September 09, 2009
Enterprise Program Leadership

On Second Thought, Can I Have Some Change Management?

It happens time and time again on IT initiative after IT initiative. We spend millions of dollars to develop a world-class application. Project managers, solution architects, developers, testers…all of the appropriate resources are fully engaged on the project. Programmers work ‘round the clock to get that last piece of code working and migrated to production. And then the project team claims success.

But then what happens when no one knows how to use the new application? What happens when the impacted teams were never notified their old system is being retired? What happens when others claim the initiative a failure when you just finished claiming it a success? This is the result of a lack of proper change management. Too many times change management is an afterthought on IT initiatives. We invested so much money to make a great application. We never thought to invest some to ensure its success. Change Management is the “public relations” that does just that.

Case in point: I was on a project to implement a new system that affected an organization’s entire HR department. Detailed technical designs were already underway. And the change management effort wasn’t even a thought yet. Luckily, the program sponsor scrambled to adequately staff a change team once it was pointed out that change management was imperative. Can you imagine if this new system went live – a system that impacted the way over three hundred people did their daily jobs – and not one of them a) knew how to use the new system (ahem, training) and b) knew that their old system was being replaced (ahem, communications)? In this case, there were no organizational headcount impacts, but had there been, can you imagine if this wasn’t properly planned and communicated via change management?

Ideally, Change Management should be addressed early on in the project, since key change management deliverables are pertinent at project inception, as well as all phases throughout the project lifecycle. During the Planning & Analysis phase a training strategy and approach should be created. The Change Management Lead works with key stakeholders to understand who the training audience is, what their current capabilities are, and what gaps will need to be filled through training. Note: The audience may be divided, some process experts, some not, some technically savvy, others not so much. It is important to determine the appropriate training vehicles, such as in-person classroom training, virtual online training, or self-paced self-study. This depends on budget, number of trainees and locations of trainees. And it is important to determine the tools to use for training – live versus recorded application demonstration, hands-on exercises in a training environment, etc. All of this cannot be planned and coordinated overnight. In the aforementioned HR system example, end users of the new system were scattered globally; local trainers needed to be identified, time zones needed to be taken into consideration, a training environment needed to be loaded with the necessary data to support multiple training sessions going on concurrently in multiple locations. This is no small task. Time and proper planning are essential.

It’s not just about training though. Too often, people equate Change Management to simply “Training”. Not true. A communication plan must be developed. All impacted individuals and teams require communication, whether it is simply for awareness or for buy-in and commitment. The communication must be thorough, targeted and consistent. And depending upon the severity of the change, the communication may need to start very early in the initiative. Skilled communication experts are necessary to create and execute the communications plan. Do not slack on this – do not just assign a ‘business’ team member this task. Communications is a key part of change management and needs to be a priority. What if those HR employees were not aware the way they performed their daily job was changing? What if the HR employees’ managers did not know the way their staff performed their daily job was changing? What if the teams who receive reports from the HR team did not know the reports they receive are changing? You get the point.

As the project moves into the Design phase, additional change management resources may be required, depending upon the scope of the change management effort. Course outlines are created. A detailed training schedule is put together. The communication plan has been reviewed and signed off. Then the training and communications materials are created during the Development (or Build) phase. During the Test phase, training materials are piloted and the communication effort is launched. And then it’s showtime – training is executed and the communications effort is in full force. Assess the success of training to determine what post-deployment training and follow up may be required. Continue communication until deployment is successfully completed.

Only with a successful change management program will end users be enabled to accept and use the new application. Next time you are staffing your project, don’t forget Change Management. Otherwise you may develop the coolest application – but if no one knows how to use it, what’s the point?

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