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Sunday, 15 April 2012 00:00

Changing the World One Project at a Time

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Change is difficult. Regardless of who you are, it is tough. Recently, I challenged readers of this blog to improve how they tie their shoes. I can confidently wager that a large majority have stayed with their old habits. It takes significant force to reprogram out brains, affect the cultural inertia, and gain acceptance to change, tolerance of occasional mistakes, and, eventually, achieve an organization steeped in transformational principles. Nowhere is it more apparent than when delivering projects that alter the way people perform daily tasks. The reason is that, all too often, the goal is to deliver the project; it is someone else's job to gain adoption.

We Work in Systems

Recently, I read a white paper by Deanne Earle entitled Principles for Intelligent Transition, which nicely underscores this point. She summarizes the issue in a sentence, "[our teams] deliver a good project but can forget what has to happen in business operations once the project is over." This is a result of the errant view that the envelope of the project's methodology insulates the team from the rest of the organization. Nothing could be further from the truth. Projects are a disruptive force in a larger system. Even with the best preparations, too often they are dropped on users in an immediate and abrupt fashion. The recipients react to the change in a multitude of ways—some adopt, some adapt, and others simply reject.

A few years ago, I was privy to a project to integrate a number of subsidiaries into an acquiring company. The client missed the need to start the merger by creating a common company culture and now they needed to replace redundant operational systems with the ones used at the head office. There were the usual issues with any software implementation—undocumented corporate processes, minimal inter-departmental test procedures, over-promising vendors, and so forth. The installation was only slightly behind schedule and, otherwise, ran pretty much as planned. Acceptance testing ran well and everyone seemed pleased as the project was completed. Five weeks later, inventory shortages plagued the assembly line. Assembled-unit's shipping dates started to slip. The problem? People were still using the spreadsheets to keep track of parts and sub-assemblies and they refused to enter parts consumption into the new ERP system; hence, inventories dwindled. Some tried to excuse their behavior by claiming how familiar they were with their spreadsheets, while others simply detested cowing to corporate. The culture in the US failed to account for the reaction in their foreign office. In Deanne's article, this is the third of her six principles of transformation.

The Six Principles of Transformation

Averting issues with post-implementation acceptance requires a change in culture. The concepts of doing this are simple; the execution is more of a challenge. Deanne outlines six basic principles in her approach. The Six Intelligent Transition Principles are:

  • Transitioning a project is straightforward.
  • Identifying Opportunities for Transformation.
  • Determining Transition Success.
  • Gathering External Intelligence.
  • Understanding Human Behaviors.
  • Creating an Intelligent Transition Plan.

Change With Direction

The most critical of these principles are identifying the opportunities and defining transition success. This is where an organization's leadership and innovative nature play the largest role. It is impossible to change if issues cannot be identified; and, nothing completes unless there is a defined goal. These are the mission and the vision; the start and the end; the goalposts for the organization's transformation. They must be clearly defined and widely disseminated. History is laced with stories of inadequately defined and misguided implementations that ignored these principles.

The Rest of the Story

American radio broadcaster Paul Harvey coined the phrase "And now for the rest of the story" for his trademark radio show that would highlight little known facts about historical events. Project deliveries that call themselves complete upon implementation without looking at the adoption, truncate the project's true story. It only takes a quick retrospective to find a multitude of shortsighted implementations failing to define the transformational requirements adequately for successful acceptance. The rest of the story is the effort required to, as Deanne says, "Alter, Transform, and Integrate." Pay the price during the project or suffer the greater expense as it ends up in the anecdotal history of after-the-fact troubles. I suggest you read her white paper.

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