How can you deliver change when the final outcomes for your projects are unknown? The answer is in how you design for it.
When you’re running a project, it’s simply not possible to do everything at once. There is a natural order of events that are driven by dependencies intended to bring change into the business. There is usually a final set of technical and process activities that centre around the final delivery of the project’s solution and benefits, be it to the business or the customers, and it is at this point that change management becomes critical because it’s often the last chance to influence the change in a positive way.
The goal is usually to promote wide-spread acceptance and take-up of a new set of systems and processes by users and customers. However, as all experienced project professionals know, you also have only one opportunity to get it right. First impressions count.
Given the criticality of change to the success of any new solution and that – by and large – most of the important change activities tend to be corralled toward the backend of the project during go-live, is there anything the project team can do earlier in the delivery cycle to de-risk the change?
Not all projects present the same change challenge
While the specifics of most projects are generally quite unique, they can generally be grouped into categories of complexity based on the size and nature of the change challenge, for example, the paint-by-numbers types where outcomes are known up front and therefore the change impacts are somewhat predictable and plannable.
Sometimes the speed of change can present a significant challenge, particularly when an Agile delivery approach means that there is a continuous lifecycle of requirements, design, and delivery.
Then there are other projects that are more a journey of discovery with an oftentimes vague outcome and a one-line scope item in a two-page project brief.
Destination Unknown: Delivering Change
It’s the latter project type that presents the biggest change challenge. Often complex and full of ambition, these projects can start out as a walk in the fog. What will be ultimately delivered is far harder to predict and will reveal itself later in the project cycle as the technical complexities (be they system, people or process) are discovered, understood, and gradually unpacked.
Not surprisingly, the less that is known of a project’s outcome, the greater the challenge there is in planning and developing a fit-for-purpose change approach. The ‘walk in the fog’ projects carry the most risk and therefore need the most change attention and effort.
So what can the project team do to ensure that change has the optimal chance for success if you don’t know what you’re planning for?
Adapt to the Conditions, but Come Prepared
Change strategy comes into its own in the final stages of project delivery, but it’s the effort during the initial design phase that facilitates greater success. It’s the point at which it is critical for the change team to engage the wider project technical team and be as inclusive as possible because it’s during the shaping and design phase, that the complexities of the solutions will start to show themselves (as well as impacts on systems, people, and process).
If the change team is continuously engaged early in the process and change strategy is played back iteratively against the overall solution design as it takes shape, the fog will start to lift and early insights will start to filter through about likely change challenges ahead.
It’s these insights that enable the change team to help the business navigate through resistance and give the project its best opportunity to be successful. Early warning systems are designed to enable teams to plan and the more considered the planning time with the right information, the better the likely project outcomes will be.
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