In the broad context of project and programme management, the term ‘change management' causes more debate, confusion and consternation than perhaps any other topic. The true change professionals (and you know who you are) have seen it all, from perfect projects with happy and satisfied customers to angry board members facing an employee revolt after yet another sloppily delivered programme. Despite the vast number of consultancies and contractors who focus their careers on the subject, change is often seen as the ‘softer', more intangible alternative to ‘proper' project management.
Michael Page knows all too well the tales of woe from many frustrated IT professionals who, after completing yet another successful project, are dismayed to find the wider business shunning their efforts completely. The reason is usually that the IT department and the business simply weren't communicating throughout the process.
Here's an instance of a project where, from a purely technical project management perspective, the new ERP implementation was a masterpiece, career-defining material. All of the project's agreed objectives were met, the budget was under control and nothing spontaneously combusted. High fives and popped corks all round.
However, the accounts department didn't see it this way. The new system didn't cater for any of the complex financial approval processes the business had in place. Resorting to manual work-around made everyone's lives more difficult and the entire supplier base complained that they couldn't get their invoices paid. One complaint to the FD later and suddenly IT was the enemy; the board felt as though they'd been sold a dummy. As the great Neil Young put it - "you pay for ‘this' and they give you ‘that'."
The missing component in this case was, of course, effective change management. The most successful IT leaders realise that IT implementations don't in themselves deliver real business improvement. The true benefit comes from a fundamental step change in what one of our interim change experts calls ‘the three P's', which are people, policy and process.
Bridging the gap between IT and the business
To many, this may seem obvious. However, given the number of technology programmes which still (often very publicly) go awry, something must be getting lost in translation. One theory is that the people in charge of the programmes fail to make a distinction between project management and change management.
Project methodologies such as PRINCE2 are ideal for setting up clear, structured, logical projects and provide a standard set of rules to which everyone can adhere. But project methodologies fail to legislate for the most unpredictable aspect of any major programme - the people. With an effective change function in place, the business is made to feel like they are part of the programme, rather than victims of the board's latest cost-saving scheme.
Strong change managers will be open, honest and authentic. They will be capable of engaging the business at all levels and will possess many of the same skills that can be found in the best sales professionals. They won't lie to their stakeholders. Instead they will be highly adept at delivering tough messages to difficult audiences and ensuring that they realise and appreciate the business benefits of new processes and procedures. In doing this, the functionality of the IT department's shiny new system can be turned in to real, well-defined and measurable commercial benefits.
So, you've decided to bring a change manager on board - what next?
When a Michael Page consultant sits down with a CIO to discuss change recruitment, there tends to be a fairly linear pattern. The CIO explains the story so far (having sent their specification for an interim change manager to the HR department's ‘preferred suppliers', they've seen 94 CVs ranging from Oracle developers to the former CEO of IBM; they wearily state ‘I can't stress this enough, I definitely DO NOT want an IT project manager'.)
Once established, it's time to discuss the job specification. This is the crucial point at which consultants have to take a step back from the jargon and formality of a typical job specification and focus on the desired outputs. The CIO is asked how the success of the programme will be measured. The answer will always dictate the response to the brief, and who will be introduced to the client. Like IT project management, change management is a broad and yet highly-specialist discipline; one size does not fit all.
The days of the flashy, all-singing, all-dancing, vanity projects are over. As purse strings continue to tighten across all sectors, businesses demand first-time delivery and real return on investment. With cost-saving programmes driving the agenda across all-sectors and employee uncertainty at an all-time high, an expert business change presence on the programme team can truly be the difference between ‘as things are' and ‘the way things could be'.