Much has been written on the topic of large-scale organisational change over the last few decades, and this can be attributed in great part to the increasing inevitability of change. The term “change” is a broad one that can refer to transformational initiatives of varying scope. Today we’ll be discussing organisational change as it relates to large-scale technological implementations. More specifically, we’ll be exploring strategies and approaches that can be used to successfully navigate such projects from inception through to deployment.
A successful change initiative will effectively manage technological transformation on three fronts: people, process and technology. In other words, regardless of the methodology being used, the people, processes and technologies impacted by the organisational change must be accounted for every step of the way.
VISION OF THE FUTURE
“Great leaders state out loud what they intend to do and in doing so, they get things done.” – Simon Sinek
The first step to any large-scale technological implementation is a clear vision of where the organisation is headed, and most importantly, why. For some companies, this may also require some insight into the present state of affairs before projecting too far into the future. A well-defined vision links the present to the future and gives meaning to the journey. A powerful and inspiring vision will help individuals navigate the uncertainty of change while specifying outcomes that will be achieved (Yukl).
OBJECTIVE AND SCOPE
“No matter how good the team or how efficient the methodology, if we’re not solving the right problem, the project fails.” – Woody Williams
Once a high level definition of the vision has been defined and communicated, a tangible characterisation of the project can begin to take form. Clearly and explicitly defining the objectives of a large-scale transformational initiative will serve as a guiding compass throughout the duration of the project. It will align the decision making process, and act as a measure of the success or failure of the project once all is said and done. Objectives should speak to our three fronts by answering the following questions:
- In what ways are we seeking to impact the roles and responsibilities of the employees?
- In what ways are we seeking to impact the processes currently in place?
- What tangible benefits are we seeking to gain from the new technology?
The scope of the project serves to delineate the breadth of the initiative. Once again, the more explicitly this can be defined early on, the easier it becomes to make critical decisions and prioritise tasks going forward. A clearly defined scope should deal not only with business requirements, but also with timeline and budget. By doing so early in the process we are able to gain much needed buy in from key stake holders and more effectively plan the operational aspect of the project.
“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chinese Proverb
A detailed project plan should consist of all the elements that will turn our objectives into reality, while respecting the scope. The plan should go beyond deliverables and go-live dates to account for a project governance strategy, risk identification and mitigation, a communication plan, an approach to change management, the participation of key resources, process reengineering and so forth.
More often than not, the technological aspect of a large-scale implementation is relatively well undertaken; however, the technology alone is incapable of bringing about the transformational changes we are seeking when we fail to pair it with the necessary effort in process improvement and change management.
Part of the project plan should set aside the necessary time and resources needed to creatively and objectively review and redefine procedures in the spirit of improved efficiency. Rethinking some of these procedures during the requirements gathering phase of a software implementation also allows for the new system to be designed with the envisioned process in mind rather than replicating what is currently in place. The investment in time and effort early in the process will reap its rewards following go-live.
In addition, consideration should be made throughout the life of the project for the individuals impacted by the change, whether it be employees, clients or suppliers. A successful change management strategy will speak to the perceptible advantages of incorporating the new technology and procedures for those that will live the change. In his book The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change their Organizations, John Kotter explains that individuals “…change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.” In other words, improved efficiency and cost cutting are not sufficient reasons to elicit a willingness to change. The message must get to the heart of what is in it for them. Combined with a great communication strategy, identifying strong change agents to participate in the project will also garner the support needed to ensure a successful transition.
The implementation of a large-scale organisational change is too often faced with roadblocks due to a lack of communication, planning, preparation, participation, documentation and training with the right people at the right time. The success of the project requires representation from the various sectors of the business impacted, whether directly or indirectly, by the project objectives and scope. The risks associated with a poorly executed initiative can be mitigated by ensuring that the vision, objectives and planning take into account the people, processes and technologies effected by the project from the brainstorming phase through to the post mortem of the project.
Kotter, John P., The heart of change: real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2002.
Yukl, Gary A. Leadership in Organizations. 4th ed., Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 1998.