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Change Management: A Key Linchpin to the Success of Any IT Project

There are many reasons why an Information Technology Project might FAIL, but no

reason more damaging than Failed Change Management!

Change Management is an integral part of an IT project’s success. If you do not have a robust change management program in your project, you are leaving its outcome to chance. McKinsey says the number one reason for project failure is people, which has been echoed by a substantial body of research from multiple qualified sources. It therefore, stands to reason, that the biggest opportunity to impact people pre, during and post project is Change Management.

When it comes to IT projects, people can sometimes get confused. They have difficulty separating “change” management from “project” management. The two are linked. Because IT projects invariably impact people, the change management process is a key component of project success. Project management’s purpose is to align methods, skills, knowledge, and assets to achieve the project’s goals. The purpose of change management is to leverage processes and techniques to manage and orient the people impacted by the change from the project to achieve the desired business outcome. A simple way to understand change management in an IT project is to view change management as the

“people” management part of the project.

Two core components of a good Change Management program are communication and training. They help people understand and effectively prepare for the impact of change they will experience. There are several common issues in IT Projects that may adversely impact people, their view of the project and most importantly their perception of the project’s success, big success or huge failure. A few of these issues are:

  • Lack of experience. Most individuals occasionally work on an IT project and are not deeply versed in IT project skills

  • Under budgeting change management. Insufficient or no change management incorporated into the project

  • Over reliance on the PMO or Project Management. To reiterate, project management has a different purpose than change management

  • Flawed Communication Plan. A robust communication plan is key in managing peoples’ expectations and facilitating their change needs

  • Not effectively dealing with Resistance. Change is unnatural for most people and change management is pivotal to help them transform

  • Lack of Measurement. While project task management is very important, measuring people/organizational preparedness for the new IT system is equally important

Aligning people to the needs of an IT Project to meet the business objective is what change

management is all about. Change management helps to ensure the business stakeholders and organization understand the business objectives, are educated to how and why they need to do things differently and are prepared to transform to support the project’s goals.

People problems related to IT Projects are inevitable. While good communications and a change management plan can address many people related problems, there are techniques and lessons learned that work in concert with change management to mitigate or minimize a variety of people problems.

  • Limit customizations. No matter what the IT department might tell you, this will help limit programming problems, down-time, and interruptions. If you handle Change Management properly the user community will agree to deal with a few less bells and whistles. The very first time a user encounters a frustration that cannot be quickly and effectively addressed you are headed for rough waters

  • Never under-estimate the nay-sayers. They must be dealt with, or you risk having your IT project sabotaged. Good news spreads fast but bad news tends to move faster; that is why you must always try to stay a step of head of it or at least have a rapid response to the compliant. This an excellent place to create a heat map to see how well bought in or not your Stakeholders are on your project. Something as simple as Green/Yellow/Red works with an action plan to get as many issues as possible in the green.

  • Most Project Managers are just checking the boxes. They are not dealing with the issues the way you (the Project Sponsor) would; they simply mark them as resolved or open. Only you, the Project Sponsor, can determine if an issue has been resolved to your satisfaction or if there may be some collateral issues/damage beyond the resolution of the issue and what should be done. Utilize Steering Committees. Challenge issue status and employ good communications for issue management.

  • The more you tell it to them the more they will start to believe it. That goes for both positive and negative communication. Remember to always keep it positive. Positive statements help you to challenge and overcome any negative environment. When repeated often (emails, videos, phone calls, training) positive messages will begin to sink in deep with the user community. Your goal is to direct their thinking and actions for the positive.

  • Unlike an election you must win the popular vote by 90% or more. Even though Senior Management will not expect 100% approval and/or adoption, if it is not at least 90% they may view the gap as to wide to remediate post project leaving too much room for negative perceptions. Change Management and its communication plan are essential to winning the popular vote.

  • Be visible and never stop communicating. It will show stakeholders you care and that you are on top of things. It is like the President going to the scene of a crisis, it conveys that he/she is concerned and watching over the situation-it sends a positive message.

  • Budget accordingly. Because you must always be selling and that takes resources/money. There is a never-ending list of opportunities to positively influence stakeholders/user groups and you will want to maximize all such opportunities.

  • Exude excitement about your IT project. If not, you cannot expect your team or the stakeholders to be excited. Positive emotions count. People are emotive and you will need to feed those emotions in a positive way.

While people are at the center and the primary cause of project failure, people are also a strong asset. With a good change management component integrated into your project management plan along with a robust communication strategy, stakeholders, end users, periphery people (management and users) will become the project’s strongest assets and help enable success. Properly budget and staff your Change Management Team. Provide the necessary executive support. Do not let chance determine your project’s success.

About the Author

Mr. Marinelli has more than 25 years’ experience in both Industry and Consulting, where he

has worked for such leading companies as The Walt Disney Company, Verizon Communication, Deutsche Bank A.G., Siemens A.G., and Guardian Life Insurance Co in

various management roles at both the divisional and “C” levels. Mr. Marinelli specializes in

expense management, back office re-structing and modernization, vendor management and out-sourcing services. He has worked on nearly all aspects of operational management and organizational re-structing which included systems and process improvement. Mr. Marinelli has been a keynote speaker at trade and research events during his career and holds a JD from Seton Hall University School of Law.

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