Positive Incline Mike Burrows (@asplake) moving on up, positively

August 16, 2011

“Influencer”, or Kanban and models for change

Consider this progression:

  1. Operating a development process, using Kanban as a visualisation and scheduling tool
  2. Continuously improving a development process, using Kanban to manage flow locally
  3. Relentlessly tackling root causes that lie outside the scope of the development process of #1 and #2, driven by the latter to improve flow end-to-end
  4. As needed, designing and implementing radical change at the levels of #1-3, driven by #3 to improve flow for multiple value streams
  5. Embedding a change management and improvement process/mindset that sustains #1-4 for the long term

Kanban implementations led by people who understand its principles will set out to do #1 and #2 together, though one might hope that #2 will follow from #1 even in a “cargo cult” implementation.  #3 and #4 become natural as peer teams in increasing numbers surface the same issues and learn to collaborate on their solution; #5 then becomes implicit, perhaps manifested explicitly in support structures.

Bottom-up progressions like these have a lot going for them:

  • They can be started by anyone, pretty much anywhere
  • They’re not disruptive initially (but don’t rule out later disruption)
  • Judicious reading, training, coaching and mentoring can speed the process

But (and the answers to these will vary by organisation):

  • What exactly are we trying to achieve?  How will we know that we’re on the right track?
  • From where will come the support necessary for success in #3-5?  What’s to stop the whole thing from hitting a ceiling of organisational indifference or fizzling out, failing even to sustain #1-2?
  • How long should it take?

I’m a bit skeptical when it comes to top-down initiatives too, so what’s the alternative?

Back in April I mentioned Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler in my post Crucial Conversations, Respect and Kanban.  I went on to read Influencer (their book on influencing change) and am now getting stuck into Crucial Confrontations by the same authors.

“Influencer” is about influencing and leading change.  I like this book a lot; it appeals to me as a Systems Thinker and it has the most teachable model for organisational change I have yet come across.  I hope I don’t do the authors a disservice by presenting it thus:

PERSONAL Make the undesirable desirable Surpass your limits
SOCIAL Harness peer pressure Find strength in numbers
STRUCTURAL Design rewards and demand accountability Change the environment

If you can’t remember the content of the boxes you can still remember to ask “why change?” and “how?” at each of the levels of Personal (e.g. you and your peers), Social (e.g. team) and Structural (bigger picture stuff, e.g. organisation, process-wise).  These are good questions to ask also of your development system and each of the systems that surround it – see my recent post on portfolio management for an example of a surrounding system.

This “everywhere out” approach may look daunting, but the trick is to look ahead, to try to pre-empt impediments to change and to identify leverage points, i.e. those places where just a little effort (e.g. policy adjustments, better articulated goals) might unleash significant changes in outlook and behaviour.  Examples could include lead time as an organisation-wide improvement focus, with (say) inventory limits as a policy lever and the availablity of Kanban training as an enabler.  Collectively, these hit most of the boxes above.

None of this is to rule out bottom-up approaches, since a growing number of positive examples (“bright spots”) are key to success in that Social level, and the stronger your base of social capital, the easier it will be to engage at the Structural level.  But let us draw some “meta advice” from the “Influencer” framework: take the trouble to understand how change works, in theory, in your organisation and in organisations similar to yours.  Look for those bright spots!


  1. […] Kanban 17 Aug “Influencer”, or Kanban and models for change […]

    Pingback by Kanban « Sumu's Web Link Collection — August 17, 2011 @ 7:47 am

  2. Mike,

    Very interesting post and comments. I’ve read CC years ago and found it very helpful at least at the personal level. I’ll definitely look into “Influencer” too. Looking forward to seeing more from you.

    Take care,

    Comment by Frank Vega — August 17, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

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