Force field analysis is a good way to analyse the constraints and the drivers of success when leading change, delivering projects or problem solving in general.
You begin by writing your objective on the top of a sheet of paper and then putting a long line under it:
Next, draw a line down the middle of the page. The line is called the “force field” and it represents the current equilibrium or the current state of the world.
The idea of the force field is that:
- Some things will push it across the page to the right, or closer to complete success. This are called the “enablers”; while
- Other things will constrain the line from moving to the right (toward success) or will even push it back to the left (failure and despair). These are called the constraints.
Next, write down everything you can think of in both the enabler and constraint columns. You can do this on your own but it works even better if you have a group to brainstorm with.
For example, if “executive support” is needed for success you would write that down in the left of the column. If “Inadequate training” is a risk or a current constraint then write it down in the right hand column.
You will probably notice that if you put something in one column you can just write “no that thing” in the other one – so if “insufficient training” is a constraint, then you could write “adequate training” in as an enabler. So you can just put the current situation in, or you can duplicate your ideas if you like.
Once you run out of energy brainstorming ideas then it is time to begin the analysis.
I usually do the following steps:
Assess the current state:
- For each enabler, how confident am I that it is happening and will continue to happen?
- If it is not in place, how can I create or encourage it?
- If it is in place, how can I protect it or increase it?
- For each constraint, how much is it currently impacting me?
- If it is not in place, what could cause it to happen? How can I stop or mitigate it?
- If it is in place, what can I do to manage it or minimise its impact?
Look for risks and potential opportunities
- What is the risk of losing one of the enablers? What would happen if I did lose it?
- What would happen if I could remove one of the constraints? Would that help or is another constraint going to mean I am no better off?
- Which constraints are real and which could be removed easily?
- Which enablers are promised but are not likely to have a real impact?
- Are there exceptions to the way the enablers and constraints I have listed? What are they?
Look for the biggest opportunity
- Which constraint is the primary or most significant one? What would happen if it did not exist? What could we then do?
- What factors or forces that are not in place could be become real enablers if we could create or access them? How can we bring them into play?
Look for enablers and constraints that might jump the fence
- How could each enabler become a constraint?
- For example executive support is a good thing, but is it also acting as a constraint? If it is not doing so yet, are there circumstances where it might.
- Will the presence of the executive mean that the project is likely to focus on the wins for his area of the business instead of real value; or could it make it more likely that team members will try to impress the executive rather than solve the problem?
- Are we over-using an enabler to make up for (“accommodate”) an issue that should be resolved. For example the need for exec support might be caused in part by poor communications between business divisions at a more junior level.
- How can some of the constraints become enablers?
- The lack of training means we have to train our staff, so maybe we can involve some clients and vendors in the training to share views, learn to work together and even standardise approaches.
- If a constraint impacts our competitors then we could gain an advantage by managing it better than others do.
- Or if a constraint limits our opportunities then maybe we can really focus on the ones that we can do well. If we can only do small batches of work compared to our competitors then maybe we could do some special runs around the holidays with modified packaging.
Add salt to taste
That’s all there is to it really. You can do it in a workshop or use it to get your own thoughts together after a series of interviews.
You might be able to see how I use it in some different situations in these articles on using the 7-S or Arenas of Change frameworks to assess a team’s readiness for change.
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