In a previous article we concluded that implementing strategy means changing the organisation, so any structured improvement approach that works involves changing the organisation. We also concluded that if we recognise that improvement requires change, and we want to achieve sustainable, ongoing improvement, then we cannot purely consider change as a process with a start and end point, we need to consider change as a cycle.

This article will consider the importance of linking improvement approach to organisation strategy and propose a four step cyclical approach to ongoing change to make it a part of sustainable improvement.

Strategic Alignment

Strategic Thinking is a combination of Customer Focus, Leadership, Business Planning, Goal Deployment and Performance Measurement. The starting point is a clearly defined strategic planning process which in turn leads to a clearly defined strategy.

Strategic planning provides a framework for managers and others in an organisation to assess strategic situations similarly, discuss the alternatives in a common language and decide on actions based on a shared set of values. Strategic planning increases the capacity of an organisation to implement the strategic plan completely in a specified timeframe. It provides a regular opportunity to adjust the business to current events and competitors, provides an opportunity for managers and executives to look “down board” and is the basis of a well-run Lean Six Sigma project identification and selection activity.

9 Step Planning Process

Leonard Goodstein proposes a 9 step strategic planning process, which is shown in the pictorial above. Planning to plan is the first step, followed by a scan of organisation values. Mission, Vision and Values is the framework used to define strategic direction of the organization. Business modelling is the process used to determine the major lines of business (LOBs) or strategic profile that the organisation has or will develop to fulfil its mission.

Mark Denton is a round the world yachtsmen who took a crew of twenty inexperienced sailors on a round the world yacht race. The team developed a top level vision statement which was safe, happy, fast and this statement fulfils all the requirements of an excellent vision.

The vision allowed Mark and his crew to make crucial decisions during the voyage. On one occasion they were faced with a decision whether or not to go through the eye of one of the largest storms that had been seen in the Pacific Ocean for some years. They had a choice whether to proceed through the centre of the storm knowing that this was in all probability the fastest route or to go round the edge knowing they that would be safe but that the route would be slightly longer. The crew took the decision based on their priorities of firstly safe, secondly happy and thirdly fast that they would take the safe route and go towards the edge of the storm rather than through the centre where the winds would mean that they could be in danger. This is a good illustration of how a top-level statement can be used to guide people’s actions.

The business will need to establish the critical success indicators (CSIs) that will enable the organisation to track progress in each LOB that it intends to pursue. It will then identify the strategic thrusts by which the organisation will achieve its vision of the ideal future state and the culture necessary to sustain those thrusts.

CSIs are typically a mix of hard financial figures (revenues, margins and ROI) and more soft indices of success (employee morale and customer satisfaction). Other metrics may be included such as the number of new product launches or new markets established, so long as they are clear and measurable.

Strategic Thrusts are the ways in which the organisation will achieve the strategy, and may include lean six sigma projects. It is also necessary to consider the culture required to support the strategic thrusts required.

It is important to understand that this process is about defining a direction, and not an end point. The strategic thrusts move the organisation in the direction selected.

Change as a Cycle

Elisabeth Kubler Ross, and John Kotter’s models are presented as linear models for managing change, although Kotter makes it clear that after consolidating improvements the goal should be to produce more change. The Deming PDCA model however is clearly a cycle, and is just as much about change as the other two models discussed.

I would propose using the PDCA model as the basis for managing change as a cyclical rather than a linear process, and will look below at how the Kubler-Ross and Kotter model principles could apply within a cyclical model.


The first stage of the PDCA cycle is Plan. In other words establish the objective and the processes necessary to deliver that objective. Deming proposed that whenever possible start on a small scale or pilot to test possible effects. SigmaPro’s first step in any change programme would always be review, or observe the current situation, before planning any future change, some people propose a variation of PDCA that includes an O, with the O representing the Observational phase which is entirely consistent with this approach, but others believe that proper observation should automatically be included in the plan phase.

Kotters first 3 steps, create a sense of urgency, form a change coalition, and create a vision for change would seem to be consistent with activities in the Plan phase of PDCA. Steps 4 & 5, communicate the vision, and empower others to act on the vision are less clear and would in my opinion be better positioned as part of the Do phase. Step 6, Plan for and create short term wins seems to be mixed, with the planning aspect part of Plan, but the creating the short term wins in the Do phase. If step 6 is split into planning and creating short term wins then it could be positioned as half in Plan and half in Do.

Kubler Ross’s first stage is “Status Quo”, and concerns people’s emotional reaction to the announced change; this would be part of the reaction to the communication of the change, and as such in Do. However, planning for this reaction could be included as part of the Plan phase of PDCA.


The second stage of PDCA is to implement the plan, execute the process, make the product and so on. Data needs to be collected data for analysis in the Check step.

Kotter’s step 6 has been discussed in the above section, and the creation of short term wins can be considered as part of the Do phase, with steps 4 & 5 also being included.

Kubler-Ross stage 2 of the change curve relates to peoples’ emotional response to the change and active resistance so fits well into the Do phase.


Deming’s Check phase is to study the data collected during the Do phase and compare against the expected results to ascertain any differences.

Kotter’s step 7 is to consolidate improvements and produce more change, but is about analysing what went right and what went wrong, and making sure that successful changes made are sustained. Analysing what went right and what wrong is very much what Deming would propose in the Check phase. Consolidation and sustainability is more closely aligned with the Act phase.

Kubler-Ross stage 3 of the change curve involves testing and exploring what the changes mean and how people must adapt. This could be considered as part of either the Do or Check phases. Exploring what the changes mean seems to fit better in the Check phase.


The Act phase of PDCA is to adopt the new approach going forward if it is an improvement, make any adjustments needed, seek learning from the experience, and identify potential future improvements which can be fed into the next PDCA cycle.

As stated above, consolidation and sustainability in Kotter’s step 7 is closely aligned with the Act phase., and anchoring the changes in corporate culture (step 8) also seems to align well with the Act phase. Setting goals to continue building on what’s been achieved can also be seen to align with the Act phase.

Kubler Ross identifies the fourth stage as rebuilding, where people rebuild their ways of working. Only when people get to this stage can the organization really start to reap the benefits of change. This rebuilding aligns well with the Act phase.

A 4 phase cyclical change model

It can be seen from the above analysis that many of the components of the change models proposed by Kotter and Kubler-Ross fit well when considered as components of a four phase change model based on the PDCA cycle made famous by Deming. However, there is some need of realignment to fit a cyclical rather than linear process.

The model below shows a potential four step cyclical change model based on the PDCA which could be used as the basis for managing improvement in organisations, splitting components into two types, “Technical” based on PDCA and “Change” drawn from Kubler-Ross and Kotter.

The model is proposed as a cyclical rather than a linear process.







Review the current situation

Implement the plan

Analyse the data from the implementation

Make any adjustments needed


Establish the objectives

Collect data


Clarify learning from the changes made


Identify the processes required


Identify potential future changes



Create a sense of urgency

Communicate the Vision

Identify what went well and not so well

Consolidate the improvements


Establish the guiding coalition

Empower others to act


Anchor the improvements within the culture


Create the Vision


Tell success stories


Identify and plan for short term wins


Make sure that successful changes are sustained


Consider the likely emotional reaction to the change

Support people going through change

Explore how people can best adapt to the new situation

Help those affected to rebuild

It is hoped that by consolidating these linear models of change into the PDCA cycle a more comprehensive and holistic approach to cyclical change can be developed.