25 June 2006

Organized Abandonment

I learned some new educationese this week: organized abandonment. This is another immigrant term from the business world:

The first step for a change leader is to free up resources that are committed to maintaining things that no longer contribute to performance and no longer produce results. Maintaining yesterday is always difficult and extremely time-consuming. Maintaining yesterday always commits the institution's scarcest and most valuable resources--and above all, its ablest people--to nonresults. Yet doing anything differently--let alone innovating--always creates unexpected difficulties. It demands leadership by people of high and proven ability. And if those people are committed to maintaining yesterday, they are simply not available to create tomorrow.

The first change policy, therefore, has to be organized abandonment. The change leader puts every product, every service, every process, every market, every distribution channel, every customer, and every end use on trial for its life. And the change leader does so on a regular schedule. The question it has to ask--and ask seriously--is "If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we now know, go into it?" If the answer is no, the reaction must not be "Let's make another study." The reaction must be "What do we do now?"

In three cases the right action is always outright abandonment:

1. When you think that the product, service, market, or process "still has a few good years of life." It is the dying products, services, markets, or processes that always demand the greatest care and effort. And we almost always overestimate how much "life" actually is left. Usually, they are not dying; they are dead.

2. When the only argument for keeping a product, service, market, or process is that "it's fully written off." To treat assets as being fully written off has its place in tax accounting, but for management the question should never be "What has it cost?" The question should be "What will it produce?"

3. When for the sake of maintaining the old and declining product, service, or process, the new and growing product, service, or process is being stunted or neglected.

For every product, service, market, or process, the change leader must also ask, "If we were to go into this now, knowing what we now know, would we go into it in the same way we are doing it now?" And that question needs to be asked about the successful products, services, markets, and processes as regularly--and as seriously--as about the unsuccessful products, services, markets, and processes.
---from Change Leaders by Peter Drucker in Inc. Magazine, June 1999

My understanding about this as it applies to education might also be called "How to Remove Outdated Responsibilities." We consistently ask teachers and principals to add items to their routine, but we never offer them ways to remove others so that the job is reasonable. We ask people to keep doing what we've done because well, we've always done it that way.

I know I'm oversimplifying things. As nice as it sounds to be able to work with people to get them to identify things to let go of, I also know that most people aren't all that excited about change, no matter what form it takes.

In the case of elementary science changes---which I have to sell to principals tomorrow---the organized abandonment is already built in. Some teachers are going to have to learn to use a new curriculum, but there will be fewer kits, a longer time to use them, less management of materials, and teacher materials that will be theirs to keep. We giveth something to their plates, but we taketh away quite a bit, too. I have already heard from several teachers that they like this plan. Principals? Not so much. They're worried about having staff angry about change (a valid concern) and that they didn't have at least a year's notice about the changes (kids can't wait...get over it, admins). But perhaps in the name of organized abandonment, I can help them see some value.

1 comment:

Mike in Texas said...

Careful Science Goddess, you're starting to speak adminaspeak. Stay away from the Dark Side!