Change: Evolution vs. Revolution

EvolveWhen it comes to enacting organizational change there are two main approaches: Evolution and Revolution.

Evolution involves smaller, gradual changes constantly over time while revolution involves larger changes at a fast pace.  In truth it doesn’t have to be one or another as it is more of a scale with revolution and evolution at opposite ends.

Scrum promotes continuous improvement which is more on the side of evolutionary change.  Constant evolutionary change can help overcome the fear of change as you can adjust and correct (inspect and adapt) your course every step of the way, increasing the chance of a happy outcome.

Some people prefer revolution because the results are more immediately obvious, but revolution can come with a cost.  Revolution can cause a big disruption and distract people from the work at hand.  You also have a lot less control when big changes are happening quickly.

However there are times when revolution is necessary.  Sometimes evolution is too slow, especially in times of crisis.If there has not been much change for a long time the organization may be suffering from inertia and the team members may not be open to change.  In this case revolution can provide the shake up that’s needed to get things moving again. Other times revolution can actually be less disruptive than evolution in the long run and you just need to pull the plaster off quickly to get it over and done with.

If you are always relying on revolution it could be a sign that you are being too static the rest of the time.  Remember that it is the Scrum Master’s job to make sure continuous improvement is ongoing and take an active role in making sure that this happens.

There are times when you need to be especially weary of revolution.  If you staff are stressed out from a lot of previous change it may be that you need to give them a chance to catch their breath and recover.  If you staff are burnt out you need to ensure that the benefits of any change are positive and obvious so that the change doesn’t cause them more stress and push them over the edge.  In general you should compare the risk of revolutionary change to the cost of letting the dysfunction remain for a given amount of time.

Either way, you need to make a choice about how changes occur in your organization because the only thing that is constant is change.  Will you control your changes or be a victim to them?  The decision over the mix of evolutionary and revolutionary change to apply at any one time is something that needs to be continuously monitored and evolutionary change needs to be constantly driven.  While evolutionary change requires an organisation wide effort, the scrum master can be the catalyst.  Revolutionary change often requires a crisis as a catalyst where evolutionary change can help you to avoid the crisis.

Related Books:

Winning Through Innovation
Michael L Tushman
Charles A O’Reilly
Leadership Agility
William B Joiner
Stephen A Jospehs
Organizations Evolving
Howard Aldritch

Categories: Continuous Improvement

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