Change Management - better late than never! by Ron Leeman

This article is a bit of a "throw away" for the weekend and again was as a result of a “swimming pool” moment ... this may become a habit!

Here’s the scenario …

An organisation is implementing some new “cutting edge” technology to help them improve the service they give to their customers. An “in-house” Project Manager has been appointed and all essential Project Documentation has been completed and signed off i.e.:

  • Business Case
  • Project Charter
  • Project Initiation Document
  • Project Management Plan

Then comes things like:

  • Project Schedule/Plan
  • Project RAID Log
  • Project Budget Tracker

Great away we go then … the Project starts

Some way into the project things start to go awry and the Project is not going so well e.g.:

  • People don’t know what’s going on
  • Milestones are not being achieved
  • Project Sponsorship is next to non-existent
  • Customers haven’t been contacted
  • There has been no readiness assessment
  • etc.

As a result the Project Steering Board convene an emergency meeting and undertake a critical analysis of what’s going wrong. The discussions are all about plans, deliverables, milestones, quality, budgets and all that other "sexy" Project stuff. The assigned Project Manager is grilled to the ‘nth degree about these matters and answers them as best they can.

During the Steering Board deliberations the one word that keeps on cropping up is “change” ... REALLY!

No one seizes on that until the end of the meeting when there is “light bulb” moment and they suddenly realise that they hadn’t allowed for the vast amount of change that this project was delivering to ways of working and the level of impact on their operational people ... nothing new here!

5h1T!

The conversation then gets round to the fact that with all this change going on they should have employed a Change Manager right at the beginning but by now the project has been well under way for some time! To try and rectify this they decide to bring in a Change Manager and put out a call which you answer. You are taken on and, in the eyes of the Steering Group, become the “project saviour” ... what a burden!

This has been my experience on a number of occasions in the past but it is a situation that is fraught with difficulty and massive challenges and here are just a few:

  • You immediately go into “firefighting” mode and do what, when and how you can. This is a big deal because you have had no input into any of the initial project documentation, project scope and delivery.
  • You are continually “chasing your own tail” trying to put right was has gone wrong or trying to implement things that should have been done right at the beginning because you had no control over things that have gone on before.
  • If your “firefighting” and “chasing your tail” activities are not having the desired effect you will become the “whipping boy” of the Project ... remember the Steering Group sought you out as their “project saviour” so they expect big things from you.
  • You will be "eyed with great suspicion" by the Project Manager because they will feel that you have been bought in to put things right that they have screwed up. This should not be the case.

+ a whole host of other things but let’s just stick with these for the moment.

So what’s the answer?

  • You need to "set out your stall" in front of the Steering Group and tell them what you will do within the time scales and constraints you are working within remembering they will be looking for marked progress and a turnaround in the project fortunes because of your involvement.
  • Don't try and deliver the full spectrum of Change Management components ... stick with the foundations which I believe are "Sponsorship Engagement", "Stakeholder Analysis & Management" and "Communications" then build on those as you can.
  • Implement "Business Readiness & Adoption" tracking which will give you a good steer as to where things aren't going as they should and allow you to rectify them as necessary.
  • Work “hand-in-glove” with the Project Manager to steer the Project back on course so it is a matter of working closely and collaboratively with them.
  • You cannot turn back time so just make the "best of a bad situation", even if you think it is not right, you have to live with it.
  • Look at "what went well previously" (there must have been some things that did) and work on that.
  • Go it alone and if necessary, "wing it" and do things that you think are right without seeking the official go-ahead and then just tell people what you have done and why you did it.
  • Don’t become embroiled in "project politics" as this will only distract you from what you have to do.
  • Stay steadfast in the face of adversity and “stick to your guns” because if you show any kind of weakness you are doomed and no one will take you seriously because you will end up as the “whipping boy”!
  • If all else fails and you are not making any progress through no fault of your own "walk away" and accept that it was one of those Projects where your skills and efforts would be wasted if you stayed.

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I started work for the UK’s MoD and after completing intensive training at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (now the UK’s Defence Academy) I worked for them as a Work Study Practitioner, and Organisation and Methods Officer which involved observing people working, making changes to ways of working and then measuring them to determine efficiencies. I call this the forerunner of Change Management. Following the MoD I had a stint with Abbey National BS/Abbey as a Business Analyst, Productivity Consultant and Senior Business Consultant. After Abbey, I started as an Independent Change Management Consultant and worked in many industry sectors but all involving change in some way, shape, or form. I now live in Thailand where I continue my change work such as researching matters of interest concerning change, coaching & mentoring for change management and authoring consulting frameworks and business templates. I still do the odd project in the Region just to keep “my hand in”. In 2012 I was recognised as a Change Leader by the World HRD Congress.