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Updated: Sep 4, 2020

"Every Great Story Seems To Begin With A Snake.” - Nicolas Cage


Starting with between 1-3 focus questions, facilitate a semi-structured conversation and

capture the collective ideas of a variety of Stakeholders on the change ahead. The role of the facilitator is to ensure all attendees air their views and impress upon the group that there is no such thing as a bad idea.


Provides the initial outline of the scope of the change programme and uncovers outliers that are often missed in technology-focused transformations. It is usual to capture a few statements on; Principle, Risk, Policy, and several Hypotheses. These are stakes-in-the-ground, developed collectively, which accelerate the ramp-up at call-to-action processes.

The focus of the Scan Phase is on gathering information. Stakeholder perspectives and identify which parts of the business operation will be changed. And the overall scope and impact of the change. The first tool used in this phase is the VIPER SCAN.


A VIPER SCAN is no more complicated to understand than SWOT analysis (In fact, easier - I’ve sat in numerous SWOT sessions where Threat vs Weakness argued endlessly!). VIPER is one of the most useful & reused tools in the Adaptive Change Design toolbox. It’s applicable to all three stages: Scan, Focus and Act. The purpose, however, is different from stage to stage.

A VIPER workshop in Scan mode is expansive and inclusive in nature. The focus is on collecting information; background, opportunities for improvement, major risks and questions that need answering. At this early stage, the raw output of the VIPER workshop will need follow-up work. But It paves the way towards tangible outcomes.

The Change Leader supported by a Business Analyst (or someone in that role) will refine the raw output to produce statements that make change more tangible.

- Principles with implications,

- Risks with mitigation statements,

- Opportunities with rational,

- Working hypotheses with test criteria,

- Further questions arising.

The purpose, benefits, and description of VIPER in the other phases of the ACD Lifecycle are covered in separate articles.


Common Pitfalls

  1. Poor preparation: This is the most common failure of a VIPER SCAN. Particularly if you have not participated in one before.

  2. No facilitator: A dedicated facilitator frees-up the Change Leader to take part. I know this isn’t always possible, but I also know 'two-hat' sessions are hard. The context switching is exhausting

  3. Getting stuck on one VIPER column: the facilitator must urge the team to discuss all five columns.

  4. Too much debate about where an item belongs: It’s more important to capture the thought. And no one answer is correct, driving-out varying views is one of the most important outcomes.

  5. Values too focused on monitory alone: Monetary value could be important to capture. But Stakeholder concerns and beliefs equally so. Adding ‘Of Stakeholders’ under the Values heading can help.

  6. Information limited to data: Sometimes information is narrowly interpreted as data. If this is the case, you will need to nudge the participants to include other types of information. Such as; conversations, letters, post-it notes and other written material.

  7. Trying to cram in too much. VIPER can be applied almost any topic, but without focus questions, there can be a tendency to try to cover too much. This why in Adaptive Change Design there are three distinct types of VIPER session: SCAN, FOCUS and ACT. The objectives, inputs and outputs may vary from one session to another. As a rule of thumb, it best to limit the session to focus questions to three or less.


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See also VIPER Getting Started

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