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Understanding IT Systems Change Part 3

Blog: Solitaire Consulting Blog

This is the third of a series of articles on understanding IT systems change.  In this article I will discuss the importance of continuing the change management effort once the new system has gone live.

Read the first two articles in the series here:

>>> Understanding IT Systems Change Part 1 – Context and Initiation <<<

>>> Understanding IT Systems Change Part 2 – The Importance of Change Management <<<

I have already written about the importance of considering the change process both before and during a systems implementation or upgrade project.  Unfortunately, that was just the easy bit!

Implementing a new piece of technology is relatively easy, yes it can be complicated but it is not usually complex – i.e. the process of implementation is well understood.  If everything is done correctly in the right order success should follow.  What is not so easy is embedding the change and making sure your people adopt the new systems and processes.  This is what I will be focusing on in this article.

The J curve of change

Implementing a systems change in a people based organisation (i.e. most businesses!), initially creates chaos as people get used to new and unfamiliar ways of working.  This period of chaos should not be resisted because it provides its own benefits.  When people are in their comfort zone and are familiar with work processes, complacency sets in and the need to constantly review and improve can be lost.  Moving people out of this comfort zone is extremely beneficial.

However, this will result in a drop in business performance because your staff are less efficient at doing their job and many tasks that were once second nature now have to be thought about.  Many of Solitaire Consulting’s clients are in professional services, where the impact of a drop in productivity manifests itself in a lower utilisation rate (i.e. chargeable time booked to clients),  an increase in write-offs or just more time to carry out simple tasks.

For the period immediately after implementing your new system, expect the bottom line to be affected and prepare for it.  This effect is entirely normal and is known as the ‘J curve of change’ as shown in the diagram below.

J-curve of change

The J Curve of Change

The most important step in dealing with this dip in performance is to recognize it is going to happen and to let staff know that it has been allowed for in relevant business plans and forecasts.  A new system can provide a lot of stress to staff at the best of times.  If they no management have allowed for some dip in performance this will enable to them to focus properly on adapting to the change and learning the new ways of working.

The period following implementation is critical, but whilst there is very little we can do to prevent a decrease in performance there is a lot we can do to minimise it.  This is where the internal project team, or external change management support, should have the most impact.  However in a lot of organisations the team will be disbanded at this point because the project will have been deemed as ‘completed’ – when in actual fact this is where the real hard work starts!

How many times have you experienced a project where the live implementation has been celebrated only to find a few weeks later that staff are struggling to adopt the new system?  I always recommend retaining the project structure until well after ‘go-live’ to ensure that business benefits start to be realised.

There is a lot you can do in advance of going live to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.  I find that applying a formal change management framework from the outset of the project is vital to its overall success.  As you will have seen from the previous article I favour basing my framework on the 8 Steps to Change model developed by Dr John Kotter.  Whichever model you use though, it is important that this runs in parallel to your project management methodology.

Other specific key interventions will depend largely on the size and complexity of your business but could include:

In addition to putting in place some of the support mechanism above it is also important to have dedicated resources available to log and track issues.  No matter how much testing you did prior to go-live there will inevitably be system issues that will need to be prioritised and resolved.  Keeping the project team engaged and available for a period of time post-live will help ensure these issues are dealt with pro-actively.

Hopefully this short article will help you to think about the support that is needed after you have implemented your new system which will help stabilise the business and maximise the benefits of your new system as soon as possible.

Coming soon, the final article in this series:

Understanding IT Systems Change Part 4 – Collaborative Working to Ensure Success

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