I’m not going to say too much about myself, as I’ve only got 15 mins and hopefully we are going to be seeing a lot of each other over the coming months. If you want to know any more about me ask. But I will say one things – I’m a pretty boring person. I am so boring I actually find projects and change, project management and change management deeply interesting. Kind of weird eh? I’m so boring I go from organization to organization helping them with change – I do it, I think about it, I speak about it and I write about it. It’s like a bizarre form of OCD.
You know this whole topic of Change, Business Transformation, Business Readiness, Transition Planning, Implementation, Mergers, Re-organizations and a hundred and one other names can be a little tricky to get ones head around. I’ve tended to find that if you think you understand change and are completely comfortable with it, it’s probably a sign you are underestimating it. In truth, I expect some of you will be hugely experienced in this, but let me for a few minutes talk to those in the audience who are a little less sure of what this change thing is all about. For those who have lots of experience I’m going to ask for your patience for a few mins, and consider how you can help those who are not quite so experienced understand what we are about to go through with this project.
I want to make it come a little realer for us, and to do that I want to paint a picture of a change that we can all relate to. I want you to imagine a scenario which I think we can all imagine. Have most people here moved house? Anyone done it lots of times? Great!
OK so let’s imagine – I know everyone’s situation is different, but for the sake of this story let’s imagine you have a partner and the two of you have just moved. It’s 6pm. You have moved. You are exhausted. The removal vans have left and you are in the new house with boxes of stuff lying around everywhere. Got the picture?
So what can we say about this move and what lessons can we draw?
1). You might have thought the move was over, but it does not end when the removal trucks have dropped off the boxes. How can we characterise the situation:
- The boxes are all over the place. And on that evening you’ve bought fish and chips and can’t find the salt, vinegar and ketchup.
- Over the next few days you start to unpack and put things in logical places, but it’s all a bit unfamiliar and you can’t quite decide what goes where – or possibly your partner decides and you don’t know.
- How quickly you adapt to the new house layout is effected by how much other change you have going on at the same time – are you changing jobs? Is this the first time you’ve lived with your partner or have you been together for years.
- Then it takes a bit to get used to the local area, where are the shops and so on. Maybe that first set of fish and chips were a bit rubbish and you want to find a better chippy.
So what’s the lesson of this part of the story? The moral is that a change we are going through is not an event. It’s a process that takes time. You don’t switch the old systems off and then suddenly be in the new world. There is a time, usually in months, in which you are no longer in your old familiar place, but you also are not sitting comfortably in the new world you thought the ERP would bring. How well and how quickly is effected by what other changes your department is going through at the same time.
2). But now I want to add an extra level of complexity. Let’s go back to the start of this move. Imagine your partner knows you are going to move. They’ve agreed to it, but for one reason or another they’ve left it all up to you. You’ve got carte blanche to select the new house, sell the old one and so on. So now we come to the day of moving and you are a bit nervous. You think the new house is great. You have fulfilled all the things you partner has asked for a new house to meet – but, and this is a big but, your partner has not ever seen the new house, does not know what it looks like, how its decorated and so on. Would you be feeling a bit uncomfortable?
This is a bit like what we are trying to do. Everyone will have expectations. Some of these will be right, but many will be wrong. Even though it meets all the requirements asked for, people will be surprised by how the system works. What it does – and sometimes surprised by what it does not do. People will be surprised by how it feels to use that system and so on.
3). Now I want you to imagine you are a couple of years after moving. Let’s imagine you have kids and they’ve reached that age – and it’s time to go to school. You decide you want your kids to go to a good school in the local area. Now actually your kids will go to a school in the local area, whether or not they are good. Of course, you could move again, but moving is expensive and painful – and having bought the house you are in there is a commitment for a period of time to have made moving worthwhile.
The lesson? Some of your choices in future are now constrained because of the decisions you make now. The system works how it does and to some extent our future is predetermined for the 10, 20 or 30 years you keep the system for. Of course, you will enhance and add features, but there are some inherent constraints in that at its heart an ERP works in a certain way, and part of the bargain you sign up for when adopting an ERP is that you will work in this way too.
OK enough of this story. It's just one of a probably infinite set of examples we could use to discuss change. Let’s get back to reality. Here’s my three main takeaways:
- You don’t just switch on an ERP. You transition. If you are lucky this will be very swift. But some areas will be working through the consequences for months afterwards.
- Not everyone will get what they were expecting – so there will be some personal challenges to manage
- In buying an ERP you have chosen a way to manage your business, which you are going to live with for some years, probably decades
How can we deal with all of this?
- Remind ourselves of why we are doing this. In this hustle and bustle of transition it’s easy to forget the good things about ERPs – integrated end to end systems and processes.
- Start with a realistic image of what a good transition looks like. It’s never completely pain free, but we want that pain to be as small as possible and for as short as possible.
- Like moving, a good transition is well planned and managed. It is a complex logistical exercise, and the more effort we put up front into planning those weeks and months pre and post switch over the smoother and easier the transition will be.
- We need people to have realistic expectations. This is not just switch on / switch off – there is a process of transition over days, weeks and months that will sometimes be irritating and sometimes mean that we miss our targets.
- We need people to know how to use the systems, and this is where we must get the training needs assessment right, but also convince our already pressurised departments that whilst sending everyone for training may seem like a bit of a nightmare, longer run it will be help.
- We need to support them post go live for a period. Willing, friendly faces our teams can go to, both to answer questions, but sometimes just to get confidence that yes, this was a good idea, irrespective of the short term challenges we are going through.
I hope that helps! I’m going to end my talk, but want to make an offer.
- Some of you will be very experienced in helping change happen in your departments, some of you less so. And this will impact the amount of help and support you need. Like everyone in this business I have a busy diary so I cannot always immediately respond to everyone – but if you think I can help – ask. Reach out, anytime, no one is alone in this process. That may be as simple as “I still don’t know what I should really be doing” to “I’ve got a challenge here … how should I face it”. I can’t promise perfect answers, but the door is open.
- And my offer holds for the whole of the change team. We have our resource constraints and priorities which may mean we can’t always help you as immediately, but we will always make best endeavours to support.
You are critically important to this change, and we want to make sure you have the support you need. If you’ve got other colleagues who you think might have value to add, engage them.
It’s a fair question to ask, what will I get out of this? Well we are entering an era of turmoil and change. With a lot of things happening with technology and society the coming era offers huge opportunities and interesting challenges. Being able to cope with change will increasingly move from being a useful side skill to being one of the core skills for everyone and fundamental to coping with this. Hopefully, as we work together over the coming months your experiences will stand you in very good stead for the future.