It’s early, and you’re not caffeinated yet. You’re doing your morning routine with barely a thought. Not bad for a morning routine – but it is bad if you end up in the same thoughtless process of filling out templates and creating artifacts. Here’s why.
Templates for artifacts, checklists, and forms aren’t bad. They provide structure and repeatability, and they can be powerful tools to prompt you to thinking and understanding. Designed right, they force the thinking and evaluation process in a way that leads to better outcomes and deeper understanding. However, too often, these templates become a crutch that people blindly use to say that they’ve completed the work for doing a change effort.
It’s about checking the box. The project charter is required, so you grab the template and paste in the text from the email that the project’s sponsor sent. The document is copied into the project workspace, and it’s off to the next project or the next document. After all, the work is done. There’s a project charter, and that’s what’s required. There’s no requirement that the questions in the template are answered or that it’s signed off on. All that matters is that the file exists.
As requirements go, having the artifact that the template becomes is a good start. However, what’s harder to manage and require is the thinking that the template is designed to trigger. Because every project is different, it’s not practical to require an answer to every question – and it’s even harder to enforce a requirement like this.
Requirements in the form of checkpoints and gates are necessary but not sufficient to ensure that your change projects are getting the attention they deserve. They can form the first layer of support for good change management, but they don’t go all the way – that’s what approvals are for.
There are some approvals that are clearly a formality. The person you send the document to for approval never – or rarely – reads it. The approval is perfunctory. It’s a signal that we’re doing due diligence when that isn’t the case. On the other end of the spectrum are those approvals which you dread, because you expect hard and even unfair questions and discussion that borders on personal attack.
Approvals, done well, need to be neither of these. If we want to prevent people from going through the motions, we must pay enough attention to the approval process to ask thoughtful, insightful, and probing questions without making it feel as if the approver and the requestor are archenemies. The goal of the process is to ensure that everyone understands and agrees with the change and that it’s got the proper support to be successful.
Approvers should thoughtfully consider whether the questions in the template have been answered appropriately – or whether the requestor should consider them more deeply or address other angles that weren’t fully explored.
Too often the goal becomes the artifacts, but the artifacts will be long forgotten by the time the change is implemented. What remains are the feelings that are left with a good – or bad – change effort. Artifacts are, in truth, not the point. They’re the tools that are used to generate the shared understanding and thinking that are essential to change success.