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The Adaptive Change Design Cycle

Updated: Sep 9, 2020


To create a cycle that repeats from one Transition State to another (a time span of 3-4 months).


This approach has been successfully used by the US military and later, applied to Agile software development (I.e. Sprint), over shorter timeframes (typically 2-3 weeks), however, the Adaptive Change Design Cycle applies to the whole change programme. Cultural, Organisational and Operational, as well as Technological changes, are managed under the same cycle. The main benefits of a shorter change cycle are:

  • Smaller committed investment

  • More freedom to experiment (safe-to-fail)

  • Can adapt and course correct in VUCA environments

  • Smaller teams are more productive.


Design Thinking philosophy is at the heart of the Agile/Scrum software development movement. However, Adaptive Change Design is not purely technical, it applies to any type of change. And the scale and scope are much larger in Adaptive Change Design than most software only projects. However, they do share the same general mindset and many of the same principles.

Design Thinking is focused on the innovation of new products and services whereas Adaptive Change Design is focused on the change journey. Adaptive Change Design does trigger insight & innovation, but always in the context of delivering a meaningful outcome.

Many consulting firms have adopted/adapted the SCAN, FOCUS and ACT model since its inception by Jim Channon, Frank Burns and Linda Nelson, in the early ’80s. I first came across the model at a Capgemini ASE workshop in 2002, and I’ve been using it ever since.

However, within the context of Adaptive Change Design, SCAN, FOCUS and ACT are embedded within the programme and, along with an addition, REFLECT, are iterated throughout the change process. Simply, I’ve taken a workshop-based thinking model and applied it to continuous change.

Here’s the thinking at each stage.

1. SCAN - What do we need to learn and know?

  • Divergent, expansive thinking

  • Generating lots of ideas

  • Expanding our field-of-vision

  • Expanding the diversity of our perspectives

  • Understanding the journey, and the background to the problem

2. FOCUS - What could we do?

  • Emergent

  • Designing and eliminating options

  • Building

  • Prototyping

  • Modelling

  • Testing.

3. ACT - What will we do?

  • Convergent

  • Making decisions

  • Finalising plans

  • Committing to action

  • Execute

4. REFLECT - What did we learn and what should we feedforward/feedback?

  • Reflective

  • Feedback and Feedforward

  • Lessons learnt

  • Preparing for the next VIPER SCAN workshop

  • Draft adjustments and recommend coarse corrections for next SCAN.


A full cycle is completed every 3-4 months. This is the optimal duration from one transition state to another. (See also Transition State Planning). Of course, there will be circumstance when a particular work stream cannot deliver within the target 3-4 month window. In this case we recommend run through a light-touch cycle as many times every 3-4 months anyway to test assumptions and course correct if needed. The model is fractal, so you could run one 6 month cycle and within it one or more 3 month cycles.

The ACD cycle is based on John Boyd's OODA loop which has gained popularity as a decision-making tool within business circles in recent years. We added REFLECT to create a transformation management cycle that repeats across the whole programme.

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