The Importance of Managing Change in Implementation Projects

Author, Ronan Foley, director with Clarion Consulting

Within any implementation project there are multiple life-cycles and frameworks operating in parallel – the ‘Implementation life-cycle’ (providing a framework from the needs assessment, through system selection, implementation and benefits realisation); the ‘Project Management life-cycle’ (providing a structured framework for planning, control, monitoring and executing) and finally the ‘Change Management’ life-cycle (taking the enterprise from current-state, transition into future-state).    Very often the importance of the ‘Change Management’ life-cycle is sacrificed for the other two, where the focus of the organisation is to ‘get the system in as quickly as possible’.

Implementation projects are often considered to be a success when the system is implemented on-time and on-budget and the functionality available in the solution matches the initial requirements.  However, while obviously critical, these traditional metrics ignore the importance of managing change and all too often projects which were considered a success when measured against the common metrics turn out to be anything but in the periods following project closure.    This is often reflected by the fact that the organisation has to go back to market and perform another selection/implementation(s) in order to get the ‘right’ solution – very often just selecting a different application with the same core functionality.

The reason is often related to the fact that while all the hard requirements and deliverables on the project where delivered – the soft (people/cultural) aspects where ignored or at best overlooked.  In any systems implementation project there is naturally a significant amount of change; change in roles, responsibilities, status, ownership, expertise/knowledge and process.  How well the ‘soft’ aspects are managed is a true indicator of how successful the implementation will be.  This success can be measured by the level off adoption the tool achieves and how well it has been embedded within the organisation.

Achieving these goals requires a much greater level of focus on the ‘Change Management’ life-cycle than is traditional exhibited; adopting a focused and planned approach, ideally engaging specific resources and expertise to focus on managing the change.  Change needs to be managed – widely available statistics show that 80% of change projects fail.

The topic of managing change is too broad and wide for this article but one area that we can discuss is the critical task of ‘Stakeholder Engagement’ – note the topic is ‘Stakeholder Engagement’ and not what is often described as ‘Stakeholder Management’.  For the solution to be adopted and embedded in the organisation we need to work with, partner, engage with the stakeholders and not ’just’ manage them for the duration of the implementation.  The change aspects of the implementation will run on long after the implementation project ends.

Identifying who the stakeholders are, is not a simply task.  You may need to look both within and outside the group, department or organisation.  Depending on the organisational culture you may have to include stakeholders who would not traditionally be considered yet who can exhibit influence over the project and other stakeholders.  A stakeholder matrix is a good starting point showing their relative levels of influence (power) and interest.  In addition to showing their power and interest today it is worth considering and mapping how their power and interest will change during and post the project.  This will identify individual stakeholders who will be positively (develop and utilise) and negatively (monitor and motivate) impacted.

After identifying all stakeholders it is critical to determine if they are pro-change, anti- change or disinterested.  It is important to not ignore the disinterested group – while they may not have a strong opinion/interest either way they can quickly become anti-change if they are ignored.   It is important to understand the needs, grievances (real and otherwise) and concerns of the negative group.  In any project the vast majority of the users will fit into the disinterested or negative groups and the project will not achieve the required level of adoption within this majority.  Understanding what motivates Stakeholders is a powerful tool for engaging with them.  The table below contains a generic list of the characteristics typically displayed by pro-change and anti-change groups.

This article only starts to explore the importance of Change Management in the implementation project.   Any organisation considering a large systems implementation project would do well to build in processes and time for managing change and ‘engaging’ with stakeholders, or engaging specialist expertise to design and implement a change management strategy.  For the 20% of change projects that are successful you can bet they had a change strategy in place.

On December 19, 2011, posted in: blog, Change, Project, Project Management by
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