Friday, 2 October 2009

Sustainable Change Requires Preparation

Last time I wrote about a simple change lifecycle with a start, middle and end, and I focused attention to the end phase. That may seem a topsy turvy way of looking at things, but the reality is that if we don't think about the end goal at the start, we are going to have serious problems throughout the change cycle. It is generally accepted that change initiatives should be managed as projects. This is not an unreasonable assumption as one definition of a project is

"a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result."

In the case of a change initiative the unique product, service or result is the change itself. Given that our assumption is valid it becomes apparent that the start of our change cycle will involve some planning and analysis activities. The extent and nature of these start up activities will depend on the size and nature of the change, and will also vary depending on your position within the organisation.

The difference between change project and other projects is that the degree of rigour required in the start-up activities is much greater when initiating organisational change. There are some additional considerations which may not be obvious to a product project oriented organisation. When an organisation kicks-off a new project, for example to build a new piece of software, there should be some form of up-front benefit and impact analysis. It's a good idea to launch a project knowing that you will get some return on investment, and feeling relatively confident that the new work will not negatively affect existing business (although sadly this type of due diligence is often not performed, and projects with little chance of success are undertaken regardless of their implications).

When undertaking an internal change project it is also a good idea to perform some kind of analysis regarding the ability and the capacity of the organisation to change. This means looking at the change history of the organisation (how successful were previous changes), the capacity of the organisation to absorb more change (how much change has recently taken place) and for both new and old businesses it's important to ensure that the infrastructure to support change is in place and effective (is there a change method, are there competent change agents). It is important to actually take notice of the data that you gather during this analysis. Many organisations ignore the information and go ahead regardless of the facts which will dramatically increase the risk of failure.

Who should be performing this start-up work? A dedicated change team is key, and should consist of a core team and subject matter experts who are co-opted into the team. Change management and project management are intimately linked and the change leader should have experience of both. Technical project managers may have the appropriate hard skills but sometimes lack the understanding of the change management cycle and the inherent difficulties associated with changing habits and culture. Change agents without the discipline of project management will also endanger the initiative as key tasks and activities may be forgotten or under prioritised.

Management and control are paramount in a change programme just as they are in a technical one. A change project needs scope management, budgetary control, configuration management, risk, issues and resource management. Communications and stakeholder management need to be in place and followed with additional rigour.

All these activities need a degree of up-front planning and management to maximise your ability to succeed. And of course you need to define, document and communicate your SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bounded) objectives, along with your measurement plan to help you understand when you've reached you goal.

 In the next entry we'll look at the Five Facets of Change - the keys to running successful change programmes.

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