Most projects are about change – and change is seldom easy. Both individual people and organizations seem hard-wired to resist it, and often for good reason: It’s often messy. It’s usually difficult. And however careful the planning, preparation, and execution beforehand, there is often a sense of uncertainty about the results – if not about the outcome, then about the response to it.
Easy or not, though, change is necessary – and actually, it is inevitable. If there’s one thing that seems abundantly clear in our mobile, technology-driven, fast-paced world, it’s that nothing stands still for very long. Change is the environment we live in – whether purposeful and directed or accidental and chaotic. The choice becomes whether to resist it, to succumb to it grudgingly – or to embrace it wholeheartedly, with a sound plan for turning it into an advantage.
That’s what project managers are for: Making change work to the benefit of organizations and the people within them. It’s often a pretty tough role to fill, and often people who aren’t actual project managers are called upon to fill it. At Red Level, we are continually immersed in change, starting with the technologies we deal with, but it’s also our job to help our clients handle change within their organizations: The technology changes we help them execute are often driven by changes within their business. That gives us a front-row seat to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t. In our experience, success is most likely when the person or team spearheading the change follows some key project management rules:
- Understand – and involve – stakeholders. People are always like to resist what they don’t understand, either actively or passively. Involving stakeholders, understanding their concerns, and keeping them informed from a project’s outset helps secure buy-in.
- Understand the moving parts. Your project likely involves a number of discrete, interrelated elements – people, capital, technology, time, tools, and other resources that need to be employed together in the right proportions to achieve your goals. Imbalances or deficits need to be identified and swiftly addressed. Dell/EMC, VMware, Compellent, Cisco, and Microsoft all offer tools that can help you deep dive into the environment to help you wrap your arms around what and who will be involved in the project plan.
- Develop a rock-solid deployment and knowledge transfer plan. In order to ‘do,’ you first have to ‘know.’ If employees are to succeed in a changed or changing environment, they’ll need a road map to what’s different and what they need to do differently. This can be made easier by leveraging Microsoft Project, working with preferred partner resources and finalizing a plan that is fully understood and accepted by the customer before implementation begins.
- Define success clearly. Know what success is and what it looks like in detail – both in terms of iterative steps and the project as a whole. Then, share that knowledge with others to unite them in pursuit of one common goal. It’s also important to make sure customers understand that in the event of changes or unforeseen difficulties, change controls should be involved and should be detailed as clearly as the plan itself.
- Pay attention to people. If jobs, tasks, or roles are changing, communicate all pertinent information clearly to the people involved. Maintain a detailed, clear, shared understanding of who is doing what, their progress to date, and what the next steps to be taken are.
- Accept – and use – feedback – Those on the “front lines” may have a clearer, more immediate view of your project’s progress and success (or lack of) than you do. Welcome insights and critiques – and identify those that can be put to work to drive improvements or head off problems. A good time to solicit and encourage feedback is during the training process: This is a point when focused attention and increased understanding of a project’s details helps end-users to identify and name issues.
Change may not be easy, but it doesn’t have to be painful – or unsuccessful. We find that playing by some fundamental rules goes a long way towards ensuring a project’s success, and we bet you will too.