Change Management in Software Projects (Part 2)

By Gavin Halse and Henry Boshoff

In Part 1, we highlighted the importance of change management in software projects as an essential success factor. Change management must be integral to software implementation projects, or the company may never realise the business value. Without end-user buy-in, the solution will not work as intended and could become an expensive burden to the business.

In Part 1, we also covered some of the reasons software projects fail and why change management (or rather a lack thereof) is often one of the underlying causes.

The change management approach needs to be based on intrinsic human motivational factors to be effective. The article covered several techniques, such as “Kotter’s Theory of Change Management”. Kotter’s model proposes creating a sense of urgency, building the change team, developing the strategic vision, removing barriers, celebrating wins, maintaining momentum, and embedding the change.

In Part 2, we will discuss typical change management approaches and avoiding mistakes.

If the new software is being implemented in an established business, an existing change management framework will likely be in place for projects. Aligning your software project to this framework avoids reinventing the wheel. The business must take ownership of change management– the role of the software vendor should be to guide the process and provide support. If the software vendor is asked to lead the change management process, this is a red flag and a potential risk.

A typical change management framework must start by answering the following:

  1. What is meant by change management – how will we measure success?
  2. Why is change management so important?
  3. How will our organisation prepare, manage and sustain the change?
  4. What are the most critical factors driving successful change?

All projects undergo a linear sequence of events: Prepare, Execute and Maintain. Change management follows the same series. In this section, we will list the key activities for each of these phases:

Preparing for change

  1. Assess the readiness of the business for the proposed solution.
  2. Develop the vision – why are we doing this, and what does the future hold?
  3. Develop a communication plan – tell stories to communicate the vision effectively.
  4. Gain support from leadership at all levels and ensure that the leaders are fully aware and buy into the planned communication. Remember that leaders are not necessarily those managers with the most impressive job titles – there will usually be strong influencers in the organisation with no formal leadership role.
  5. Gather information about the organisations existing change management procedures. The group you are working with may not even be aware of their own procedures – reminding the team of the processes already in place is necessary during preparations.
  6. Identify and work with the project sponsor to ensure that change management remains a top priority.
  7. Identify change champions and develop toolkits to use.
  8. Embed the change narrative in all key communication opportunities – especially user acceptance testing and end-user training.

Managing the change process

  1. Run change management as a sub-project within the overall project timelines – develop milestones, identify deliverables, and ensure ownership and accountability.
  2. Ensure that the identified stakeholders stay the course through the project and remain committed to the solution.
  3. Proactively address resistance by identifying causes and mitigating measures to neutralise and overcome it. Remember those influencers you identified in the previous phase? They can quickly derail a project if not positive about the change.
  4. Focus on executing the plan – don’t prepare an impressive change management strategy as the first step and then file it away, never to be seen again.

Sustaining the change

  1. Provide a period of intensive post-go-live support to help users get used to and master the new system.
  2. Run surveys, gather feedback from the impacted stakeholders, and act on the findings.
  3. Ensure communications continue beyond project sign-off. When the consultants leave the site, the momentum can be quickly lost.
  4. Recognise any progress and celebrate successes.

Avoid these common change management mistakes

Here are some of the frequent change management-related mistakes we have encountered on software projects. Most of them would be avoided if a proper change management process and framework were in place:

  1. Change management is left too late in the project. If the project team is already configuring the solution when the client first thinks about change management, it is already too late.
  2. Change management processes are short-circuited or bypassed. Project pressures can cause people to take shortcuts. Change management is one area that is frequently dropped when the pressure is on.
  3. Change management is seen as a “soft” area and is delegated to people without the necessary authority or involvement in the project. Never delegate change management to the support function. The change must be driven by the business leaders and the leading influencers (which is not necessarily line management).
  4. Change management is not embedded in the training content – trainers are left without tools to communicate the narrative and win over users effectively.
  5. Senior stakeholders disappear after the project starts – leaving the impression that they are not committed.
  6. Resistance by a few individuals is not detected early, and no plans exist to address this. “White ant” behaviour can derail the best solution. People will resist change for many reasons – often, their fears and concerns can be quickly addressed by one-on-one coaching sessions.
  7. The business is not ready for change. For example, there is poor alignment between divisions or areas and a “not invented here” backlash from sites or areas not consulted early on. The project team ignores these factors and focuses on the easy, quick wins until it is too late.
  8. Change management is not managed as part of the main project. It is seen as a bolt-on function and less critical than the technical aspects of the solution. Ensure that the change management item is a priority on the project progress reporting agenda.
  9. Feedback from end users is ignored, and there is no process to act on problem areas. A busy project team can become overwhelmed by conflicting end-user feedback.
  10. Problems identified in user acceptance testing are not addressed head-on and added to a growing list for “Phase 2”, which never happens.
  11. There is no accountability in the project team for change management.
  12. Change management communication campaigns are run as sudden bursts of excitement and activity, followed by a drop-off, leading to a loss in credibility.
  13. Too aggressive a schedule does not allow adequate time for change to be accepted, so people to adequately process the information and get the need for change.
  14. Poorly planned meetings or lack of preparation lead to a loss of confidence in the ability of the implementation team. Every engagement with end users, be it for testing, training, or implementation, is critical.
  15. Communications do not reach all stakeholders.
  16. The communications channels are not thought through – e-mail, website, or briefing sessions are all part of a communication strategy that needs to be agreed upon.
  17. External stakeholders are not included in the process (for example, third-party vendors, contractors etc.)

We could go on and list many more mistakes like this. The point is that the key to successful change management is implementing a proper framework and methodology.

We will discuss assessing an organisation’s readiness for new software in Part 3. Understanding readiness and organisational maturity are crucial to developing a realistic change management programme.

For more information

Adapt IT Manufacturing provides digital solutions that enhance safety performance and operational excellence to help industrial companies achieve more.

For more information on Adapt IT Manufacturing solutions, please contact our team.

Picture of Karl Frenz
Karl Frenz
Karl, a Graduate Mechanical Engineer with an Honors in Industrial Engineering, has 30+ years of experience in design, consulting, and project management across industries like mining, manufacturing, and food and beverages. He has managed projects in supply chain, occupational health and safety, HR management, and ERP systems.

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