Personal change management

By | March 7, 2019
World map

Whether we recognize it or not, the principles of change and project management are utilized in our daily life.

When the change is small, we generally don’t recognize when the change is occurring or we successfully adapt or manage through the change. The ease at which the change occurs is related to our experience with similar changes or because we are experienced in change or project management. I would like to illustrate how change management concepts and practices are used in our daily life based on a recent personal rather than business experience.

I have just returned from a vacation, involving international travel. The destination was one that I had not visited before.  The purpose of the trip was for my wife and I to spend time with our daughter, who is at the location on a travel/work visa.  Our daughter took time off work to spend the entire month with us.

My wife and I are very familiar with international travel. But this trip was different as it was over a month long. Normally my personal and business trips rarely exceeded two weeks.  As with previous trips involving flying, my wife made all the flight arrangements.  As always, she did a great job, needing only minimum participation and help from me.

So, before I go any further, let me state that this trip ranks among my top five favorite. I would not change much, only improve upon our experience based on hindsight, lessons learnt and consciously applying project and change management practices.

So what lessons did I learn ?  Not in any particular order, the lessons were:

  • Do not assume
  • Clear scope and goal definition and management, leads to success
  • Recognize when the situation is not like for like and adjust accordingly
  • A foundation for success is good communication
  • It takes 70% planning and 30% execution
  • Define and acknowledge your governance
  • A schedule, however basic, is important

Do not assume

I thought (assumed) the itinerary was going to be defined through early participation of my wife, my daughter and myself.    I assumed this would include who was responsible for planning different aspects of the trip, to what level of detail tasks would be identified and what events, locations or activities would be of interest to everyone.

By about day five, it became abundantly clear that we all had made a lot of assumptions about this vacation.  Day five of the vacation was a significant milestone as on that day we started a road trip.  Less than two hours into the road trip my wife discovered that the extent of our planning was on the general level of what each us wanted to see or do. Other than we knew we would be returning home to Canada in thirty days, the only other defined time element was that we would start a road trip on day five and that the general location of where we wanted to end up at the end of day five was a region known for its vineyards

For my daughter and I, not having a detailed itinerary was part of the adventure and discovering what lied over the next hill was part of the fun. We were wrong to assume that everyone shared that same outlook.

All of the assumptions made by us collectively is too long to list here.  But the fundamental assumption. which was wrong, was that this trip was similar to all others and the role each of us played would be no different from previous trips at home or abroad.

Clear scope and goal definition and management, leads to success

We thought we knew the scope and our goals of our vacation.  In broad terms they were: spend time with our daughter, see things, have fun, meet our daughter’s new friends and have more fun.  Lots of fun.  Scope also had a time limit, one month. 

Unfortunately, we overlooked a key vacation scope deliminator, geography.  In broad terms, where we were visiting was so big that it covered multiple time zones.  And we wanted to see all of it.  Given that our home is in a country that covers multiple time zones, we should have known better.

We were use to visiting multiple countries in the same day or traveling more than 1000 km in a day and then participating heavy in activities when reaching our destination.  This past experience hindered us from acknowledging how vast the potential geography was that we could/want to cover.  Compounding this was that my wife, started to expand the geographic limits by including other locations and countries, countries which could only be reached by several hours flying, into the conversation.  Scope creep anyone?

Once we sat down and had a focused discussion, the practicalities of our situation settled in.  Our broad goals did not change but we evaluated our options, clarified what we could reasonably hope to do and planned accordingly.  In the end we did everything we wanted, still had a couple of extra days and did not wear ourselves out.

Recognize when the situation is not like for like, and adjust accordingly

Day five was when we recognized this vacation was not like our others.  Normally we were never away from home for more than ten days.  Normally we had a planned itinerary. Normally someone would have already scouted out or made arrangements for accommodations.  This specific vacation was differed from our norm. 

We had never before been lost or forgotten to take things with us. That changed on day five.

Less than two hours into the road trip, both my daughter and I realized we had forgotten our guide books. The guide books were where we had made our notes and highlighted the things we wanted to see. I also left behind the rudimentary schedule that we had put together. And this was the point that we recognized this was not like for like and only vaguely similar to our past trips.

But we recovered quickly.  Our daughter quickly took charge of finding accommodation by reaching out to her friends, including one who was doing a similar trip with her parents and doing research using her smart phone.  Calmness prevailed and everyone became open to change.

As we quickly began to understand the situation and the assumptions that each of us made, the need to take on responsibilities was recognized and executed. Priorities were recognized.  Food, shelter and security quickly went to the top of the list, were addressed and we went back to having fun. And of  most importance, once we recognized that the “plan” (or lack thereof) had gone astray, everyone made compromises for the benefit of the group and the common family goals.

A foundation of success is good communication

We did not start with good communication. Some assumptions that we made, as a group and as individuals, should have been an indicator that we had been poor in our active and effective listening skills.

We all were seasoned travelers, having on multiple occasions, lived abroad and visited multiple continents and countries.  There were also more similarities than differences between where we were visiting and where we lived.  This started out as just another “normal” vacation for us.

Awareness of our personal travel differences, and how different this trip was, particularly the more active role that our daughter would play in this trip, did not occur until we were beyond the pre-trip planning and deep into the vacation. We did not give each other enough feedback. “Black and white” thinking, the stress of limited verbal communication prior to starting the vacation and differences in travel style all contributed to a poor start.

That poor start was overcome by a frank admission that we needed to slow down and discuss together what we were going to do and how we were going to handle a course correction.  The end result is that my wife, our daughter and I now have an even stronger relationship and lots of pictures showing what we accomplished, all with lots of smiles. This was accomplished through open, continuous, good communications.

It takes 70% planning and 30% execution

Did we plan enough before starting the vacation?  By this point I think you know that the answer is “NO”. 

Outward appearance would give the impression that we had.  I had a fully annotated guide-book, supplemented with other literature and maps.  My wife had done her own research as did my daughter.  It was not that we did not plan, we just did not plan in a  coordinated way.  Limited communication, as mentioned above was one of the root causes.  Time and distance were a reason but with today’s technology that can be overcome.

What we needed to do, and later did, was make sure that we all came together at one time, understand our roles (more on that in a moment) and create a more detailed plan and schedule. This was the true kickoff of the vacation. Our personal wants, desires and more importantly, ‎needs were made known and priorities, resource constraints and risks recognized and taken into account.

Define and acknowledge your governance

The need for governance exists anytime a group of people come together to accomplish an end

Institute on Governance

“Traditionally governance was associated with government but now it is recognized that benefit and need of the right amount of governance is essential to any group with a collective goal.  Governance provides the means for a group to achieve its goals and objectives.  It deals with how things are directed, controlled and are held to account.”

Auditor General of British Columbia

By Merriam-Webster’s definition we were a group.  But the three of us differed widely on our style and approach to traveling and vacationing.

Introverted by nature, I prefer to staying around the house. When traveling I use a number of travel/packing checklists and like to pack early for a trip. Once I get somewhere, I am happy watching the grass grow or people walking by. I am also equally happy doing things on the spur of the moment. 

My wife on the other hand, enjoys taking trips. She likes interacting with people and a structured approach to vacation, thought she packs the night before. She is also more conservative in her choice of activities and likes to know what she will be doing tomorrow.

My daughter is both a blend and an extreme of both of us.  Furthermore, for the last three years she has been back packing, mostly on her own.  To put this in perspective, on one trip, her first stop was Paris in July, where she had not made any prior arrangements for accommodations.  Taking it in stride, she and her friend, did a whirl wind tour of the Paris highlights, spent the night in the Paris train station, there was no available accommodations as this was the height of the tourist season, and headed off to Spain, many days ahead of schedule.

Her impact on our vacation was significant.  This vacation was the first where it was just the three of us rather than the entire family, my daughter was an adult and was being treated as an equal. Unfairly, none of us really recognized this until day five.  But I am humbled and proud to say my daughter recognized this first and perhaps more importantly brought that understanding to both my wife and myself in a gentle fashion.

Our group structure and the manner in which we were functioning was very collaborative.  Establishment of roles or recognizing when someone is assuming a role is important for successful collaboration.

  “Project management isn’t just the project manager’s responsibility. If you dig deep, you’ll find that several people within your organization perform some PM duties, formally and informally.”

Sylvia Moses

Accountabilities must be identified for all.  Formal and informal roles and the way decisions are made, defined and accepted by the group need to be established.  Furthermore, the group must set up an environment where people feel free to express themselves. They need to know that they will be listened to, and acknowledge and accept that at times that their needs and desires are secondary to that of the group.

A schedule, however basic is important.

Project management is an important part of change management.  A foundation of project management is a project schedule, whether it is just a series of milestones or very detailed pert chart.  For a lengthy trip, very quickly a schedule becomes very important.

We had a schedule, in fact we had several but as I had mentioned earlier, we forgot them when we started out on our road trip. It was surprisingly fluid how we took the loss of the schedule in stride and developed one on the ago. In an agile, scrum like manner, the scheduled was reviewed each day, adjusted and expanded as needed.

By the end of the vacation, we had accomplished everything that we wanted to do and then some. We endured, accommodating or managed changes every day of our vacation. Our success was based on our past experience, communication, willingness to collaborate, to accommodate, and a shared, recognized goal.

We had fun and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We individually and as a family unit grew. And, most importantly, I think we would do something similar again!