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.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Change Management in the Project Lifecycle: Implement Phase

I love the Implement phase.  This is the phase where all of your hard work comes to fruition.  Training is delivered.  Exciting communications are sent.  The change/new system goes live and everyone celebrates.

This can also be a very stressful time, so remember to follow the plan, be prepared to put in some extra hours, and keep an eye on your team's morale.

In the last phase, you put together a Go-live communications plan.  Now is the time to implement it.  A few items you'll need to communicate:

  • Cut-off dates and black-out periods: Often when implementing an new system, there is a period of time where new data cannot be entered into the existing system.  It is important to communicate all black-out periods well in advance of the actual event.  You will also need to communicate detailed instructions on alternative actions people should take to capture data during the black-out period.  I have found that these system-free times, whether they last weeks, days, or hours, can cause significant panic.  Communicate early and communicate often.
  • Go-live success: Don't forget to let everyone know that the change was successfully implemented!  This is exciting news.  Play it up.  Have someone important communicate it.  And remind people what this implementation means to them and their day-to-day activities.
  • Help and support: No matter how good your training was, people will have questions about the new system.  Make it easy for them to get help by communicating support information, such as help desk phone numbers and e-mail addresses, the names of Super Users in each department, and any special support services, such as a short-term project-staffed "war room."
  • Thank you: A lot of hard work went in to implementing the change.  Don't forget to thank everyone who was involved in making the project a success.  This message should come from someone meaningful to the recipient.  

It is finally time to deliver all of the training your team developed.  Once again, I could write an entire book on this topic alone, but for now, here are a few key tips:

  • Be organized: There are a lot of moving parts in training delivery.  You have rooms to arrange, trainers to support, materials to deliver, and completion to track.  The more organized you are, the smoother delivery will go.  Pick the method that works best for you, but make sure everyone involved understands what they need to do, where they need to be, and how to get help if they need it.
  • Use the buddy system: Very few organizations do this, but I always recommend the buddy system.  This involves partnering your trainers so that in every classroom you have one person who is an expert in the system, and one person who is an expert in the business process.  Too often, the trainer has a deep understanding of one, and only a superficial understanding of the other.  This has two major consequences: 1) your trainer will inevitably be asked questions he cannot answer, reducing end-user confidence in the training, and 2) the trainer will be nervous anticipating difficult questions and will not perform at his best.
  • Be flexible: Unexpected things will happen during training delivery.  Trainers will get sick.  Technology will fail.  The system will change at the last minute.  It is important to be flexible enough to deal with these kinds of surprises on the fly.
  • Provide support: Having delivered hundreds of hours of training myself, I can tell you that there are few things more frustrating than trying to get support during a training course, and not being able to reach anyone.  Ensure that there is always someone on standby ready to support your trainers.  Whether it's technical support when the conference call stops working, administrative support to print more materials when extra people show up, or simple moral support when a participant is especially difficult, your responsiveness to a call for help can greatly impact the success of training.

Super User Network
Now is the time to deploy your Super User Network in force.  What activities they participate in will vary based on their role, but consider having them do some of the following: deliver training, walk the floor providing front-line support, sit with the help desk to deliver second-tier support, and funnel information about how people are using the system back to the project.

This time can be especially stressful for Super Users.  Don't forget to thank them.

War Room/Help Desk Support - FAQ Capture and Dissemination
The initial period after the system is implemented can be extremely difficult on end users.  Often, no matter how much information is available to them on line and in supplemental materials, they will want to talk to a real person if they have questions.  To address this need, I recommend setting up a war room or providing additional help desk support.  The war room can be staffed with project team members, Super Users, trainers, and anyone else with in-depth knowledge of the new system.  They have two parts to their job:

  1. First, they are responsible for answering end-user questions via the phone, e-mail, instant message, or any other means available to the end users.
  2. Second, they are responsible for logging the topics of the questions.  This will allow you to compile and disseminate a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs).  Creating FAQs will help you determine what information needs to be sent to end users to improve their use of the system.

Evaluate and address issues
Be sure to leave time in your day to evaluate and address issues that arise.  You may need to send out communications to address questions and clarify items the end users find unclear.  You may need to hold quick re-training sessions if a group is having an especially difficult time with the system.  You may find yourself filling in for trainers, Super Users, and other roles on the projects that need help.  If you can arrange a team meeting at the beginning of each day, around mid-day, and again in the evening to discuss status with the team and identify issues, that will help you stay on top of issues before they create serious problems.  Even with these meetings, though, you will still need to be prepared to address new issues immediately as they arise.

Develop post-Go live plans for run team
One area that often gets neglected is the development of a run team.  Remember that once the project is complete, most of the project team members will either move on to new projects or go back to their normal day jobs.  It is important to think about who will support the system on a day-to-day basis after the system is live.  Who will make updates to the system?  Who will address technical issues and support standard maintenance?  Who will update business process and training materials when the system changes?  Who will be responsible for help desk support?  These are just a few of the questions you need to think about while determining whether you have people who can be re-purposed to address these needs, or whether you need to hire new employees.  If you do not have a run team in place, the system and its supporting documentation can quickly fall into disarray.

Let me know: Have you participated in a system Go-live?  What was the most difficult part of the implementation?

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