Finding the right person to lead the change - managing software implementation.

Posted by Prue Beams on March 20, 2018

Finding the right person to lead the change - managing software implementation.


It is widely recognised that no matter how effectively a software implementation is managed, its initial uptake and long-term success lies firmly in the hands of the project’s change team. There are many things to consider when assembling this team, such as what type of person should lead this effort and what support do they need? Should they come from within the organisation or from a third-party provider?

During my 16 years as a management consultant, I have witnessed various change models that have supported implementations with greater or lesser success. Getting this wrong can be a huge implementation risk and software providers are increasingly conscious of that. We are now seeing providers building change and project management expertise into their service offering so they can provide leadership and support to their customers in this key area and ensure they are set up for success.
To clarify, I am not promoting that you get your software provider to lead your change effort or any other third-party for that matter. In contrast, I think the best model is selecting someone from within your organisation that knows the inner workings of your institution and has long-standing relationships they can leverage. They need to have a strong personality, be respected by their peers, and communicate effectively at a high-level but possess a willingness to understand the detail. They should be able to sell the business benefits of change and in some situations deliver unpopular messages on project choices. From salesperson to counsellor.
"Someone from within your organisation that knows the inner workings of your institution and has long-standing relationships they can leverage"

The role of the change consultant, especially one from your software providers team, is to support the Change Manager in whatever way they can. No one has a more vested interest than them in making sure they have a successful and happy customer who is then prepared to stand behind their efforts and support them as a future reference site.

It is my firm belief that it is easier to train someone in change management and give them specialist change support than it is to bring in an outside change agent and expect them to develop the types of relationships required to be truly effective in their role. Pitched to the right person this can prove to be a great professional development opportunity for career growth.

A real Change Manager – what does that mean?

After delivering the initial change strategy, I too often see the Change Manager role pigeon-holed into managing communications and coordinating training efforts. They are not included in key decision-making forums and lack direct lines of communication to project influencers like the Senior Responsible Officer and Business Owner, meaning change outputs, risks and issues are fed through the Project Manager creating a disconnect.

Change Managers need to understand how priorities are being set, the context of key decisions, and the impacts this will have on the project and the end users. In an agile delivery approach, the Change Manager will be an integral part of the business scrum.

Change Analysts, if you are lucky enough to have them, are aligned to areas of the business to support. The change team’s role is to truly understand the size and nature of the change impacts so they can create effective strategies based on their knowledge of stakeholders’ needs.

Training and communications have increasingly become specialist roles requiring skills such as e-Learn development, website development and video editing with outputs delivered through the various channels and mediums of a modern organisation. The Change Manager will need to bring these skills to the team or use existing resources within the institution if available.

The change consultant’s supporting role

In large technology projects, I am increasingly seeing customers expecting their software providers to take on a greater leadership role and to have a delivery approach that fast-tracks implementations with process models and pre-configured solutions. This also applies to the change workstream. A change consultant from your software provider’s team should be able to kick start your change efforts by sharing templates, working examples and customer lessons to support the change workstream. Although every institution will have some defining differences there are always areas of commonality – striving for similar areas of benefits realisation, the design principles that govern the implementation will strike on consistent themes, and the areas that will prove to be the most challenging in terms of stakeholder engagement (such as areas that involve academic groups), will share similar experiences.

"Change Managers need to understand how priorities are being set, the context of key decisions, and the impacts this will have on the project and the end users"

After supporting the initial vision and strategy stages, the change consultant in this model typically takes responsibility for the change impact assessment. This is where the benefit of using a change consultant from your software providers team in contrast to any other third-party really comes into play. They are uniquely placed to understand what the new world is likely to look like, and can break through technical explanations and help articulate to the change team and stakeholder groups what the change will mean in plain business language. With a direct line to their implementation lead and other technical consultants, they can quickly access context and broader project understanding to pass on to the change team.

With advisory background, your change consultant should also help the team navigate difficult business decisions by working with the Change Manager to find the most appropriate way to present information for greatest comprehension across stakeholder groups. Hopefully, meaning decisions can be made faster.

What change methodology? It doesn’t matter, just have one!

Finally, I often get asked what change management methodology I support. My short answer is I don’t mind what customers use just as long as they use something.

I have seen software companies that have their own implementation methodology that includes a change management workstream alongside project/programme management and implementation. This forms the foundation of their delivery approach and they share the key outputs expected across the implementation lifecycle with customers. From a change management perspective, you would expect to see deliverables aligned to leading change methodologies such as Prosci.

Customers using this approach

The University of Waikato has been successfully adopting this model – an internal Change Manager supported by a Tribal Change Lead, and from our perspective, they are an excellent example in respect to their change management efforts. They found the right person and invested in Prosci training at the outset and have had regular support from the Tribal Change Lead throughout the project. They have regular engagement with stakeholders through university roadshows, coaching sessions with line managers, and faculty presentations. They have direct access to senior project stakeholders and membership at project leadership meetings and business scrum.

"I don’t mind what customers use just as long as they use something"

At a project level Workstream Leads engage the change team to work user groups through perceived issues and impacts of proposed changes to generate a shared understanding. When the project has stalled on a key decision the Change Manager, with support from the Tribal Change Lead, have developed alternative ways to present information to guide discussion and aid decision making.

Coupled with this is an effective training and communications plan giving this institution a well-rounded change workstream that is actively engaged both on the project side and with stakeholder groups.

What’s next?

If you are looking at your next programme of work – whether that be a new implementation, changes resulting from optimisation work, releasing new functionality or transitioning to a new technology platform – consider the most effective change team model. Talk to us about how we can best support you in delivering business change that will really make a difference.

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