How many times have you heard “We tried that and it was horrible. It just didn’t work for us.”? I hear that a lot. Heck, I have even said that at times in the past regarding ideas for team improvement. Its a very common condition that a company will bring in a consultant to implement a big change initiative that is set to greatly improve a team or company’s performance. Often it is a big, sweeping change such as taking waterfall teams to scrum or some other way of working that really requires a complete shift in how you think about work. Now, if you do these methods like Scrum, XP, etc well and the team is ready for this size change, you can really reap some rewards. However, a good percentage of the time these methods are scrapped and the initiative is abandoned. Why is that?
The answer is that they’ve fallen into the J-Curve and can’t get up. Have you ever heard the phrase “it is going to get worse before it gets better?” Remember the last time a new person joined your team… how there was an initial negative impact on productivity before it got better? That’s exactly what the J-Curve depicts.
Now, as you can see in the picture, many people, often executives, don’t anticipate the dip. They only focus on the gain and the dip surprises them. However, you’ll find that despite that, there is tolerance there. The problem is that, in many situations, the size of the change (aka the depth of the J-Curve) is greater than the organization’s tolerance for change. When this is mismatched, great ideas are abandoned. You must either understand the climate that you’re navigating, and its tolerance for disruption, when implementing change.
If there isn’t tolerance for a major shift and you still need to solve the initial problem, you will need to take a different tactic. You can climb up that same mountain that the J-Curve represents but with multiple smaller changes. I like to call it “baby steps to awesomeness” but its much better known as Kaizen. With the small, incremental changes you will still have the dip of a J-Curve, but they will follow within tolerance levels. And, in the end you still reach the goal, but you also re-evaluate after each J-Curve to ensure that the path you’re on is the one that will really take you where you need to go.