Why incremental change?

Why incremental change?

There is something very appealing about making large sweeping changes. It feels like we will get the benefits of the change quickly and thought we know it will be hard work we think it will be worth it. The problem is, let me know if this resonates with you, these large changes take twice as long, cost four times as much and deliver an eighth of the value. And this is only if the change gets achieved at all. In my experience this is definitely not a given, and the disruption of a successful change is hard on an organisation, let alone the disruption caused by and unsuccessful attempt at monumental change.

Incremental change, by contrast, feels so much less appealing. It’s small, it still takes effort and it feels like it might not move the needle on the results in the organisation. My experience has been interesting, the smaller, incremental changes have tended to build on each other and when you look back 3 months, 6 months or a year it is amazing to see how much has changed. For me increment change is easier, more fun, more sustainable and delivers benefits faster.

In this post I am going to look at the example of taking an incremental approach to projects, in the way that Agile encourages.

A few years ago we were trying to create a new website for Boost. Over three years we had four attempts at redesigning and rearchitecting the site. Each time we failed to get to the execution part of the process.

Eventually in exasperation the team decided to work with what we had, but to fix or improve one thing at a time. Within a month the progress was astounding, we had a new homepage with a completely new design and content. Did it match the rest of the site, no. But did it better reflect who we are, what we do and why we do it, definitely.

For me the most interesting aspect of this change of approach was that because the team knew that it wasn’t the last time that we would change the homepage, in fact it would be iterated on almost constantly for the next 6 months, they were much more comfortable making changes and trying new things.

Relieving the pressure of having to get it right first time enabled the team to make progress when previously they had been frozen. If you would like to see the progress we made, have a look at the way back machine on the inherent archive.

This wasn’t a green fields project, we had an existing site we were innovating on. It can feel like this approach can’t work when starting from scratch, but over the last 15 years I have seen this deliver more value, more quickly, on over 30 projects. One of these projects has been running continuously for over 12 years.