Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Achieving Phase Change: Why is it so difficult to change management

In preparation for the #Stoos Gathering, we have been asking 'Why is it so difficult to change management? While we are not the first to ask the question, it has once again stimulated much discussion (@jurgen's blog, @steve's blog, or on the ScrumAlliance Linkedin group).

Back when the #Occupy movements were getting started, Steve Denning wrote, "What do the occupiers want? Phase Change."
People increasingly sense that things aren’t going to get better unless something big is done, some fundamental change is made in our financial structures. It won’t be small-time rejiggering—a tiny cut in this tax, a minor reduction in that program—that will get us out of this. Like Oliver Twist, they intuit—however incoherently and inarticulately—that we need a phase change, a change in which everything is different.

Phase changes follow patterns regardless of physical or social makeup. They entail a change from one level of order to another. Phase changes are everywhere in nature: from ice to water, from water to steam, from iron to magnet, from seed to flower, from birth to life.

What does it take to make a phase change happen? Energy. Lot's of energy. Let's look at what it takes to change ice into liquid water:

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia
It takes only 1 calorie to raise the temperature of 1 gram (= 1 milliliter) of water by 1 degree C, but it takes 80 calories to transform 1 gram of ice into one gram of liquid water, and the temperature is still 0C! If the water were liquid at 0C, those 80 calories would raise the temperature to 80C!

We have seen examples of social phase change, most recently the Arab Spring. Figuratively speaking, the temperature is still there very cold, and the societies may yet refreeze, but there is now movement in these societies.

And what of management? Most management structures are still pretty inflexible, pretty frozen. But every Scrum team or Kanban project is part of the thaw. Every radical manager is a source of energy, helping his/her company to warmer spring.

Help us catalyze a phase change at the #Stoos Gathering: when have you experienced phase change? What made it happen? And how can we apply that to transform management?