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The Conference Room Pilot – Change Management 04/30/2011

Posted by TBoehm30 in Project Management.
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Someone once said “If you stand still you die” (or something like that).  People need change – both in our private lives and our business life.  Some people crave change, while others avoid it like the plague.

The other day before work, I thought I heard thunder.  I went downstairs and asked my wife if it was beginning to storm, or was she moving furniture.  My wife loves to change the house around.  She’s been doing it since she was old enough to walk.  Her parents talk about a tiny little girl pushing a giant dresser around the room inch by inch.  This morning she had switched our living room and our dining room.  She had already pushed the dining room table into the other room – that was what I thought was thunder.

I may not be much of a mover, but after a bit of work I realized that she had a great idea.  The new dining room would allow us to seat more people in one room; we had family coming over for dinner the next week and could use the space.  I wasn’t originally thrilled with the idea, but now I really love it.  Next, she’ll want me to paint the new living room.  I’m not looking forward to a weekend of painting, but again, she’ll be right and it will look great.  (shh, don’t tell her I said she was right.)

Employees, who are like my wife, will really enjoy learning about a new software system.  They will be active participants, learn what to do, and help others.  Their energy can be contagious, helping others to feel good about the changes that are coming.

Others, however, will fear the change.  They will worry about not being able to handle the new aspects of their job or worse, their job going away.  They will fight the change with arguments that range from the simple to complex, from obvious to the outrageous.  It is important not to scare those people away, but to work with them in a way to get them to accept the change and work with you and the new system.

I once worked with a client that had a couple of people like that.  They stored their documents in Word and had an entire notebook dedicated to the rules on changing them.  These documents were very important to their processes and kept the company running smoothly.  Changes to the documents had to be approved at several levels and the changes themselves had to be documented.

The new software could dynamically create the documents to be printed, eliminating most of the procedures in the big notebook.  This was scary to them.  The FDA audits the company every so often and required real quality control.  What would the FDA say to a new system?

 How could they prove that the system still printed out the right documents?  Would it even be possible to prove the validity of a new system?  How much testing were we signing up for to make sure that the new software did what it was supposed to do?  How could they control the changes to the documents if they weren’t stored in a central location?  All these questions needed to be studied in detail to provide a good answer to scared employees. 

They needed to see that the new system would make their job easier and more fun.  It would take some work to get there, but the work would be worth it.  They would have to put in some extra effort to get to the point where the new system could take over, but at that point they would be able to put their energy into innovation instead of following rules.

The Conference Room Pilot is a great way to slowly bring people like that around to a new way of thinking.  I didn’t tell them outright that we were going to do it my way.  I assured them the paperwork could stay the same until they were comfortable with the new system.  We walked through the new functionality numerous times.  We created documents from the new system, just to show them how it worked.  We created the new procedures so that when they changed their mind, printing the new documents could easily be added.  Eventually they realized that the new system would only improve their business.

Change Management is an art.  People who don’t like change or are afraid of change exist everywhere.  They are still valuable employees and an important part of the company.  Fear is a legitimate feeling that lets us know danger is approaching.  A new software system can be a scary project to see coming.  It is important to be ready for change management.

Every project manager needs to recognize the people who are worried and have a plan to deal with them.  They aren’t going away and you don’t want them fighting you at every step.  There is plenty of information on the internet about how to prepare for change management.  Just do a Google search on Change Management to get some very good frameworks.  Include lots of information in the Pilot; do a lot of explaining to ease people into the project.  Address their fears head on or slowly show them the advantages of the new system.

Have you dealt with people afraid of change?  Tell me your stories, what they were afraid of, and how you handled it.

Not everyone accepts change at the same pace.  If you take the time to bring everyone into your camp, they will all realize – just like you do – that it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.