Planning – Part 1

The F.P.I.E. process (pronounced ‘eff pye’) underpins The Change Consultancy’s approach to change projects. F.P.I.E. draws heavily on our collective experience; in particular, it taps into project management and business psychology practice. As a consequence, we can offer substantial experience in consulting on change projects from start to finish. We now look at identifying and selecting issues and problems, then analysing them.

# 2 Planning (P)# 4 Identify & Select Issues or Problems
# 5 Analyse Issues or Problems
# 6 Generate Options for Change
# 7 Select & Plan the preferred Option for Change

Piss poor planning promotes piss poor performance” British Army

# 4 : Identify & Select Issues or Problems

“Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Albert Einstein

If Stage #1 poses the question, “Where are we headed” (Future State), then Stage #2 answers the questions, “What is happening now?” and “Which are the appropriate courses of action?” (Present State). In this article I concentrate on, “What is happening now and why?”

If the organisation change project is complex there will be a number of issues or problems to address, and a requisite number of plans to be devised in response. One would be justified in visualising it as a ’planning tree’. This follows the guiding principle of the objectives tree with its array of sub-objectives and sub-sub-objectives.

A useful device is The Miracle Question, designed to focus attention on difference. As human beings we are wired to detect difference: the flash of movement in the corner of the eye that momentarily commands our attention, the unwelcome stink that overwhelms our olfactory senses for a few seconds and is gone to await the next, or a sound that we like or dislike on first hearing.

The Miracle Question
Imagine that in the middle of the night, when you are fast asleep, a miracle happens and the problems you have been having are solved ‘just like that’.

However, since the miracle happened in the middle of the night, no-one can tell you that it happened.

When you wake up the next morning, how will you know that the miracle has happened? What will be different?

Planning is the engine room of F.P.I.E. Having established organisation change goals for the project, it is necessary to descend into the vital detail of what must be changed to meet the change goals. There are more questions to be answered; What is happening that should not be happening, and what is not happening that should be happening? What are the consequences of change? (Bear in mind that unintended consequences have an unwelcome habit of torpedoing complex change projects, sometimes beyond recovery.) Finally, is it worth pusuing this line of inquiry?

The Change Consultancy favours a quantitative approach to identifying and selecting issues or problems, but we recognise that a qualitative approach must accompany the quantitative approach, particularly in complex change situations. As such, we aim to:

  • Clearly identify issues or problems
  • Describe the end point in a qualitative and quantitative manner.

Quite frankly, there are lots of ways to tackle this step. The added value that The Change Consultancy seeks to bring to its clients is in asking the questions above, probing the answers, and focusing the organisation change leader or change team on the ‘simple, but no simpler’ advocated by Einstein.

Discussion : Is the Miracle Question commonly used? If so, in what circumstances?
In your experience, how much time is devoted to this type of activity in complex organisation change? Is it sufficient? When is qualitative data used?

#5 : Analyse Issues or Problems

Why is it happening? What prevents us from reaching the desired sub-objective? How do we establish important facts about issues and problems?

We expect our clients’ organisation change leaders or change team members to be accompished analysts in their own right; thoroughly conversant with business or engineering or scientific problem solving heuristics. Identiying and verifying major causes, then ranking and documenting major causes is a core part of their roles. In general we find there is no shortage of intellectual firepower available within client organisations. The dilemma is harnessing and focussing it. Organisation change project teams are often difficult to co-ordinate and communication suffers accordingly.

Although the shock absorber factory was based in Yorkshire, ownership resided in the USA. An edict had cossed the North Atlantic – all factories must implement the company’s continuous improvement program. A middle manager was nominated to implement the program as per the written guidelines and materials drawn up in the USA. He ran a pilot study, which did not fare well. A colleague and I, who had previously worked with component suppliers in the North East car supply chain, were asked to run the next program.

After speaking with the pilot group, the first thing we did was to simplify the message and the training materials. We also devised activities to involve participants in a series of workshops which followed the logic of the Company’s continuous improvement cycle. Overall, the change goal for us was to generate a package that could be successfully presented internally. However, proof of concept was required, so we ran a pilot series of workshops with a group of supervisors.

It was not plain sailing. Although the participants liked the training activities and generally understood the continuous improvement cycle, they struggled to implement it. In large part this was due to not identifying and selecting issues or problems. This was not a failure of intellect, rather it was counter- cultural.

Change has a habit of throwing up mavericks. One of our participants not only identified a problem, he went through the whole cycle and developed an opportunity to save £10,000 per annum. This was verified by Finance. His idea was implemented, thus providing proof of concept. We were able to point out the potential benefit of ‘marginal gains’. Were every supervisor able to achieve a similar saving, the factory would benefit to the tune of £300,000.

What quickly became clear to us was that the supervisor enjoyed the support and encouragement of his section manager, who had bumped into us several times during the program and displayed considerable enthusiasm for the project. In contrast, the rest of our participants were not supported. Indeed, there was considerable cultural resistance to the project, all the way to the top, partly because it had been imposed by the USA.

The value The Change Consultancy offers in the Planning stage centres on teasing out three distinct perspectives: my/our perspective (frequently coloured by opinion and emotion), the perspective of the other person or people (what they might be thinking and feeling), and the third party/fly-on-the-wall perspective (what is happening in the context of what is happeningelsewhere in the organisation). In our experience these often become confused in the white heat of change.

The outcome that should be expected from Step #5 is key causes documented and ranked, but as we have seen from the case study, people and cultural issues do complicate matters. The Stage #2 change toolbox, below, reflects this.

Stage # 2 : Planning for Change Toolbox
Steps# 4 : Identify & Select Issues or Problems# 5 : Analyse Issues or
Hard Techniques
  • Opinion Survey:
    – Quantitive
    – Qualitative
  • Diagramming:
    – Systems Mapping
    – Rich Picture
  • Issues/Problem Statement
  • Diagramming:
    – Cause & Effect
    – Flow Chart
  • Fishbone Diagram
  • Pareto Analysis
  • Five Why’s
Soft Techniques
  • The Miracle Question
  • G-R-P-IR
    (Goals-Roles-Processes- Internal Relationships)
  • Data Gathering:
    – Diagonal Slice Group
    – Focus Group
    – 1 to 1 Interviewing

Discussion: Does this hard/soft distinction, particularly in complex change, continue to aid your thinking on organisation change?

We invite you to add to the toolbox, which will be regularly updated and shared with readers of Interactive.

Interactive builds The Change Consultancy’s library of articles about organisation change. It is edited by Tom Lindsay who is also a major contributor. Our heading of Interactive is a deliberate choice, because The Change Consultancy is keen to engage with its audience. Each article contains Discussion points. If you wish to comment, then we cordially invite you to get in touch with Tom at

Tom Lindsay is a graduate Chartered Psychologist and MBA specialising in business psychology. In the 1990s he was a part-time Course Tutor of Planning & Managing Change for the North East Region of the Open University’s Business School. Prior to this he held personnel positions in blue chips and the NHS. For the past twenty eight years he has been a consultant concentrating on the people aspects of organisation change. He is a director of The Change Consultancy.