Don’t Let the Iceberg Sink Your Titanic!

We’re all familiar with the typical project management triangle that balances time, resources, and quality.

For some of us, managing these come naturally.  It’s as simple as making a to-do list, figuring out the right people to get in the room, putting a project plan together, mustering the resources, getting to work, measuring quality, and checking off milestones as you complete them. Before you know it, you’re done, project successful, pats on the back and promotions for everyone.

Do I hear you laughing?

Apparently Wilfried Kruger, who developed the Iceberg model, also thought this was over-optimistic and developed his iceberg model of change management. One of my favorite models, the Iceberg says that the project management triangle is just the tip of the iceberg and, just like an iceberg, the biggest part – and the part that will sink your magnificent, titanic change effort – is hidden beneath the waterline where you can’t see it.

Those unseen factors are those that lurk in the darkness inside every person involved: emotions, personal agendas, social skills, unconscious or immaterial objections. The squishy stuff, the stuff a project manager can’t muscle through.

Sounds scary, huh? It doesn’t have to be – for some of us, this is our favorite part of change management.

Four Types of People Hiding Under Your Iceberg

Kruger basically said there were four types of people hiding under the water:

  • Promoters, who feel positive about and will promote your change
  • Potential Promoters, who agree in principle but don’t think it will work
  • Opponents, who will come right out and tell you they’re against it
  • Hidden Opponents, who say of course they agree but…

He also proposes two approaches to managing these types:

  • Power & Politics, used to influence Potential Promoters
  • Perceptions & Beliefs, used to influence Opponents and Hidden Opponents

Kruger also proposes that Hidden Opponents are influenced by Issue Management (i.e. the traditional project management triangle).

An Example

Okay, that was pretty dry.  Let’s look at an example:

Let’s say we’re rolling out an employee scheduling program to several hundred stores.  Amongst those stores you’re going to run into:

  • People who used the same software at other companies, LOVED it, and can’t wait for you to roll it out. (Promoters)
  • People who think the manual scheduling they’re doing now sucks, and like the idea of a better program, but can’t picture a program that could schedule their employees as effectively as they can. (Potential Promoters)
  • People who don’t see the point of adjusting their work schedule every week. Why can’t I just write a schedule that stays the same every week, and just adjust for vacations? (Opponents)
  • People who tell their district manager that they will of course use the new program. But they just don’t have time to learn it this week. Or next week. (Or, if you pressed them, ever.) (Hidden Opponents)

You can see how, if you’ve scoped your project to create real change in how stores schedule employees (as opposed to scoping it as “roll out the scheduling program”), your success depends on getting all four groups on board. So how do you do that?

Here are some techniques I’ve used in the past that have worked:


  • Build on their enthusiasm and help them over any hurdles during the learning process so they can achieve mastery and advocate on behalf of the system ASAP.
  • Interview and quote them in store communications.
  • Sign them up to coach their peers during the conversion in their local area.
  • Reward them! No, not monetarily – with praise, recognition, leadership opportunities.

Potential Promoters

  • Demonstrate it in action, let them understand the end before they invest in the beginning.
  • Make sure they receive a lot of emotional support (probably from their supervisor) during the learning process because no one learns a new scheduling program in a week, and it may actually take them longer to write a schedule for the first month, while they’re solidifying their learning.
  • But once they’re on-board and see the results, they’ll be ok.


  • You may think these people are your biggest challenge but I haven’t found that to be so because at least they are open in their disagreement.
  • In my view, opponents need a lot of direct conversation.
  • Show them the WIIFM in a big way
  • Make sure they actually try it – and only their supervisor has the structural power to enforce their participation

Hidden Opponents

  • These people present the biggest challenge because you don’t know who they are until you’re almost done. They’ll agree to explore the new faster route that the GPS proposes and then persistently ignore the directions because “that’s not how we’ve always gotten there.”
  • The data will reveal your hidden opponents. If you have a system that everyone should be using, there must be some kind of data pattern that you can find to indicate someone who isn’t using it.  If all else fails, you can survey everyone to ask whether they’ve completed implementation – hidden opponents are surprisingly transparent about their lack of participation.
  • Kruger’s model says to manage their Perceptions & Beliefs, and to talk to them about the time, quality, resources going into the change.
  • I’ve had some success managing their Perceptions & Beliefs by getting results with the other three groups, then use those results to influence them. Once they see that outspoken opponents are on-board, they’ll feel the pressure to change.
  • Another trick is to put them in charge of implementing the change – if they see that their success as a leader depends on successfully making sure that others implement the change, they will often come aboard because it’s stopped being about the change and has started being about their pride.

I like this model because it’s simple and easy to apply.  Nothing is safe about managing the hidden dangers below the waterline, but once you know they’re there, you become more vigilant about watching for them.

What are your secret tricks for leveraging Promoters, Potential Promoters, Opponents, and Hidden Opponents during implementations?

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