Change, whether planned or not, is the way that things happen, as transformations or state changes from here to there, from now to the future. Changes that involve IT and computers don’t live in a technology bubble; they are conceived, designed and built to achieve specific human aims or objectives, and they can have consequences.
Of course change can be unsettling – sometimes that’s exactly what it’s meant to be – but it’s better to be out in front driving the change forward rather than sitting back and letting it happen to you.
This short introductory module will explain some of the main types of change and the jargon that you may come across, and illustrates a typical approach to managing change.
Most change activity is essentially the same.
(Ed. this is quite controversial, but carry on!)
The significant differences are the scope and breadth (although ‘how much change’ is difficult to quantify), speed, impact, and how change is managed, or not, for which the state of preparedness of your organisation is a key factor. I will come back to this point later. Change can occur organically and gradually in business environments, as in nature, sometimes referred to as incremental change. However, the jeopardy is that in the absence of a guiding hand, a plan, or checks and controls, complex systems can become unstable (called entropy in nature).
Larger changes, sometimes called step changes, strategic or discontinuous (i.e. not followed a smooth linear path) are normally actively planned and managed, although being flexible and responsive is a valid strategy in itself.
Your organisation may have dedicated Change Agents or Managers, or you may employ Project or Programme Managers to help make change happen (to deliver or ‘effect’ change). Such a programme may involve a number of elements:
- Business development, e.g. new products or services, mergers & acquisitions.
- Operational, organisational or logistical, i.e. changes to what, where and by whom business activity (processes) happens.
- IT/technical, i.e. changes to the tools, technologies and systems in use or how they are used to meet business needs.
- Or, increasingly, a blend of all the above.
Times they are a’changin’
It is notoriously difficult to change yourself, despite the many pithy quotes on the subject, such as:
If you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.
Transformations can be uncomfortable, challenging, and may result in material disadvantage to you or your team. Consultants and dedicated change agents can provide a different perspective, independence and focus, as well as unique skills, but they can also be seen as outsiders and perceived as a threat to the status quo.
A lot of successful companies are masters at this change business, either because they are at the forefront of new ways of working in their chosen fields including technology, product development, sales, marketing & distribution etc., or they can adapt very quickly and efficiently to external forces, or both. In the latter categorical comes the whole notion of agility, whether you adopt formal Agile practices or not, organisations need to be flexible to respond effectively and efficiently to both opportunities and threats. Dinosaurs are a useful metaphor here for the slow-witted, inflexible, short-sighted, poorly-adapted, and ultimately extinct players in the evolutionary game of poker!
(Ed. have you heard the PEST or STEP acronym? PEST analysis is used to understand the impact of external Political, Economic, Social & Technological factors, either as potential threats or opportunities depending on your mindset!)
Change Management has another specific meaning in Information Technology and product development; as the discipline, tools & techniques that are used to make sure that your requirements, design features, testing, and other artefacts are maintained. It’s all very well agreeing to do something, for example to design and build a new widget in a particular timeframe and at a fixed cost. However, you need to be vigilant to make sure that subsequent changes to the requirements or specification, are recognised as such, and that the cost and impact understood. Uncontrolled change – sometimes as a result of ‘scope creep’ – can kill an initiative as effectively as doing nothing.
A change would do you good
So how do you ‘do’ change? There are a lot of different ways to manage change, although beware the pit-falls of Maslow’s Hammer and try to treat every case – and particularly the human aspects – carefully and with consideration when you wield your hammer.
I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.
One approach is to adopt Kotter’s eight phases of change (John P. Kotter, Force for Change):
Step 1 – Establish a sense of urgency; a compelling driver is needed to overcome inertia and the natural resistance to change
Step 2 – Create a coalition; an influential leader and team that believe in the goals and will make it happen
Step 3 – Develop a clear vision and strategy; know where you are going and what you need to do to achieve it
Step 4 – Share the vision; communicate, communicate, communicate!
Step 5 – Empower people; clear the obstacles for participation and risk-taking (within reason!)
Step 6 –Secure short-term wins; everyone needs to see progress and successes, recognise and reward achievements and performance improvements
Step 7 – Consolidate and keep moving; get into a habit of persistent and sustainable change
Step 8 – Anchor; reinforce the new best practise with changes to management & culture.
Alongside this broad framework there are a lot of useful tools and techniques, including for example; Balanced Scorecard, Risk Management, Stakeholder Management, Benefits Case and Benefits Realisation, as well as the ‘functional’ aspects that relate to your industry and the specifics of what is changing. Look no further than the IT elementary school for more on these topics.
Last but not least, Don’t Panic!
This may all seem daunting, but you can do it, we all do it every day of our lives when we learn to use a new smart phone or other tech, take on a new role at work, start a building project, even travel to a different town or holiday destination. The joy of new experiences, new and better ways of doing things, that’s what change should mean, not something to be approached with trepidation, apathy, resistance or fear. Change is inevitable, even more so than death and taxes, so you might as well set off and enjoy the journey.
(c) 2015 Antony Lawrence CBA Ltd.