Change management is not sexy or exciting - but neither is project failure. When implementing enterprise software projects, change management along with system testing is one of the most frequently neglected aspects of the implementation. And that's despite its being one of the most important factors for success.
That's according to Johani Marais, country manager of HansaWorld South Africa. Across a long career in ERP project management, she has seen first-hand the tendency to skimp on change management and the occasionally disastrous results of that penny pinching.
“Implementing any new system means it will be replacing old ways of doing things with new. That is an integral part of the value proposition of more modern systems,” says Marais.
While she says it is a relatively straight-forward process to configure technology systems to execute these new processes and methods, reprogramming people is not quite so cut-and-dried. “For that is what change management is, to a large degree. It is about helping staff to 'unlearn' habits, processes and ways of working which are, in many instances, second nature.”
People are creatures of habit, continues Marais. Changing those habits is not easy but it is essential. “Those people who are familiar with working with the old way of doing things will struggle to adapt to the new way. More than that, if the people who work with the system don't like it, or if they perceive it to be unnecessarily complex with 'more steps' than the old one to achieve the same goals, user resistance is inevitable,” she explains.
That staff are likely to find fault with new processes is a practical given, she continues. “The innovation which goes into the advancement of enterprise systems includes introducing, for example, additional steps to financial processes in order to close loopholes which may have existed in their predecessors. It is these sorts of changes that individuals can find bewildering.”
Change management, therefore, is not merely a matter of instructing staff on how things are to be done with the new system, it is also potentially a matter of sharing the bigger picture. “That means providing insight into why things are done differently – and not just showing that they are done differently,” Marais notes.
Considerable reinforcement is required; project champions must keep morale high, identifying and managing dissent and conflict which can result from disgruntled and frustrated employees. “The activities and techniques involved in change management are numerous and substantial. However, what is often the sticking point for company bosses is that these interventions add hours to the project budget,” says Marais.
While the temptation to steamroll a new system into action with minimal attention to change management may be great, she says doing so is risky. “Managers tend to see the benefits very quickly without considering the impact of changed ways of working on their staff. However, even with very good change management, user resistance is likely. Combating this is critical, requiring continual attention to training, reinforcement and getting the buy-in of those who work with the system,” she stresses.
It is not easily achieved and requires repetition and continual focus. But good change management remains a cornerstone of projects which are not only successfully delivered, but also which provide lasting value to the companies which have implemented them.