Change management today: best practices for the modern enterprise
I. Introduction: Preparing for change
In a world that is evolving faster than ever, change often seems both out of reach and hard to swallow. More specifically, changing the way people in an organisation work almost always requires changes in technology, which often comes with a stiff cost. Missed deadlines, little code reuse, unnecessary functionality that adds no real value, and lax security coding practices are just a few items on a laundry list of contributions to dismal waste. Moreover, typical organisational structures have favoured departmental solutions, which lead to huge investments in monolithic technologies that make integration difficult or impossible.
By contrast, users now expect new functionality to be exposed “automatically” without even the slightest interruption in service delivery. Gmail, SalesForce.com and Facebook are good examples of companies that are constantly providing greater, “automatic” capabilities – without long sessions of requirements-gathering. But this means thinking in terms of end-to-end processes and about how the application should evolve over time. In short: this means change.
Changing the status quo has never been easy, which bodes poorly since the rapid rate of technological advancement is poised to last decades. Yet, change and innovation must coexist. An innovative organisation adopts holistic, robust and well-executed ways to handle change, and change management helps to measure the benefits introduced by innovation, removing (or minimising) obstacles that stand in the way of innovation’s success. This means that if the innovative practice does not respond to a clear vision of change management, it simply cannot succeed.
According to John P. Kotter, former leadership professor at Harvard Business School, there are certain steps that must be followed in order to enact any kind of successful organisational change process: 1) develop a common mentality of urgency; 2) build a tiger team; 3) cement a common vision, making sure everyone understands and work towards it; 4) set realistic goals and show contiguous benefits; 5) provide necessary support for the change, to make sure it endures.
In order to illustrate the processes involved in one type of change management scenario, we will employ Professor Kotter’s insights and our own experience from the field, to focus on how change management tactics are applied in practice.
II. Change Management in Practice: The Particular Case of Software
As organisational paradigms change, so does the need to update how we build software. Software creation is a common area in which change management processes take shape. While there are many different types of software change, application lifecycle management (ALM) contemplates the long-term picture, as opposed to short-term, isolated activities in software. As such, embracing ALM in an organisation essentially means changing the way that organisation creates, views and uses software from a fundamental level. Although by no means an easy feat, these important changes are attainable if the right practices are established.
Before change takes place in software processes, an organisation must have a clear understanding of its portfolio of applications. From the number of lines of code and languages used for each application, to the number of developers available for one technology, to the number of technologies related to each application, to how each application is structured in terms of business processes – all information is vital. The organisation must also have a strong grasp of the degree of importance, function and agility of each software asset. As with all change management processes, having a common understanding of the information in place prior to engaging in change is crucial to understanding the type, quality and level of change that is achievable.
After identifying the current state of software engineering practices and process, the change team must identify business opportunities for an ALM program. For this, a comprehensive understanding of the current technical audience involved in the software engineering process is imperative. After this, an ALM change management team should set up a technical task force, choosing members from within its technical audience. Next, the team will create a master plan and then communicate this vision with the technical task force. The team will then select an ALM suite to support all of the processes identified, develop a project portfolio, run pilot projects and focus on execution. The final step will include a constant review of the project portfolio by key leadership and all stakeholders involved.
III. Change Management in Action: Successful Components of Any Change Process
Taking a step back from the particular case of software, we realise that most companies – especially those possessing aging systems and roles that have remained static for decades – need to pay immediate, direct attention to change management. As such, there are certain fundamental practices that can be applied across the board when thinking about change management.
For instance, once all information has been gathered, it is important to focus on the design phase of change, which must enact these first two steps: 1) conducting pilots; and 2) creating proofs of concept. These are the two most critical components that help a company define what will and will not work for the organisation. Pilots should ideally represent the project with the right scope, size, stakeholders and employee involvement to accommodate an end-to-end implementation. This will allow change agents to fine-tune each process for best results.
The process of identifying such agents of change is also crucial. Herein, employees not yet convinced about the project merits can be turned into knowledgeable project promoters. After all, successful implementations are contingent upon an organisation’s ability to bring these key leaders on board, which will significantly help in getting the rest of the teams on the same page. Leveraging stronger points from trusted leaders will also ensure the project can be implemented on time and on budget.
Moreover, budgeting for change is essential. Businesses must understand that if they don’t have the budget for their vision of change, then that signals they are not yet in a position to embrace it. Also important is aligning budget to a common understanding of technologies, staff and overhead needed to enact a common view of change.
Once the budget and tools are in place, the organisation can move to the next step: defining and assembling a so-called “Tiger team” that can be quickly trained in these new processes and tools. This team will be ahead of the game on everything, as they’ll have the answers internally. Tiger team members will address challenging questions for varying situations and lend confidence to the entire project.
After the team has been trained and understands the objectives at hand, leadership must get on board. No company-wide change project will succeed without the right attention and support from the management team. If the CIO is not actively endorsing the project, it’ll likely fail. Sponsorship from executive management is usually necessary as well.
Providing comprehensive visibility is also an important tactic in advancing change. Visibility will help management understand how the project is moving forward, which will play a part in generating confidence to stakeholders. Furthermore, increased visibility makes performance transparent for diverse areas, which has its positive and negative implications. If not used within the right context and appropriate roles, such greater visibility might lead to harmful decisions. For example, if roles are not appropriately redefined, a start developer, engineer or project manager might appear as a poor performer (and vice versa). It’s critical, then, to make structural changes and review employee roles before moving ahead.
In short, an organisation must rely on the following best practices when dealing with change management:
- Resist temptation to deploy anything that hasn’t been fully tested to ensure there are no errors that could have been prevented.
- Establish a strong communication program for the entire life of the change management process in order to keep all employees constantly informed. Ensure that people talk to each other through multiple channels: open-door policies, email, distribution lists, help desk, repositories (i.e. content management systems, wikis), etc.
- Choose a name for the project that fits well with your company culture to establish a more personal connection/commitment.
- Officially announce the following aspects of each new project: vision, objectives, benefits from various angles to make sure everyone has a clear and uniform understanding of the plans in play.
- Don’t oversell the program: Be realistic and upfront about the benefits and limitations at hand.
- Bring as many people as you can on board with the new initiative from the very start.
- Identify employees that are more reluctant, and keep them on your radar so you can monitor and draw value from rogue sentiments.
- Make everyone feel ownership of the project: from end users and engineers, to mid-level management and executives, to product support. This will ensure everyone has a stake in the success of the initiative.
Businesses don’t pause while changes take place. Instead of working from scratch, see where other companies succeeded and where others have failed. Any successful change management process must ensure that top management has a clear understanding of the end result desired. This also entails making end users part of the process from the beginning. All stakeholders should perceive the benefits and understand the challenges facing the changes. Furthermore, employees should be encouraged to provide input toward the change process at all times. Everyone knows that accepting change isn’t easy, but the right practices can be that spoon full of sugar that makes the medicine go down.
About the Author
Jaime Palacios is General Manager of Global Delivery Center in Ensenada, Mexico & Practice Manager, Application Development, Softtek. In his role as GM, Jaime is responsible for conceptualising, executing and monitoring Softtek’s business strategy for the sixth largest economy in the world: the state of California. He is also in charge of complementing Softtek’s “follow-the-sun” model with the company’s network of global delivery centres in Asia, Europe and the Americas. He has dedicated the majority of his career to developing IT solutions for Fortune 500 clients. Jaime holds a Bachelor of Science in computer systems engineering from Universidad de las Américas Puebla in Mexico.