I’ve heard the analogy of Newton’s first law of motion used as an analogy for organizational change. The analogy is how “Organizational Inertia” prevents change. I’ve always been uncomfortable with that analogy because it felt like an excuse. It justifies that change is difficult and any change is doomed to fail. The analogy is incomplete since it only includes Newton’s first law. What about the other two laws that describe what happens when a change (force) is applied?
Newton has three laws of motion (paraphrased):
Law I: Inertia - A body at rest stays at rest or a body in motion stays in motion.
Law II: When you apply a force (F) to a mass (m), the change in velocity (A) is proportional to the force. Commonly expressed as the equation: F=mA
Law III: For every action there is equal and opposite reaction
I want to clarify the term ‘force’. In this example it is any change that disrupts the status quo. The ‘force’ for a change can be implemented by authority from higher levels of management or from inspired individuals that want to improve. The force isn’t always pushing. Many times the knowledge is pulled from others who are willing to teach. The eco-systems we create to support a change are an element of this force. Our environment must encourage the change effort by making it easier for the people doing the work. It must be fault tolerant and tolerant to faults. The force of change is a balance between exciting and stabilizing.
Hopefully that helps the understanding around ‘force’ because now I want to address the second law, F=mA. When organizations adopt Agile they start with a constant force for change (F) on a few teams (m) that result in a positive change (A). However the support mechanisms (F) that worked initially didn’t have the positive benefits (A) as they increased the teams (increased mass). Effectively as the size and scope of an agile adoption increase the systems to support adoption need to increase. Ironically, the support systems will require additional changes. I wonder if that is related to the third law?