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Change management in business

At any point in time in progressive enterprises there will be a range of change initiatives in progress – standing still is rarely an option in modern business. In larger corporations projects can be wide in scope and multidimensional, requiring a lot of skill and experience to plan and execute.

Change initiatives vary from small tweaks to existing ways of doing things to major transformation programs. They include new product development, enhancement to data, systems and technology infrastructure, cost reduction projects and change programs arising from strategic reviews e.g. business acquisition or new line of business.

Changing the existing operational model can be very challenging, especially if change to the organizational culture is required. So before looking at some best practice pointers it is instructive to reflect on why many change initiatives fail to deliver ( or only partially deliver ) :

– issues with scope : too narrow/wide or under/over engineered solutions
– failure to appreciate the scale of effort required
– lack of clear individual accountability for the end to end deliverable
– lack of buy in by key internal stakeholders
– failure to commit enough quality resources
– poor planning, execution or cost assessment/control
– inflexibility to respond to evolving events as new information becomes available
– poor deployment : gaps in operational procedures or in training/communication
– lack of attention to post deployment review (has change actually ‘landed’?)

Bearing in mind the above the following general points are relevant for any change initiative :

1. Ownership and accountabilityThis will be demonstrated by the priority attached to the initiative, the committment of resources, as well as the visibility of senior management. Dual sponsorship should be avoided – one owner for the full deliverable is far safer in terms of ensuring focus and accountability.

Ownership and buy-in by key stakeholders is also critical at the project initiation phase. Failure to take on board this input not only affects the quality of the design brief but there is a risk that the initiative will be sabotaged by those who feel no ownership.

2. Scope/definition. If there are weaknesses in defining the deliverable it will affect everything else that follows. What will the end state look like? What is the definition of success? If the initiative results from the need to address an issue or incident that has arisen it is essential that the root cause of the problem is identified. This might have be more to do with the business model than a ‘presenting’ technical issue. Otherwise a cycle of ‘fail, fix , fail ‘ will arise, without ever addressing the core issue.

3. The truth about today. An honest assessment of the the starting position is essential to building robust solutions, the so called ‘as is’ state. Only then can there be a realistic assessment of options for moving to the desired ‘to be’ end state.

4. Exploration of options/ selection of ‘solution’.This stage should not be rushed and radical ‘outside the box’ thinking in the early stages can provide useful creative input e.g. brainstorming sessions with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Every effort should be made to get buy in by all key stakeholders to the selected solution, recognising that all options will have ‘pros’ and ‘cons’.

3. Project Management. The level of formality around this will depend on the scale and complexity of the change. For large projects an empowered professional project manager will be required, with a senior sponsor, formal steering group structure, regular status meeting, and reporting against milestones – all preceded by a detailed planning stage. Not all aspects can be planned in detail from the start, so an openness to modify the solution as the project evolves will be necessary.

Regardless of the level of formality involved there should be agreed interim and final milestone dates so that progress v plan can be monitored, costs controlled  and issues arising are highlighted and addressed. Long term projects should seek to have a series of deliverables, rather than just one deliverable at the end. This is good for team morale as well as being a way of managing risks/costs.

4. Integration of solution into ‘business as usual ‘. There can be resistance to change  and this handover from project to business as usual should never be taken for granted. So in addition to training and communication there needs to  be a series of post implementation reviews. Are the expected benefits being realized?  It is also possible that some unforeseen teething issues will arise on implementation – not everything will be picked up in pre deployment tested.

5. Lessons learned. It is important to have a lessons learned review at the end of each project  to ensure that learnings are taken into account in planning for future initiatives.

Summary : It is easy to underestimate what is required for a successful change initiative but it is a key differentiator between businesses and can be the difference between success and failure. All top tier enterprises excel at the planning and execution of change initiatives.


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