What change management can learn from start-ups

MVP, it's a concept we've adopted from hip start-ups. The concept is also used in change management. MVC is the name of the concept, minimum viable change, but it can also stand for most valuable change... In this article I briefly zoom in on these concepts and look at their application in organizational change.


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What change management can learn from start-ups

From minimum viable change to most valuable change

Change programs tend to drift. A change plan often starts small but ends very big. All possible elements are added and the essence of the change gets somewhat lost. The change is also often prepared in detail. All potential obstacles are removed from the theory and poured into interventions. Thinking about a change process beforehand is very important, but we must make good choices and limit ourselves to the essence. Otherwise such a plan is likely to become an unmeasurable and unmanageable monstrosity where the forest can no longer be seen for the trees.

It is sometimes suggested to work with MVC, the Minimum Viable Change, copied from product & software development and the lean startup world, where through a process of Build-Measure-Learn assumptions are quickly tested prior to product launch. The MVC is then the smallest possible change that allows for learning and understanding the viability of the program (Jeff Anderson, 2013).

The idea of MVC is not wrong, in the sense that it is smart to opt for “right, but not perfect”. Test an idea soon enough so that you can learn and adjust in a timely manner. This is manageable and affordable. After all, you only really learn by trying out an idea, not by working it out hypothetically and in detail from a conference room. Change management is too often approached in a linear fashion, without many feedback loops, from a desire to control and hold on to things. Given that organizational change is mostly about human behavior, the context is often just very unpredictable and you need to work with feedback loops to quickly learn and adjust if it doesn’t work. So it’s more about constant change than a big transformation that can be done in one fluid movement.

There is no perfect formula for change

It’s a mix of art and science. That is why change design is so relevant in organizational change. On the one hand, it involves working from change methods such as ADKAR, combined with many theories and research findings from the behavioral sciences, and on the other hand, design thinking and lean that combines empathy, creativity and continuous improvement to generate better adoption of change.

Knowing that people usually choose the shortest path towards their goal, we can also ask ourselves why change processes should take a long time. Can’t we reduce the time and attention needed for it? Especially in the current context, where one change quickly follows another. The MVC philosophy seems to offer a solution to some extent.

Uncooked steak

But we must be seriously careful with this concept and avoid focusing too much on the M (minimum) and too little on the V (valuable). Just like with lean transformations, where the basic philosophy also consists of bringing value, but in reality it often lapses into efficiency-striving. If you are not careful you serve your customers an uncooked steak with raw fries, nice and fast, the minimum viable product is served, but the value is presumably negative.

Most Valuable Change

That’s why I like Rachel Klausner’s concept of “Most Valued Product”. This concept (again for product and software development especially in start-ups) focuses on user value and that in turn fits better with our change design philosophy. If we translate that into change we can speak of the MVC or Most Valued Change. Focus the change guidance on the value to the user. Make it simple, appropriate and likeable. People usually have little time, so keep the change as simple as possible. Focus on the essentials. Use applications around nudging. People also want solutions that work, not just purely functionally, but more importantly help them achieve their goal. And finally, people are more likely to go along with something that is approached nicely and is sympathetic, rather than boring and dry.

elements of a most valuable change


How do you tackle this?

First, identify what needs to change. What is the essence? What change and behavior do we really want to see changed? How does that manifest itself? Where are we now and what are the options?

Pick out the key issues. Focus on the core issues of the change that will be attractive to the target audience. Skip the rest. Make the hyper concrete.

Design your Most Valued Change. Use methods from design thinking to shape that change, with the basic principles being that the solution is simple, appropriate, and likeable.

Share or test the prototypes of your solution around behavior change with early adopters. Ask them for feedback, create empathetic insights, and improve your solution.

Launch your solution wider in your organization. Generate qualitative and quantitative feedback (measure) and keep adjusting where necessary.

Less & Better

I am an advocate of seeking essential change. Simplify change approaches while making them more impactful. Less and better. Concepts like MVC, whether it’s minimum viable change or most valued change, help with that, as long as we really put the people impacted by the change at the center. By spending a little more time on good change design at the front end of a change program, looking at doing things both efficiently, but also with the greatest possible value for those involved, you can save your organization a tremendous amount of time upon implementation.


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