Chart a Course for Change

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Chart A Course For Change

Kathy MacDougall Erie, Colorado, USA

New software changes the way in which people work. This may be good for the organization, but the people who work there aren't always ready to embrace change. And let's face it,if people can't be convinced, cajoled, or commanded to use your new software, it's been a big waste of time and money.

When needing people to change the ways in which they work, the carrot method (reward) is much better than the stick (punishment). Even if forced to adopt it, if your new software does not provide significant benefits that users can understand and master, they will find every way possible to avoid using it. Proper care must be taken to (1) understand the impact of this change on the people it touches and (2) put in place change management plans that help these people to embrace the change.

Key to understanding the impact of the change is to understand how people currently work and exactly how the new software will change that process. This increases the chances the users will adopt the new system, and also improves the design of your end-product, as it ensures that it will fit the needs of users.

The importance of change management cannot be underestimated and should be a project manager's focus early on in the project. To determine the impact of the change on users, first document all current ("as is") processes which touch the software project. Create process flow diagrams which detail daily tasks as well as data inputs and outputs.

Next, document how these processes will differ once the new software has been rolled out. Speak frankly with target users of the new software. Discuss how the changes will affect their work. Listen carefully, evaluate the impact and costs of each feature change, and adjust the software design accordingly. Make sure that the changes will be acceptable to target users and their management.

Involve managers of the target user community early and often. They will be important champions of change who can make or break the transition to the new system by incenting and/or mandating that end-users make the switch. They are invaluable partners to remove obstacles and solve unforeseen issues with the rollout.

Create a plan for change. Determine the list of training and team-building activities which will need to happen prior to project launch, and build these into your project schedule. Enlist help from the management community to create the change management plan. At a minimum, this group must buy into the concepts, implementation and training approach and timelines wholeheartedly. Listen carefully for objections or warnings about approaches that will not work with their teams.

In summary, users and their management are interested in keeping their focus squarely on meeting their business objectives. Transitions to new processes, tools and systems pose a potential threat to these goals. Solid up-front planning helps to provide a smooth transition to the new system, paves the way for buy-in and acceptance, and increases the chances of its long-term use.

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