By its very nature, change is difficult. A close look at any successful change scenario in business will show that the success was the result of focusing on anticipating and managing change impacts to both the business and its people.

It’s the nature of projects: they are often conceived, planned, and executed in a bubble with small cohorts of senior stakeholders and project professionals who are committed to driving outcomes. The twin themes of time and cost are the main levers and successful project teams create momentum early in the project’s delivery and seek to sustain the right cadence for the duration of the project.

However, there’s a balancing act required between project momentum (best delivered by a small, focused group of people) and overall project acceptance, which requires wide-scale, often time-consuming business engagement to bring users along on the change journey.

When the momentum focuses primarily on project outcomes such as the mechanics of the solution or the process changes that are being implemented, there’s often a critical element that’s out of focus: change readiness.

All too often the pursuit of momentum overshadows the change complexity and potential for resistance, which can be missed or understated.

So what can be done to ensure projects do not fall into the category of ‘eloquent implementation’ but poor business acceptance and take-up’?

Anticipation is key

One of the core reasons that successful change is so difficult to achieve is that it is far less a linear pursuit when compared to the simple mechanics of project delivery (i.e. requirements, design, build, test, implement and so on), which is focused on changes to systems and processes.

These system and process changes can be, with the right amount of analysis, easily quantified and controlled in terms of effort, risk, and complexity.

But the reality is that change also involves people and the ways that people react to change are not always linear. Change in business – and its impacts – is complex and difficult to predict and what is difficult to predict is difficult to successfully plan for.

So if change is difficult to quantify, what can a project team do to reduce the uncertainty? What steps can it take to anticipate what the change challenges will look like?

The starting point is to gather information on two fronts:

  • What is the size and impact of the change?
  • What is the nature and personality of the cohort that will be required to accept the change?

The first data point of understanding the quantum of the change and the impacts is necessary to provide context, but not where the real challenge lies.

The change certainly needs to be understood, but the potential critical blocker to success is the second point: What is the cohort the project team is dealing with and, importantly, what are their views on change?

Know thy people

If it is established that the project will be impacting the business, then it’s at this point that a project needs to execute some basic data gathering so it can anticipate what the likely uptake – or resistance –to the project changes is likely to be. This allows the project to at least have an idea of the change challenge it will face and plan accordingly.

We always recommend that the information gathering process is kept simple, particularly at the early stage when it’s possible you won’t have a 100% understanding of the change impacts. This can be done by a very straightforward tick-cross-neutral exercise within the key business areas that the impact will be felt, as below:

  • Tick – These people are always open to change, champion new systems and processes, and want to get on board to help be a positive agent of change. They are also potential change advocates
  • Neutral – These people neither support or reject change, however, will fall into line with whatever the prevailing feeling is to change (be it positive or negative)
  • Cross – These people are highly change-resistant – no matter the change – and like the world as it is.

Anticipate and plan accordingly

This is a simple stakeholder analysis that a project team can start with to get to grips with the size of the change challenge in front of them. It provides enough information to understand the change risk profile for the project and begin to plan the change execution accordingly, even if only at a high level.

The approach is straightforward:

  • How does the project harness the ‘ticks’ to help them be positive change advocates and help to deliver change?
  • How does the project move the ‘neutrals’ into the positive range – or at least keep them from slipping into negative territory?
  • How does the project neutralise or sideline the ‘crosses’ so that they do not have an adverse impact on the change – or alternately, how can these people be moved up into the neutral category?

Accept that ‘change is challenging’ as a starting point

Change is the most difficult discipline of all of the project disciplines. It’s important to ensure that, at the start of a project, the delivery team doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking “It’s new technology; the users will love it!” because often the truth is that they may not.

Understand that no matter how much it will improve the overall operations of the organisation, the changes may not improve the working day of users as anticipated and/or it may threaten what is, for them, a very comfortable and known way of working. Being able to anticipate who the key users are and how these users are likely to accept the change means you can plan for it.

It is better that this is done as soon as possible via basic stakeholder analysis than waiting to find out that the user base is highly resistant, no matter how good the system or process changes are.

As project specialists, we provide fit-for-purpose change management capability.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...