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Implementing a process improvement initiative within an organization is an activity fraught with difficulty. On paper it sounds easy. Define the new process, document it, publish it, do some training and voila. In practice, most organizations struggle with the “voila” stage.

Of course the problem comes down to culture change. Culture change is the dark place where deeply entrenched patterns of behavior do battle with the concept of change. Unfortunately, in most cases “entrenched patterns” trumps “concept of change” and the landscape is littered with failed process improvement initiatives. One crusty old curmudgeon I worked with had 4 binders on his shelf that marked the history of the organization’s failed process improvement initiatives. He proudly boasted that none of the binders had ever been opened and the thickness of the dust layer on a binder could be used to date when the initiative occurred.

Overcoming the resistance to change is a major challenge and no single activity is going to overcome the problem. I’ve seen various quality managers come up with different approach, but so far I’ve seen few ideas that have been truly effective. One manager I spoke to about this problem declared that he planned on using the “COE” approach (“condition of employment”); either use the new processes or leave. Sounds simple, but in practice other practical considerations come into play and in this particular example, the manager in question found himself “seeking new opportunities” after having spent 6 months trying to get the organization to adopt “his” new quality program.

The truth is that the “voila” stage is the part of a change initiative that demands the greatest level of attention and planning. Rather than being the wind down stage for a change initiative, it represents the ramp up portion. Changing entrenched patterns of behavior is painfully hard and generally grossly underestimated. Most change initiatives die in the voila stage simply because people don’t recognize that voila is something that doesn’t happen easily and in most organizations doesn’t happen naturally.

So where to start? Well that depends on you, but I can give you one rule of thumb. If you’ve spent less than 90% of your change initiative budget engaging the stakeholders and working on how the changes will be inculcated through the organization, you’re very likely on the wrong track.

4 Comments on ““Voila””

  1. #1 Joe Espana
    on Dec 15th, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    A really good article on the realities of change. the trouble with most initiatives is that they are ‘managed’ as a project. The human factors of engagement and commitment reside within the culture of the organisation, and the extent to which the culture will help or hinder organisational change. What is required is change leadership which is quite different to change management. Apart from the 90% of budget spent on inculcating the change initiative into the organisation much effort needs to be given to defining and articulating a compelling set of reasons for the initative which draws those people most likely to be effected by the change inot the debate much earlier. You can find out how to do that at our website. We work with organisations where neither a clear defiition of the utimate outcome has been articulated, stakeholders are not engaged and a clear path to success is not envisaged. Without these steps its extremely difficult to embed the changes into the ‘new’ culture that should result from a successful initiative.

  2. #2 Rob
    on Dec 15th, 2008 at 12:42 pm


    Thanks for the comment, I’ll have a read through some of the articles and case studies on your website.


  3. #3 Max Wideman
    on Dec 17th, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Re your comment;

    . . .
    The truth is that the “voila” stage is the part of a change initiative that demands the greatest level of attention and planning. Rather than being the wind down stage for a change initiative, it represents the ramp up portion…

    I am not sure I quite agree. I think there is an organizational/structural problem here that falls into the area of “project portfolio management” – a responsibility of senior management. The way it should be is that the first part of the “Change Initiative” is the development and construction of the change vehicle (whatever that might be), i.e. an “enabler deliverable”.

    What then follows in your “voila” should in fact be a separate follow-on project. That is, a project to conduct a successful transition – a project with all its own necessary plan, budget, appropriately different management supervision, and success criteria.

  4. #4 Rob
    on Dec 17th, 2008 at 2:21 pm


    Thanks for the input. I think you are right. In many situations, a separate project may be a better way to structure the work that the “voila” phase represents.

    Note to readers … Max has recently published a book titled – A Management Framework for Project, Program and Portfolio Integration.