How to use force field analysis to keep projects moving forward
August 05, 2022
Project managers are the Jedi Knights of the business world. We use our skills to keep projects on track, ward off evil (aka missed deadlines), and bring balance to the universe (or, at least, our little corner of it).
And when it comes to using the Force, there’s no tool more powerful than the force field analysis. This technique can help you identify factors working for or against your project and develop a plan to address them. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what it is, how you can use it, and how to get started. Read on!
What is a force field analysis?
A force field analysis is a tool that helps you identify and understand the forces affecting your project. Use it to make decisions about how to proceed and predict what might happen if certain factors change.
To use a real-world example: let’s say you want a coffee. Tiredness might be a force working for this action. A force working against it might be the massive line at your favorite coffee place and the fact that you’re due in the office in 20 minutes. If you really want that coffee to happen, you can address the opposing forces by either calling in to work to let them know you’re running late or grabbing a hot drink from somewhere else.
But where did the force field analysis come from?
Kurt Lewin created the force field analysis in the 1940s. Lewin was a German-American psychologist considered to be one of the founders of social psychology. He’s best known for his work on change, which led him to develop the concept of field theory.
In Lewin’s model, there are three essential elements:
- The person or thing that’s changing (the ‘agent of change’)
- The environment the change is taking place in
- The forces affecting the change
Lewin believed these three elements were all interrelated and that they could help you understand and predict behavior. The force field model is a visual representation of this concept. It consists of two parts:
- The driving forces, which are the factors pushing the change forward
- The restraining forces, which are the factors holding the change back
This visual representation makes it easy to see how the different forces are affecting your project. Once you know this, you can determine the best way to instigate or inhibit change.
If you want to promote change, all you need to do is identify the driving forces and find ways to increase their strength while inhibiting the resisting forces. If you want to keep the status quo, do the opposite.
When to use force field analysis
Use a force field analysis in any situation with the potential for change. It’s particularly useful when planning a project or deciding how to proceed with an existing project.
Imagine you’re planning to introduce a new product to your company’s offerings. You might use a force field analysis to understand the factors affecting the decision, such as cost and market demand, and to ensure you’ve considered all potential outcomes.
A force field analysis can also help you evaluate why a change failed to take place or why it took longer than expected. By identifying the different forces at play, you can learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them.
To summarize, a force field analysis can help you:
- Understand why a project isn’t progressing as planned and identify the factors holding it back.
- Develop a plan for addressing the factors working against your project.
- Predict what might happen if certain factors change.
- Make decisions about how to proceed with your project based on an understanding of the forces at play.
How to conduct a force field analysis in 5 steps
Now that you know what a force field analysis is and when to use it, let’s take a look at how you can harness the force yourself.
Step 1: Define the change that you want to happen
The first step is to clearly define the change you want to bring about. This might be something like ‘increasing sales by 20% within the next six months’ or ‘reducing absenteeism by 10% within the next year.’
Be as specific as possible when defining the change. Having a concrete goal makes it easier to identify the forces affecting it and measure whether or not the change has actually occurred.
Write this statement of intent in the middle of your diagram — which can be a piece of paper or a digital document. We recommend using a diagramming tool, since you’ll want to share it and make edits, which isn’t so easy on paper).
Step 2: Identify the different forces affecting the change
Next, you need to identify which forces are affecting the change and why. Forces can be internal and external, and they typically fall into two categories:
These are the factors pushing the change forward. For example, if you want to increase sales, a driving force might be a new marketing campaign you’re planning to launch.
Some examples of driving forces include:
Internal driving forces
- Declining profits
- Low team morale
- Outdated products
External driving forces
- A change in the law
- New technology
- A change in the economy
- A change in customer behavior
These are the factors holding the change back. For example, if you want to increase sales, a restraining force might be a competitor who has just launched a similar product.
Some examples of restraining forces include:
Internal restraining forces
- Existing processes or systems
- Lack of skills or knowledge
- Resistance to change
External restraining forces
- Obligations to your customers
- Government legislation
- Partnerships with other companies
It’s important to identify as many forces as possible, as this will give you a more complete picture of the situation and allow you to plan more thoroughly.
Feel free to reach out to others in your organization for help here. Two heads are better than one, and chances are, others will be able to spot things you’ve overlooked. Choose people from different teams and levels of seniority for a full picture.
Here are some questions to help you identify driving forces and restraining forces in your business:
- What external factors might affect your ability to achieve the change?
- What benefits will the change deliver?
- What are the risks involved in bringing about this change?
- What do we need to do to make this change happen?
- What might stop us from being able to do this?
- Who will the change affect? How will they react to it?
- What resources will we need to implement this change?
Remember, most driving and restraining forces can work in tandem. For example, if you’re introducing a new product, the fact that it’s new could be both a driving force (people might be curious and want to try it) and a restraining force (people might be hesitant because they’re not sure what it is).
Top tip: a risk breakdown structure, brainstorming, and a business impact analysis can all help you here.
Step 3: Assess the strength of each force, and plot it on your diagram
Once you identify the different forces, you need to assess their strength. Why? Before you take action, it’s important to understand how much influence they’re likely to have on the change and how much effort you need to put into addressing them.
There are a few different ways you can do this, but one simple method is to use a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very weak and 5 being very strong.
Several factors could affect the strength of a force, including:
- The number of people supporting it
- The amount of money or resources available
- The level of commitment or enthusiasm among the people involved
- The level of skill or expertise available
- The amount of time available
Step 4: Develop a plan for addressing and applying your force
Once you identify the restraining forces, you need to develop a plan for addressing them. This step might involve making changes to your project, increasing the strength of the driving forces, or doing nothing at all.
Your force field analysis will show you whether you need to adjust your initial plan.
Let’s consider the example of a project that involves adding a new feature to your company’s app. Here are some changes you might make:
- Example 1: if a lack of skills is a stronger restraining force than you initially thought, you might decide to provide more training for your team before proceeding with the project.
- Example 2: If cost turns out to be a stronger restraining force than you thought, you might decide to scale back the project’s scope.
- Example 3: If resistance to change is a stronger restraining force than you thought, you might decide to increase communication and outreach efforts to get buy-in from stakeholders.
- Example 4: updating equipment boosts motivation and helps staff do their job more effectively, but it also has an upfront cost.
Remember, the goal here is not necessarily to eliminate all restraining forces — that’s often impossible. Instead, the point is to reduce their strength enough that the driving forces can take over and push the project forward.
Step 5: Monitor the situation, and make adjustments as needed
Finally, you need to monitor and manage your project. For instance, you can regularly conduct force field analysis and make changes to your diagram based on the results.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the strength of forces can change over time. A driving force like ‘enthusiasm’ might weaken as the project goes on and people get tired. In this case, you might need to make changes to keep the project on track.
It’s no Jedi mind trick. Identifying and assessing the different forces at play within a project will help you make decisions about how to proceed. And to take these planning skills out of this world, we recommend using cloud-based diagramming software like Cacoo.
Cacoo comes with a wide range of templates for creating force field analysis diagrams in just a few clicks. Simply create your diagram using the drag-and-drop interface and invite users to view and comment. You can also export your diagram in a variety of formats (including PDF, PNG, and JPEG), so you can easily add them to presentations or printouts — ideal for getting stakeholders on board.
Once you have their feedback, you’re all ready for project lift-off. May the Force be with you!