The Myth Of The Steady State

There is No Such Thing As A Steady State Anymore

In the time I’ve managed projects, as we got through the process of implementation of any kind of program, whether it’s a software implementation, an innovation architecture, or software development, most project managers I know like to end their projects with a mythical land known as “steady state”. In their view, the project, no matter what it is, is like a perturbation in the force (or in the reality of running a business), but then once its over, it’s over, and everything goes back to normal.

Unfortunately for those people, the reality is is that in this world of continuous innovation and disruption, there is no such thing as a steady state anymore. The world is in flux (which is why agile project management – and even running your life in an agile way works so well)  and the old models which return things to a steady state, no longer ring true.

There is no such thing as “normal” anymore. Even if you try to get back to “the state that you were in before the project started” you’ll find that the world, your competitors, your customers and your market have changed so much, that your original state is no longer viable.  This is true of any project which has a lifespan of anything more than a few months. In the span of a few months, new competitors can crop up and start eating your market share, you might merge with or buy another company, or you may be bought.

Flux is a way of life. Rapid change is the new way of the world, and we can’t tell it to stop so we can get off.

How do you deal with the rapid change of pace? Simple. You accept it and embrace it. You assume that everything will change, all the time, so you go into it with a change mindset. You never “set anything in stone”, you set it in Silly Putty, so you can change it later. If your software has limitations, where it can’t be changed as often as your customer’s world changes, then you need to make sure that those limitations can be lifted or changed. This is one typical issue with SaaS, like Salesforce, where you get what they give you – but their rate of updates can never match the speed of your business.

If you assume that you will never be at anything like a steady state, then how does that change your thinking? How does that affect your day-to-day business? You will need to build into all of your processes the ability to pivot and change, based on everything shifting around you. You need to go from a planning mindset to a resilience mindset, allowing yourself to be buffeted by the disruption around you, but still be able to come out on top.

For some companies, this is a very tough slog. Some industries are bogged down with regulation, others have to deal with a staid corporate culture. But those can be changed, there are ways to innovate and implement a change mindset, even in the most “steady” companies and industries. There are proven methods that work, can help to measure and change your corporate culture, to get your people to think faster and more resilient, to break them out the box that they may be happy in – even if the box must be broken for you to innovate.

Once you realize that change is the only constant, everything changes.