What To Do When Implementation Breaks Down

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

This is an assessment you can use to determine what’s going on and develop strategies to get things back on track.


by Rick Maurer

This is a tool to use if this scenario fits your situation. It seemed like people were fully committed to a major change. Everyone gave their assurance that they were 100 percent behind the change. Six months into the new initiative – just when implementation should be in full swing – everything seems to have stopped.


Here are some symptoms that progress has slowed significantly:

  • Leaders no longer send key people to meetings
  • It’s hard to get a budget for this change
  • It seems to be a low priority item for most people
  • Few talk favorably about the change
  • Target goals are not being met

What’s Missing?

When a project gets to Implementation on the Cycle of Change before things break down, there is usually a problem with one or more of the following:

  • Passion. Few are committed to this change anymore. There are a couple of reasons why passion may be lacking.
    • The project turned out to be much bigger than was originally anticipated. The scope of work was never articulated clearly, consequently, it’s grown bigger and bigger. Consultants call this “scope creep.”
    • People showed acceptance early on because it was easier than opposing the change. Now that they must implement the change, resistance has finally caught up with the work.
    • Initial enthusiasm waned once people realized just how hard implementation would be.
  • Speed. Sometimes a new initiative simply moves too slowly. Many quality improvement efforts died simply because it took far too long to train everyone before any substantial improvements were ever made.
  • Ownership. There may not be an owner for the project – someone who is clearly in charge of leading this change. (For example, some organizations talk about the need to become a learning organization, but do little to put platitudes into action. Other companies create a vice-president of corporate learning who has full executive power.)
  • Reasons for the Change Have Changed. Conditions may be different today than they were when you first planned the new initiative.
  • Resources. Are adequate resources committed to ensuring implementation? Resources might include sufficient budget, time for training, and other meetings.
  • Rewards. Often people are not rewarded for work on new initiatives. In fact, work on this project may hinder their work on tasks that have an impact on their performance reviews. If rewards don’t match what you want from people, you almost guarantee that no one will make a significant commitment to the new work.

What to Do

Candidly assess each item listed above.

1. To what extent are people passionate about this change? (If energy is low, list the reasons why.)

No Energy
High Commitment


2. To what extent are we moving at the right speed?

Too slow or too fast
Right Speed


3. Is there an owner assigned to the project that has the power and influence to get things done?

to some extent


4. Is the reason for this change still critical?

to some extent


5. Are sufficient resources committed to making this change a success?

to some extent


6. Are rewards linked to work on this change?

to some extent


Once you’ve completed the assessment, discuss the results. Try these key questions.

  • What is the implication of these scores?
  • If we continue working the way we have been working, how likely is it that this change will be successful?
  • What should we do? Proceed? Regroup? Abandon the project? (If you decide to proceed, consider holding a work-out session as a way to discuss critical issues and ideas.)
  • Which items must change in order for us to proceed with Implementation?


© 2009 Rick Maurer. Rick uses his Change without Migraine™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations. www.beyondresistance.com