Softening the big bang

Change is good! Poorly communicated change is bad…

How often have you been in a situation where a business change has been forced upon you, has been presented as a fait accompli? How did it make you feel? Included? Receptive? Positive? Ready to run with it?

Probably not.

By its nature a digital transformation project will have an impact on a lot of people, processes and technology. So how do we communicate change in a way that feels less of a “sucker punch”? Some of the terminology we use doesn’t necessarily help. Look again at the first sentence of this paragraph where I use the word impact.

impact

noun

1. the striking of one thing against another; forceful contact; collision:

The impact of the colliding cars broke the windshield.

Do we want to break the people, processes or technology? Erm, no. We talk of “big bang” implementations. That phrase also raises stress levels. Just because a change needs to be implemented in a short timescale doesn’t mean that it will be stressful, out of control, badly planned, a failure.

Planning change is important. Communicating change is paramount to success

So what techniques can we use to manage the successful communication and buy-in needed for a programme of work to be understood, well received and, dare I say it, applauded?

Don’t be afraid to share

With many modern development projects taking advantage of alternative methods of delivery – for example Agile, which encourages open communication, collaboration and working towards the “common goal” – those teams working well together is key to the successful delivery of the project or product. However, it is equally important to share the knowledge, successes and, potentially, failures to a wider business and technical community.

Early and frequent communication can be used to generate a “buzz” around the delivery simply by showing/informing those that will be affected by the change how progress is being made and how their working life will be improved by the transformation. I’d even go as far as to suggest that some employees will be excited by the difference it may make to their customer’s lives: for example, introducing a mobile case management solution to a social worker that reduces the time needed to update notes while offering a more secure way of carrying or accessing case information, may result in less stress about case file security and generate more time in their day to have higher quality face to face meetings with clients.

Some ideas for information sharing:

  • Expanded ‘show & tells’ – a key part of the Agile methodology is to host regular sessions where the latest features of the product are demoed to the product owner (the project’s main business representative). These can be extended to include wider stakeholders or end users who may bring some valuable critique to the process
  • Programme highlight dashboard – where highlight reporting is generated for key stakeholders, is there really much additional effort needed to pick out key information that can be shared with the entire business?
  • Corporate Social Media – do you have an internal collaboration site, for example Yammer? Set up a programme-specific group and ask the team members to post updates on milestones met, challenges overcome, etc.
  • Don’t forget the traditional channels – these could include notice boards or paper flyers even if they’re simply used to point people to an online medium

Identify your digital champions

Sharing information using traditional or modern methods is one thing but identifying people that can talk about the project with knowledge and enthusiasm can be a great way to disseminate information virally through their existing networks. We call these people ‘digital champions’:

Digital champions inform and inspire people to embrace business transformation

Identification of these people can be a challenge in itself but introducing and then nurturing an open channel where the programme team encourages anyone to come and visit the team at work, ask questions or to attend the ‘show & tells’ should help draw out those who are genuinely interested. It’s important not to assume that you know who your best advocates will be. Traditional programme structures may put communications responsibility at the door of senior managers or business stakeholders. I would agree that they have their part to play, but if you’re a front line employee hearing someone enthuse about an upcoming business change, you may listen more intently to a colleague than a senior manager.

Do something!

Whatever method of communication you settle on isn’t as important as making sure you do something to educate, inform, and inspire those immediately and peripherally affected by change.

“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” – Kofi Annan

Don’t we all feel better when we know more about a subject? Let me hear your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Is your jar full yet?

If you’ve never read the “Is your jar full?” story that describes a philosophy lecture a professor delivers to his students, then do take two minutes to read it…  otherwise I may lose you.

It’s an interesting take on fitting the important things into your life but I’d like to turn it on it’s head and re-use the story for another purpose; to describe how to ensure your business transformation programme delivers value.

Let’s think of the planned jar contents as follows (MoSCoW method):

Golf balls – must have deliverables
Pebbles – should have deliverables
Sand – could have deliverables

Our vision statement being “We will fill the jar.”

The students would argue that when you can’t fit in any more golf balls the jar is full and therefore the project vision has been met.

We know this is not the case and that the reality is that it will be a combination of all three BUT when delivering any business transformation project it’s important to not lose sight of what you’re aiming to achieve. I see clients get lost in the detail and, as a colleague puts it, they “look at the bonnet, not at the road ahead”. Some start-ups are a good example of getting stuck tweaking and tailoring until they find they’ve either

a) missed their market time window
b) “perfected” a product that no-one actually needs or wants

Both can be a death knell.

If you’re not careful the same can happen within the scope of your programme.

Trying to fill the jar with sand could be an endeavour that takes you past the point of delivering your vision when all you needed to do was get to the golf ball or pebble stage.

This highlights a key stage in planning which is to determine how to measure success before, or at least early, in the programme.

Including checkpoint reviews against your success measures will mean that you’ll be clear when you’ve reached the “good enough”stage at which point any changes must be considered for the business value they deliver.

I’m not saying you don’t want some sand in your jar but it’s important to understand the value it will deliver.

So what about the beer? I agree with the professor, there’s always time for a couple of beers and what better way to celebrate the delivery of your vision?

What do you think? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.