Recommendations from a seasoned Change Management Practitioner

A recent search on Google for “change management” generated four billion three hundred twenty million (4,320,000,000) results. With that in mind, where on earth should you begin when investing thought and time into change management practices?

Pete Doyle, Lead Consultant here at Gradient, shares advice on how a formal change management process will help companies avoid failure with implementation projects. Explore five key areas with essential themes of not avoiding change and embracing the team around you.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now let’s see, project launch completed? ✔️ Detailed project plan and timetable signed off? ✔️ All risks assessed and mitigated? ✔️ Customer not complaining? ✔️ Funky project name agreed? ✔️ So, what could possibly go wrong?

Over my many years as an ERP Project Manager and more recently as an accredited Change Management Practitioner, I’m often measured on how well I’ve completed those essential project management tasks necessary to deliver successful ERP implementation projects.    But what struck me recently when thinking about change management and previous projects I’d been told had gone astray, it’s really not all about just ticking the boxes.  Customers set out on ERP implementations, not to just upgrade to the latest software, nor to embrace Cloud technology but instead to transform their business.  Which inevitably means given such a significant change, this needs to be appropriately managed.

So, what could possibly go wrong? Well, plenty.  Thinking back to an implementation project some years back which had gone off the rails, here are just five examples that contributed to failure along with how I believe a formal change management process really could have helped these be avoided:

Failure to engage with key stakeholders

The project came completely unstuck near to go-live when a highly influential, long-serving member of staff appeared at a planning session, raised (valid) objections to the planned process changes and hence derailed the whole project.  The sponsor had previously reassured everyone this person did not need to have input to the project.

Lessons learned:

  • It’s essential to ensure ALL stakeholders are identified – so that’s anyone with interest in the outcome of the change
  • Assess the impact of all changes on them individually
  • Understand their role in the change process as well as their readiness for change
  • Recognise if they have any level of power or influence then this is key
  • Engage with them and then keep engaging with them.

Under-estimate the need to communicate properly

Despite weekly project newsletters and monthly all-hands briefings from the MD, some staff felt unable to ask further questions about the project.  Shift workers felt a lot of assumptions were being made about changes to operating procedures without them being consulted.  Some tasks on the critical path then suffered delays while training guides had to be re-written.

Lessons learned:

  • Create a formal communications strategy and plan
  • Recognise the need to mix rich (two-way) and lean (one-way) communication
  • Use a mix of sponsors, line managers and team leaders to deliver updates
  • Tailor the message, so it’s appropriate to different audiences.

Not making the best use of change agents

Some teams were, understandably, not immediately accepting of the impact of the new system on their day to day work.  Different departments had similar issues with how the new system was configured but had no means of discussing this with their colleagues.  New ideas and suggestions to realise cost savings from the new system went unnoticed by the Project Board.

Lessons learned:

  • Recruit a team of change agents from a range of departments and roles
  • Ensure their observations and advice about the impact of change are heard and acted upon
  • Give them time and support to develop their connections across the business
  • Ensure they have the right skills and trust from their own managers.

Not handling resistance

A whole variety of resistance meant despite all technical work being completed ahead of schedule the project still slipped in terms of timescales and budget.  This included some outright objections to the new ways of working, key users failing to attend training and even some spreading of unfounded rumours of redundancies.

Lessons learned:

  • Make sure you fully identify the real worries and issues driving resistance
  • Engage with resistors on a one-to-one basis and listen to them
  • Take the change to them – try to involve them directly in project tasks
  • Work with them to find solutions.

Missing the change risks

Even though there was a detailed project risk assessment with clear ratings and actions for mitigation, more subtle risks arose during the project, which wasn’t immediately noticed. Productivity levels dropped on the shop floor, and hence some customer service levels were impacted.  This was compounded when some negative customer reviews started to appear on social media.

Lessons learned:

  • Ensure the Marketing or PR team are aware of the implementation project
  • Prepare backup (sometimes manual) processes for priority functions in case they need to be used
  • Wherever possible, avoid having multiple, interconnected change initiatives at the same time
  • Counteract internal and external negative sentiments by celebrating early project successes.

So, my strong recommendation is to make change management an essential part of any implementation project.  It’s vital to discuss change as part of any project launch and then develop a plan for the delivery of the business change, as an integral part of the overall project plan. Whilst Project and Change Managers may well have differing roles and success criteria, I still believe a good Project Manager can also act as Change Manager in most instances.  This way there is no conflict or battle of wills, although you might still want to consider splitting these roles for very large projects or programmes.

If you think your business would benefit from having the likes of Pete on your team (temporarily, of course!), then contact us today on +44 (0) 1282 463710. Alternatively, complete the form below, and we will call you back!