Square Root Of Change

Back in the early 1990s, I was working in IT at a multi-billion dollar manufacturing company. Ours was a small part of IT, separate from the mother ship. Responsible for about 2000 employees in our area, we had implemented several large projects over a two-year span; all bringing changes to the employees. I was a young IT acolyte, and I thought all change was good, great even. Why were people so grumpy? Sigh. I was so naïve.

It got me thinking about change and the journey from beginning to end. There is a lot written about change management and I won’t rehash that here other than to reinforce the primary point: If you don’t pay attention to the change management process — intentionally think about how a change will be implemented — you will make the project harder than it needs to be.

Riding the bus home after work one spring day, I was doodling in my notebook. Thinking about the projects we had implemented and the difficult changes the employees had gone through. And a shape popped out to me.

The Square Root Of Change.

Yes, yes, it is a little cheesy, but stay with me here. I think it helps us approach change in any project by understanding what you can control, what you can’t control, and how people consider change.

Obviously the name gives it all away, but let me walk you through it.

So to review:

  1. There will always be a hit on productivity for some period of time when implementing change.
  2. It will take some time to get back to where you were, much less to the better state.

The good news is that you have control over the duration and severity. Training, data migration, documentation, appropriate testing, good planning are a few ways. The specific things you do will usually impact duration or severity, but sometimes you get lucky and it benefits both. This model provides a way to think about what techniques should get priority.

Now what about those grumpy people? People grumpy with change. Well, some people are always grumpy, can’t change that. But some really struggle with change. It is just part of their personality.

Photo by Michelle Phillips on Unsplash

When I talked with people, trying to make them understand how awesome a particular change would be, I felt like they were not seeing the big picture.

And they weren’t. But neither was I. They were seeing the drop in the line. They were seeing the severity of the change with perfect clarity. While I was trying to point out the eventual higher productivity, they couldn’t see past the drop-off. And I was too clueless to use their opinions to improve the project. See, those people were pointing out the terrain for the drop. They can show you many of the problems you will encounter during the change.

And they are right. Those of us pushing for change often don’t see that. We are just as blind to their truth as they are blind to seeing the net gain at the end.

Photo by Sebastian Hietsch on Unsplash

But if you listen closely, you can hear them telling you where to do extra training. Where to do some extra data cleanup. Where to slip in a few pop-up windows with transition help. Where to go faster or slower. They give you a map to navigate the change. Use it.

The Square Root of Change is a model to think about how to mitigate the temporary drop in productivity (or whatever is being improved). It can help you navigate the duration and severity of the transition.

And keep you from being clueless like I was.

4 thoughts on “Square Root Of Change

  1. Hi, I’ve read the blog and enjoyed the theory, which, I suspect, reflects the real world. Never having been involved in the “manufacturing process”, I can’t say for sure from experience, but it makes sense.

    As a matter of fact, I’ve read it twice. I read it the second time to try to figure out where the term Square Root (as a mathematical function) fits into the point you’re making. Or were you not using the term in the math sense?

    Either way, you presented good clear graphics.



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