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project planning

Can you stop the train after it has left the station?

With most change initiatives, there is a desire to quickly get set up and make traction. A new team is formed, a charter is written and a timeline is set.

There is a pervasive feeling that we are behind, though we haven’t yet started. Gaining momentum and pooling organizational energy are good things; people notice activity, new news is interesting and new projects can invigorate those involved.

There is a dark side to speedy project beginnings. Often (and more so now than in the past) the desire to show progress is stronger than the desire to set the foundation for success. Evidence of this: plans are created before the change has been fully defined, meetings are scheduled with no agendas,and solutions are declared that are not supported by facts.

Speed becomes the currency of change: process equals motion. The cost of this approach is that it results in delays, rework and additional costs in the future. A quick step forward is followed by two slow steps back.

The biggest risk the mechanisms of speed cause the strategic aspects of the change to be passed over for the warm comfort of project planning. Benefits are not substantiated, measures are not validated and the drivers of change–mindsets, skills, processes, relationships and systems– are set with little rigour or interrogation. 

If you witness this phenomenon, it might make sense to return the train back to the station to complete the strategic work that was missed. Technically, it is the best solution but practically it isn’t feasible. Momentum is a greater force than logic. 

What you can do is slow the train down so that the strategic work gets done in parallel to the planning and execution of set up activities.

You do so by asking questions that expose gap in thinking and areas of risk. Here are some questions that have worked for me:

  • Can you explain the change to me?
  • What must we change in order to realize the benefits? Does everyone agree? How do you know?
  • Have we reviewed our assumptions with leaders?
  • What are our metrics? How will they be measured?
  • Have you considered other options? What were they? What about this one?
  • Have we tested our approach with what worked well (and not so well) during past change projects?
  • What are the risks of moving this quickly? What can we do to minimize them?
  • Are you confident that we have done our due diligence before setting our plans?

Speed is important as long as you know where you are headed and have adequately prepared for the journey. A slower train can lead to a better ride and faster arrival.  


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