IT organizations generally pride themselves on their ability to embrace change. Their project execution methodologies are built around an assumed ability to rapidly identify, respond, and adapt to change.
PMOs establish standardized development lifecycles and a comprehensive governance process for change management.
The Agile framework along with its variations and flavors acknowledge change as a fact of life. Rather than seeing change as a nuisance or a risk to be avoided, agile PM and SDLC models offer a specific methodology and tools to be successful in a shifting environment.
Even traditional waterfall approaches acknowledge the need for controlled governance related to change management. Standardized practices such as Lessons Learned, Post-Mortems, Issue Management, Continuous Improvement, or a formal Change Control process all revolve around the basic concepts for dealing with change:
- know your current state or expected scenario
- identify the deviation
- evaluate the impact
- define the future state or new scenario
- make the change
- analyze the results
- repeat as necessary
These methodologies provide valuable, step-by-step instructions to practitioners.
But simply following the steps or implementing specific processes does not ensure buy-in throughout the organization. Beyond the methodology and processes, there are less tangible aspects which need to be addressed to produce the desired results.
Dissent is natural. Universal, undisputed acceptance is unlikely. Therefore, don’t expect everyone to just fall in line and be their usual, enthusiastic, productive selves in this new reality. There will surely be a few who push back on the change and are vocal about it.
But it’s a mistake to equate this resistance to not being “a team player.” Getting naysayers on your side will allow you to harness their outspokenness, channel their energy, and create a collaborative environment which will ultimately benefit the endeavour.
Fast buy-in for any endeavor, but especially for technology projects, depends on winning the hearts and minds of those most impacted by the change.
The 3 critical factors necessary for successful change are:
- Inspiration: Define and communicate future vision
- Personal Buy-In: Address “What’s In It For Me?”
- Quality: Create conditions where it’s OK to fail
To Spark Inspiration: Communicate the Vision
When team members have little or no understanding of the future state, how it aligns to organization’s strategic vision, and specific reasons for implementing the changes, it is unlikely they will be motivated to support the effort, even if participation is mandatory.
To remedy this, articulate the specific project goals to those who participate in the process or will be impacted by the change.
Often, an IT project is expected to bring about a more productive and effective working environment, where the entire organization, clients, and other stakeholders benefit. Communicate this macro vision, as well as the more granular aspects of the future state, to stakeholders who will be affected by the changes.
To Gain Personal Buy-In: Answer “What’s In It For Me? What’s Expected of Me?”
Any deviation from a known and expected path, a familiar way of doing things, can take people out of their comfort zones. This is especially relevant in scenarios where the change is forced upon those who will be impacted by it. Consider these examples:
- A new COO is coming in, so we are changing our delivery model to improve profit margins.
- We are implementing a new system. It’s state-of-the-art and integrates with sales team’s software.
Such top-down decisions will clearly have organizational benefits, but what are the benefits and implications for each individual business user? They are wondering, Will I have to do my work differently? Will it be easier or harder at first? Will it give me a new, marketable skill? Will my bonus be bigger? Will I get a say in the details?
Tailor the message to your audience. The story for executive sponsors will not get the same traction with the user community. Get straight to the “WIFM” (what’s in it for me?).
With an understanding of how one’s effort will impact the outcome, and what that outcome will look like for them, people are more likely to invest themselves fully.
To Ensure Quality: Make It OK to Fail
Unfortunately, the typical approach to change management is to come up with a plan and to roll it out to a wide audience as soon as possible. The new process or system rarely has a chance to be tested in a controlled environment, or given adequate iterations for subsequent changes.
End users are frequently asked to change what they do and how they do it, but denied the opportunity to apply the real-life use cases to the new framework before making the change. User Acceptance Testing, when present, is typically the last phase of a project, where few modifications to the core system or processes can be made.
Create an environment where it’s ok to try and fail. Establish a formal Center of Excellence, or simply task a select group of employees to try out a proof-of-concept to work out the kinks.
Such conditions will allow for a smoother transition when the change is ready to be implemented.
And for any innovation to occur, failing fast is the key ingredient. When individuals feel they can safely experiment on a small scale, the organization as a whole will be more successful at embracing change.
Change is a reality that propels organizational growth.
IT’s ability to successfully implement change is a powerful differentiating factor for gaining a competitive advantage.
Creating the right conditions for change to be embraced—through inspiration, individual buy-in, and a fail-friendly process—will accelerate widespread support and improve the effectiveness of any change management methodology.