delivering changes, but the reasons for the change and its implications need to be clear and understandable to all. This is not easy to achieve and you often encounter resistance to change in one form or another. The answer here is not to simply forge ahead ‘driving through change’. This is likely to cause resentment, and frankly it’s just exhausting. Stepping back and understanding the reasons for resistance will give you the key to resolving it. We often find the most vocal opponents become the strongest advocates, if you only listen and work with them.

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Step away or go on?

The Low Point will probably happen, and when it does, you have a very simple choice: Step Away or Go On.

Step Away

This is a valid choice, but only under certain circumstances, usually externally imposed. These would include major changes in your market, legislative or regulatory changes. Sometimes the planning stage reveals unforeseen costs which make the change uneconomic. In other words, the assumptions you started out with have fundamentally and irrevocably changed. To be honest, in our experience, this doesn’t happen all that often. When it does we would never advise a client to carry on regardless.

Go On

Where the problems are more to do with team formation, difficulties with planning or other internal reasons, it’s nearly always worth going on. That’s because these kinds of issues are solvable, with a bit of help. Where the Vision is strong, and achievable, there is usually a way through the Low Point. Also, getting through the Low Point as a team usually leads to a stronger sense of unity.

Icon for the Fairisle workshop Resistance to change - the resolve resistance to change workshopLEARN HOW IT WORKS

Resistance to change

Resolve resistance to change

 

The Low Point in action

Bear with me here, but there’s a YouTube channel I’ve become a bit obsessed with. Sleeperdude and his family buy old cars and fix them up. Not slightly tired vehicles which need a bit of a service, nothing so mundane. They literally drag abandoned old jalopies from the undergrowth and work to get them running and driving again.

In pretty much every Sleeperdude video there’s a Low Point, when it seems the engine will never unseize, let alone start. Or the expensive parts he’s ordered turn out to be incorrect. Many of us would, at this point, just give up. Sometimes it does look like Sleeperdude is close to abandoning the project. Usually though, he takes a minute, walks away to figure things out, and returns with fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

There’s a great, and extreme, example of the Low Point in action in this video, when the car Sleeperdude has just bought literally snaps in half.

Does the Sleeperdude give up?

Nah, ‘course not.

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