Changing Times

Changing Times

Change is one of the most significant challenges that any organisation faces. The human condition is averse to change and even those who profess to be comfortable with it, often approach different or new tasks in a similar way. The processes in many organisations have hardly altered for years, however, with the arrival of digital technology new working practices, processes and interactions are now essential.

Organisations are now facing up to the changes imposed on them by digital technology affecting delivery, production, distribution and customer interaction. Additionally, with the emergence of new consumption methods like social networking and internet services, plus the introduction of alternative suppliers and business models, the ‘change challenges’ are magnified.

 

As a result, a significant number have concluded that delivery of fit-for-purpose technology can often be most easily realised by the redesign of everything; structure, processes, technology and space. Such major transformations require significant thought and support to realise a successful outcome.

Frequently, the way organisations implement new systems is through creating a set of delineated organisational structures such as property, technology and operations. These structures and their implied reporting lines are frequently isolated from one another and this often becomes the main reason for the suboptimal consequences. This can lead to a silo approach and different interpretations of a solution rather than a team approach. The key to success is understanding that the majority of projects are about change and change affects people.

Successful change management requires clarity around the need for transformation so that all the stakeholders can understand what is to be achieved. The first step is to examine why change is necessary at all. For example, many organisations characterised by the traditional processes see the implementation of new technology as a way of emulating more nimble start-up businesses.

Some further typical but not exhaustive key strategic reasons for change include:

  • Market The changing market leads to a fundamental shift of strategic vision for the organisation, a “blank canvass” approach is required.
  • Survival The existing technology is either financially or functionally unsuitable for purpose.
  • Replacement The current technology is out-of-date or expensive to support.
  • Efficiency The lack of system integration has resulted in inefficient operations.

Once the need for change has been clearly identified it is important to step outside the technology domain to gain a view of the organisation’s objectives. Often this thinking needs to be undertaken by gathering together a group of key people who can articulate strategic ideas and then translate them into user requirements.

It’s often wise to deliberately inject some realistic cynicism into these discussions to avoid chasing ‘flights of fancy’ rather than real requirements. An example of a useful discussion outcome might be the decision that you need: “The creation of a single database for all our customers.” An example of a ‘flight of fancy’ might be: “We need to access every drawing from everywhere in the facility.” Often, during these discussions, the use of outside facilitation from people who can bring a wider view is particularly helpful.

At this stage, it is important to remember, one of the determinants of success in an environment which relies on individuals’ effort to generate value, is the delivery of working spaces and technology that foster such efforts. Additionally, the essential processes that support this business model must be as invisible as possible. On the one hand individuals need to feel that their contribution is important while on the other, increasingly, the organisation needs to guarantee that data is automatically gathered so that future needs whatever they may be, are made easy and that processes can be managed.

Once the high-level strategic objectives have been agreed, the next step is to test them on two key groups: firstly the senior people who are charged with the organisations direction. Ask them: “If I spend £x to achieve Y, does this fit with your view of the organisation and its purpose?” The second group to question are those whose work will be changed by what is proposed. Ask them: “If we did X to make it possible to do Y, but this changed the way you work, how would that fit with the job you do?”

It’s only after the answers to these questions are understood, that we can possibly think in terms of the technology projects that will support the changes in the organisation. It is also here that the best intentions can founder. This is because frequently, facilities that have undertaken some good strategic thinking, then leave the project to the relevant department to deliver and, like the game of Chinese Whispers, the eventual outcome does not usually match the original intention.

To enable a successful outcome organisations need to have:

  • Sponsorship A key figure at an appropriate level to be the visible sponsor of the project. This person must be able to articulate both the need and the process so that staff understand what’s going on.
  • Governance Agreed objectives and quantified inputs and outputs should be owned by a group responsible for delivering all the required outcomes. This group should monitor progress and have the decision on any material changes to the project. Properly constituted they act as a guard against ‘scope creep’ and as custodian of the overall timetable and budget.
  • Clear Project Direction All strands or separate projects that are part of realising the overall objectives must report to a single director. This individual is charged with delivering the objectives (as set by the Project’s governance) on time and on budget and should be incentivised appropriately to achieve this.
  • Communication It is the interaction of people with technology that makes ‘magic’ happen. Therefore, projects which affect working environment and practices mean that staff deserve to be a part of what’s going on. Investment in communication and feedback with staff and others affected throughout the delivery phase will reap dividends when it comes to final implementation.
  • Involvement Make sure that a number of end-users are involved in the implementation phase. Ensure that any solution doesn’t feel as though it is being imposed by outsiders.

There are many examples of unsuccessful technology implementations in the marketplace that have quite simply failed to deliver on expectations. In today’s economic climate, never has it been more important to avoid these kinds of costly mistakes. However, the way change is implemented is critical to the relative success of the transformation that is required and effort put into managing the process and people in terms of correct involvement and communication will pay dividends for all concerned in these changing times.

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Last modified on 23 October 2015
Mike Cronk

Mike Cronk is a media technology leader with track record in business change and programme delivery.