In conversations with potential change management consulting clients about a troubled project, or about the need for a change management methodology in their organization, they will invariably mention past projects that have failed but have not been forgotten. There is the ERP implementation that was quietly withdrawn, or the acquisition that has never been fully integrated. There is the shared services implementation that hasn't delivered the intended value.
The good news? The motivation to do something different is greater. The bad news? A change management methodology in and of itself can't prevent the past from becoming the present.
Let's Talk About Failures
First let's agree that "project failures" is a broad term and covers both out and out failure, stalled projects, and sub-optimized projects. These sub-optimized projects don't deliver sustained adoption and consequently don't deliver the full value realization, on time, on budget, to the original specs for the project.
One of the common traps for project teams is to react to the symptoms of a troubled project without digging deeper to uncover the underlying causes. Our change management consultants recommend that you take a triage approach and develop an emergency checklist. When we are called in on troubled projects, we use an approach called an Implementation Review which follows this type of checklist to identify the real causes for the trouble.
The Role of a Change Management Methodology in the Rescue
If you aren't using the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM) as your change management methodology, you may be hoping that your methodology is a silver bullet. No change approach and no toolkit is the singular answer to addressing every project issue. The practicality and repeatability of AIM go a long way, though, to reducing the risks of project failure or sub-optimization.
You can, in fact, take the AIM principles, strategies, tactics, and tools and translate them into an "emergency checklist" you can follow to revive your project. The checklist should focus on three key areas: the project plan, your deployment strategies and tactics, and how your change management methodology focuses on the critical elements for the human side of change. Keep in mind that tools and templates are very much secondary in criticality! Here are some sample questions to get you started:
Your Project Plan
- Does the plan span both technical project management side and the human side? They should be interwoven!
- How early in the project life-cycle are the human elements being addressed?
- Is the plan definition of success based on installing the change or implementing the change? If you aren't heading for true implementation then you are guaranteed to sub-optimize.
- Is the plan understood, supported, and owned by the leaders, or have Sponsor-required activities been mistakenly delegated to Change Agents?
Your Deployment Tactics
- Do you have active and visible Sponsors who are demonstrating their own behavioral commitment in every area impacted by the change, at every management/supervisory level?
- Do these individuals know they are being looked to as Sponsors for change, and are they aware of how they must express, model, and reinforce the new behaviors?
- Do you have enough skilled Change Agents in all the right places, meaning in every area that is impacted by the change? Are these identified because they are subject matter experts, or do they have the interpersonal characteristics required for the role?
- Is your organizational climate a barrier to implementation success and does it support what you are trying to accomplish or is it really counter-cultural? If the change is counter-cultural how do you anticipate creating the cultural readiness that will be required?
- Are the critical implementation roles being pro-actively managed on an on-going basis?
Your Change Management Methodology
- Do you have specific tools and diagnostics to help you manage resistance, build your communication plan, align reinforcement and performance management to the new behaviors, monitor the climate for this change, and actively engage the leaders needed to manage your project?
- Are the tools supported by a common vocabulary and a common structured process for managing the change?
- Are you addressing systemic cultural issues systemically, or are you re-inventing the wheel and creating conflicting definitions of desired behaviors when they should be aligned across projects?
By gathering this data, you will be much better prepared to apply the required emergency tactics, especially if you have the advantage of fully knowing how to apply the AIM principles to the most acute and chronic problems.