The Value of Creating a Common Language when Managing Large Scale and Complex Change Processes
The value of common language
- “Narrowing language increases efficiency”
- “Expanding language increases opportunity”
- “To regenerate, an organisation creates a new language”
- “Past language limits future vision”
- “Organisations need different languages to discuss its present and future business”
Source:DUBBERLY et al, 2002.
City of Kigali (Rwanda): Designing & Introducing 2nd Generation Public Transport Contracts
The complexity of the project team composition in terms of language as well as the need to introduce new concepts specific to the urban mobility environment throughout the project, created the need to establish a common language (and more specifically common nomenclatures) within the consultant and client teams. Creating a language that all parties could understand and embrace, resulted in an enhanced ability to adapt and respond to change, solve difficult problems, support relationships and get the right message across to the beneficiaries.
The need for simplicity
Language defines how a team, an organisation or a system communicate and when a common language for change is established, the change process becomes a concrete process with milestones that can be managed (S. Taylor, Prosci Inc.). Developing and nurturing a common language are essential elements to improving understanding and collaboration (J. Thomas and D. McDonagh, 2013).
In the context of this case study, the consultant team developed and expanded on a number of concepts and terms that all parties could relate to throughout the project.
The following are examples of the use of common (and simple) language to foster an environment conducive to managing a complex change process:
A systemic approach to change: “AS IS” and “TO BE”
In assisting the client and project team members to understand the need for both mechanistic (present to future) and systemic (future back to present) thinking, we built on the tried and tested use of the terms “AS IS” and “TO BE” and introduced the notion of a “TO BE 1”, “TO BE 2” and “TO BE 3” future state to assist specifically the more “technically-minded” team members in managing the tension between systemic and incremental thought and planning processes.
Day One. One Day.
Linked to this, we introduced the notion of “Day One” (the “Go Live” date) and “One Day” (an agreed to ideal state at a future point). This wordplay helped us to balance the focus on the immediate as well as longer term objectives, as ‘’Day One’’ often becomes an all-consuming focus.
Generations 1, 2 & 3
A change and development process with the scale, complexity and mix of immediate and long-term temporal horizons requires one to break things up into bite size chunks. This means that phasing becomes an essential part of the change process. The phasing concept we introduced is that of “generations”. The notion of generational change, at one level, helped us to introduce a sense of past achievement and, at another, the need to prepare for a “step-up”. It also helped us to introduce the need for inter-generational ownership of the outcomes of the change process, and an understanding of the predictable crises that may occur as we prepare to make the transition from one service delivery level to the next (see illustration below).
Plate & Dish
The project, based on the notion of “stepping-up” from G1 (previously implemented by the client) to G2, had to deal with multiple facets and therefore required a multi-disciplinary team encompassing Traffic Engineers, Transport Planners, Data Specialists, Transport Operations Specialists, Legal Specialists, Financial Specialists and Change Management Practitioners. The Plate and the Dish concepts had the objective of linking these dimensions and explaining the interrelatedness of the work processes: e.g. The Dish representing the Traffic
This article is based on the practical experience of the author who worked as project officer and change management specialist on a large-scale urban mobility reform project in Kigali, Rwanda over the period 2018 to 2019.
The purpose of the article is to report on the value of developing a common language (or a common vocabulary) when managing complex change processes at scale.
The city of Kigali started the review and implementation of its Transportation Master Plan in 2018 and as part of this process, significant improvements to key elements of the urban mobility network and system are being planned for implementation in early 2020.
A new bus network was introduced by the Rwandan Utilities Regulation Authority (RURA) in 2013, who signed public transport contracts with three paratransit operating companies in order to enhance the quantity and quality of their service offer. These 1st generation public transport contracts, (as we started calling them), saw the evolution of the paratransit system to a more planned public transport system, and were introduced in 2013 for a period of five years. Planned to terminate in August 2018, the 1st generation public transport contracts were extended to allow time to review its strengths and weaknesses and lay down the foundations for the 2nd generation public transport contracts.
The Request for Proposals for the 2nd generation contracts was issued on 16 October 2019 and contracts are to be awarded on 31 January 2020. These contracts, planned to take effect on 1 May 2020, will see the introduction of a timetable-based (scheduled services) model, new fleet mix specifications designed to serve the specific requirements of each of the optimised contract zones, the introduction of Euro 4 emission standards and universal branding.
The project, in which the 2nd generation public transport contracts had to be designed, was led by the Swiss-based transport engineering firm TRANSITEC with a consortium including the South African companies ODA (Organisation Development Africa), TESS (Transport and Economic Support Services) and GoMetro. This multi-disciplinary team, composed of Traffic Engineers, Transport Planners, Data Specialists, Transport Operations Specialists, Legal Specialists, Financial Specialists and Change Management Practitioners, encompassed a mix of four nationalities, namely French, Portuguese, South African and Egyptian, and used English as their lingue franca.
On the client side, the project was jointly managed by four institutions from the Government of Rwanda (GoR) namely the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA), the Rwandan Transport and Development Agency (RTDA), the City of Kigali (CoK) and the Rwandan Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), bringing a unique blend of inter-institutional dynamics to the project. Kinyarwanda, the first language of almost the entire population of the country, was widely used as the language in which members of the client organisations and bus operators communicated when difficult topics had to be communicated and understanding and capacity had to be built.
The multi-disciplinary and multi -lingual project team composition as well as the need to introduce new concepts specific to the urban mobility environment throughout the project, created the need to establish a common language (and more specifically common nomenclatures) within the project management and client teams. Creating a language that all parties could understand and embrace, resulted in an enhanced ability to adapt and respond to change, solve difficult problems, develop relationships and get the right message across to the beneficiaries.
Introducing a common vocabulary as a tool for change
Change is often seen as difficult to understand and likely to bring fear and anxiety as people face the unknown. But change is inevitable in order to adapt and respond to the constant moving environments in which we live.
An individual’s perception of the change process, whether negative or positive, will define his/her degree of resistance. The way that communication is established will therefore impact the social reality in an environment and therefore either block or drive the change (F. John Reh, 2020).
Language defines how a team, an organisation or a system communicates and when a common language for change is established, the change process becomes a concrete process with milestones that can be managed (S. Taylor, Prosci Inc.). Developing and nurturing a common language is an essential element to improving, understanding a collaboration (J. Thomas and D. McDonagh, 2013).
In the context of this case study, the consultant team developed and expanded on a number of concepts and terms that all parties could relate to throughout the project.
The following are examples of the use of common language to foster an environment conducive to managing a complex change process:
A systemic approach to change: “As is” and “To be”
As a first step, the team had to reflect on and assess the current state of the urban mobility system in Kigali in order to articulate and develop an ideal future state in which the urban mobility system would be significantly enhanced. In this context, the consultant team expanded on the use of two widely used terms namely, the “AS IS” picture, i.e. the current state, and the “TO BE” picture(s), i.e. the ideal future state(s).
The graphic below illustrates the systemic (as opposed to mechanistic) approach to change. This approach shows that it is critical to work with the TO BE scenario in mind in order to determine the specific reasons for change and the steps, actions and timeframes required to achieve the ideal future state. This graphic also shows that projecting from the present into the future will only perpetuate the current state and lead to a low or no change scenario, resulting in an undesired future state. The wordplay with these concepts enabled the technical team members to develop what was commonly referred to as TO BE 1, TO BE 2 & TO BE 3 future states. This allowed the creation of alternative futures for dealing with complex aspects of the change process and for varying timelines to be introduced in the planning process.
Timeframes and planning horizons: “Day One” and “One Day”
Setting goals and contemplating timeframes are key elements of a change process. To achieve this, we assisted the technical team members to differentiate between “Day One” (the “Go Live” date e.g. when the 2nd generation public transport contracts will come into effect) and “One Day” (the stage we need to reach at the agreed future point).
The objectives to be achieved in terms of the two different horizons are summarised in the table below:
This allowed the project team to continuously work with the tension between these two timelines by helping us balance the focus on the immediate and longer-term planning horizons, as “Day One” in a project of this nature often becomes an all-consuming focus.
A progressive evolution of the public transport system: the notion of “Generations” of public transport contracts
A change and development process of this scale and complexity with a long-term temporal horizon requires the project team and client system to understand, develop and manage phases that are linked to attainable goals.
This coupled with the need for a fair degree of incrementalism assisted in the development of milestones. The team used the notion of “generations” of public transport contracts or “G1, 2 & 3” as part of the process of creating a common understanding of phases, predictable crises of transition between phases and the need to balance systemic thinking with mechanistic planning.
Prior to 2013, the urban mobility system in Kigali was seen as largely informal, as the provisioning of public transport was unregulated. This resulted in oversupply, negative externalities, and destructive competition.
In 2013, a new zoning of public transport services was introduced by the Rwandan Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), who signed public transport contracts with three transport operating companies in order to enhance the quantity and the quality of the services provided in Kigali. This, (what we later dubbed as a “1st generation” public transport contracts), enabled the formalisation of the public transport sector in Kigali by procuring and gradually introducing high occupancy vehicles (HOVs), improving the public transport fleet mix, introducing a cashless fare system and prioritising investment in the improvement of bus terminals and city roads.
The project, aimed at designing the “2nd generation” public transport contracts, entails the introduction of an origin-destination network including a hierarchy of routes, a zonal-based public transport contracting model founded on the principle of regulated competition for the route as opposed to unregulated competition on the route, a scheduled service model based on a predictable 7-day timetable and fleet optimisation per contract zone.
Keeping this progressive transition in mind, the 3rd generation of public transport contracts will ideally entail a fully planned and scheduled services model, a globally competitive system (i.e. a public transport system that will attract globally competitive operators, vehicles and parts suppliers, technology partners, etc.), a public transport system underpinned by significant investment in supporting infrastructure, a public transport system that includes elements of a high capacity mass public transport system and some degree of government involvement in risk sharing.
The Plate & the Dish
The project, based on the notion of “stepping-up” from G1 (previously implemented by the client) to G2, had to deal with multiple facets and therefore required a multi-disciplinary team encompassing Traffic Engineers, Transport Planners, Data Specialists, Transport Operations Specialists, Legal Specialists, Financial Specialists and Change Management Practitioners. The Plate and the Dish concepts had the objective of linking these dimensions and explaining the interrelatedness of the work processes: e.g. The Dish representing the Traffic Management improvement measures, and the Plate, the overall improvement of the public transport system in Kigali (including the contract model, fare system, passenger information system, operator business model, etc).
The “Ramp-up” or “Get Fit” period
The risk of failure on the “Go Live” date (Day One) of the new contract model compelled us to consider the need for a “phasing-in” period after the award of the new contracts. We therefore developed a contractual model that differentiates the Effective Date from the Signature Date and these two dates from the Commencement Date. In doing so, we created the preconditions for a “ramp-up” period of three months during which the current operations continue (as is) and newly appointed operators are given time and technical support to master new systems and “get fit” to run services compliant with “stepped-up” requirements from the Commencement Date. The notion of “ramp-up” also serves as a powerful energiser for change.
The Impact of Common Language
The first value of creating a common language is that it provides common understanding and dialogue that reduces the risk of confusion and misinterpretation and therefore frustration. By increasing effective communication, the time spent in clarifying concepts is minimised which leads to an enhanced productivity (Dubberly et al, 2002).
On this project, the introduction of a common language for change provided an opportunity for the team to better define what needed to change and therefore articulate a clear and concrete process with specific steps, milestones and interim measures of success to be achieved. In other words, common concepts often introduced in a playful manner, assisted in turning complex and abstract notions into things that could be understood in concrete and simple terms.
The common language developed during this process significantly improved the functionality of the project team as each member, coming from a different professional background and nationality, could more easily relate to simple terms arrived at through ongoing dialogue.
On the side of the client, the successful adoption and use of the language for change made the client focus on the priority actions to be undertaken.
The common language developed during this process played a significant role in facilitating client ownership of the change and reaching critical decisions within the appropriate time frames.
Dubberly et al (2002): Notes on the roles of leadership & language in regenerating organisations
F. John Reh (2020): Managing Changes in the Workplace
J. Thomas and D. McDonagh (2013): Shared language: towards more effective communication
K. Ganvik, Prosci Inc (2018): Introducing common language for change though e-learning
P. M. SENGE (1990): The Fifth Discipline
S. Taylor, Prosci Inc: Using the ADKAR model as a common language for change
Transitec, ODA et al (2019): Business Model for public transport services in the City of Kigali