Ask 100 people to define Change Management, and you'll get 100 different definitions. At the end of the day, the definition is just semantics. What really matters is whether you can implement a Change Management program in a practical way that allows you to support your organization in successfully achieving its goals. Whether you're a Change Manager, a consultant, or the tech. guy who was told to "figure out some Change Management stuff," this blog will help address common issues and topics you're likely to run into along the way.

Monday, June 13, 2011

If I Could Have One Wish: Better Documentation

When the first star comes out each evening and I think about what I'd like to wish for, I close my eyes, concentrate really hard, and wish for better documentation on projects.  Unfortunately, many projects don't take the time to develop thorough, consistent documents.  Even worse, some projects don't produce any documentation at all. 

Why do I care?  Change Management is often seen as a separate team working in a little silo of happiness.  At first glance, functional and technical teams can't fathom why a Change Manager would get so upset when she hears that they've decided not to create test scripts or document major project decisions.  Because Change Management is a perpetual "down stream" team, though, almost every action that the project team takes impacts Change Management activities.

Consider these examples:
  • Test scripts are often the foundation for training development.  With poor or non-existent scripts, the training developers are forced to re-create the wheel by either researching customizations to the system, trudging through a series of trial-and-error, or peppering the functional teams with endless questions.  All of these methods require extra time that could have been avoided with detailed scripts from which to work.
  • Major decisions can occur on a daily basis on projects.  The Change Management team is expected to communicate this information both internally to the team and externally to end users.  If decisions are not documented, the communications person is often left to rely on second-hand notes and water-cooler chatter to figure out what message to send.  This can result in messages that are both inaccurate and late.
  • A favorite phrase of many functional leads is, "That's a training issue."  While it very well may be, if there's no place to document issues and risks, the Change team has no way of knowing what concerns they're expected to address.  Three months later when it's time to prepare for Go-live, there's very little chance that all of the teams will remember all of the issues they thought would be handled by Change Management.
If you've never been on a project, or if you're a client who has listened to firms pitch their methodologies, you may be wondering how a lack of documentation could possibly be an issue.  Every firm will tell you about how they have tried and true document templates that will be used throughout the project lifecycle to capture important information about the system and then left behind for the client to reference in the future.  If you've been doing project work for awhile, though, you know that the reality is often very different.  The top 5 excuses I hear for why teams don't want to create documentation:
  1. We don't have time.
  2. We've done this 100 times.  We don't need to document.  We have all of the information in our heads.
  3. The client/end user already understands the system.  We don't need to document it for them.
  4. Documentation's a waste of time.  The system/processes are just going to change anyways.
  5. We're communicating all of the information verbally.
While I'm tempted to jump in and talk about why none of those excuses are valid, instead I give you:

A Practical List of 5 Documents that Should NEVER Be Skipped
  • A Project Work Plan - A project work plan is the backbone of your project.  It ensures that everyone is working toward the same dates, and provides an early warning system if tasks and time lines start to slip.  Without a strong project work plan, teams and individuals cannot properly plan their work and activities.  Many projects don't include Change Management activities in the work plan.  This isn't ideal, but I can live with it.  If a work plan is missing entirely, though, I recommend you pull the emergency cord and halt the project until you can figure out how to put a plan in place.  Whatever the cost of stopping for a week, it will be less than the cost of working for months without a plan, only to discover you're off track.
  • Test Scripts - I addressed this above from a Change Management perspective.  Even without considering training development, though, test scripts are still important.  The client should be involved in testing the system, and it is nearly impossible for them to do this without solid test scripts.  Further, you need detailed test scripts to verify that you have built and tested all of the requirements you gathered.  Finally, if you're implementing a system that needs to be SOX compliant, you'll want to have test scripts in place when the auditors come to call.
  • Issue/Risk Log - I'll keep it short.  Issues and risks that don't get documented typically don't get resolved.  The choice is yours.
  • Decision Log - If you have never sat through a meeting where someone said, "Who made that decision?  I never agreed to that!", and then proceeded to spend the rest of the meeting talking about a decision that was finalized months ago, you're very lucky.  Aside from the benefits a decision log has for the Change team, which are mentioned above, the log assures that everyone has the opportunity to read decisions as they are made.  If they don't agree, they can speak up before work based on that decision proceeds, saving time and money by reducing potential re-work.  They didn't read the log and months later decide they don't like the decision?  Too bad.  The decision log is also extremely helpful when months later people's memories have become fuzzy and disagreement arises about what exactly the decision was. 
  • Training Materials - Despite what college students everywhere like to believe, it really isn't possible to learn through osmosis.  If you want end users to understand and use the system you just spent countless hours and money implementing, you need to train them.  You've come this far.  Don't skimp now.
Is your project documenting?  If so, what benefits have you seen?  If not, why not?

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