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Lessons Learned: Effective Change Management, Selling, and Do-Overs

  • July 27, 2015
  • By Bob Reselman
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Change management applies as much to developers as it does to all other members of a software team. Yet, developers tend to leave issues and practices to program and project managers. As a result, many times those slinging code find themselves caught in the uncertainty of poorly planned change. Having a solid background in the dynamics of change within an organization can make the life of a developer a whole lot easier and a whole lot more productive.

In this article, I am going to go over points 4 and 5 of the discussion I started earlier, in "Lessons Learned: Effective Change Management, Part 1." But, before I do, let's recap.

Recap

As I stated in Part 1 of this Lesson Learned, there are key points to implementing an effective change management initiative. These points are:

  1. Know the change tolerance index of an organization.
  2. You only get one thing, find your inflection point.
  3. Change goes according to levels.
  4. It's a sale. Always was, always will be.
  5. There are few do-overs.

As I explained in Part 1, each organization has a tolerance for change which can be known. Some organizations can accept change quickly. Others need more time and finesse. Also, It's easier to change an organization when you focus on a single desired behavior that will cascade your intended change into other areas. Finally, a good rule of thumb to use when gauging a rate of change for an organization is six months a level. If an organization has a single level of management, founders with contributors, your desired change will take around six months. If you have a larger organization with four levels of management CxOs, VPs, Directors, and a line manager, change will take about 24 months. This gauge is not written in stone. But, it does serve as a way to anticipate behavior. If you have a four-level organization and have a significant change intended, say implementing Agile instead of Waterfall, to expect the organization to be fully functional with backlogs, sprints, and scrums in six months is an aggressive challenge that is going to be hard to achieve is such a short time span.

Now, let's move onto the final two points:

  1. It's a sale. Always was, always will be.
  2. There are few do-overs.

It's a Sale. Always Was, Always Will Be

For a change to make its way into an organization effectively, it must be sold continuously. Yet, many times when the average developer or program manager hears the word sale, they tend to conjure up thoughts of sleazy escapees from used car lots, dressed in white shoes and ill fitting suits, trying to push unwanted goods onto unwilling customers. Or, in other cases they imagine, slick, corporate types armed with a plethora of buzzwords and fear tactics, thinking only of making quota so that they will qualify to go to the yearly Circle of Winners Week held at a resort in the Caribbean. In such cases, the customer is nothing more than a means to another end. It's sad and it's inaccurate. In a good sales situation, the seller and buyer are parties moving toward a mutually satisfying end. There is an exchange of value, usually money for a product or service. But, within the realm of change management, the value exchange might be something such as one department allowing employees to contribute time to the change initiative or the sharing of budget.

Whatever the case of value exchange, a value proposition must be evident. This is the job of selling: to articulate a compelling value proposition in a way that is useful to the customer. Articulating the value proposition continuously is what I mean when I say that change management is a sale. Always was, always well be.

Few companies will implement change without a compelling value proposition. If you want to be an effective change manager, it's going to really helpful to be a good salesperson.

What is a good salesperson? To repeat the above, someone who can articulate a compelling value proposition in a way that is understandable, useful, and appealing to a buyer. For example, let's imagine that we have an enterprise that we want to move onto the package management system, NuGet. One way to implement the change might be to send an email to the affected parties, as follows in Sample 1:

To: All Department Heads

From: Release Management

Subject; Moving to NuGet

Please know that the company has decided that moving forward all package management will be subject to using NuGet. The company will be on NuGet in four weeks. Training classes on NuGet will begin in two weeks. During the next four weeks, all code is to be ported to NuGet packages.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Release Management

Sample 1: An email that is an edict to change

The email shown above is pretty much an edict. An edict is a poor sales tool. It does not garner cooperation and sadly, it diminishes the probability of success. Why should I care about using NuGet? Why should I cooperate? Why should I do any more that what is absolutely required of me to keep my job?

Let's revise to the email to articulate a value proposition.

To: All Department Heads

From: Release Management

Subject; Moving to NuGet

Hi:

As many of you know, we have had difficulty getting our products out in a timely manner. Our code base has grown over time and is becoming increasingly hard to test, let alone incorporate into new products. To increase our ability to get quality code out faster and in a way that does not require tight coupling, executive management wants us to migrate our code into NuGet Packages.

We estimate that using NuGet will increase out time to market by a factor of four. And, our initial experiments have shown that developers will enjoy programming our code more. Using NuGet will make life a lot easier. Yes, there will some hurdles in the beginning, but we think it will be worth the effort. Your cooperation will make the work we need to do to adopt NuGet much easier.

Our milestone is to have NuGet in place in four weeks. We plan to get all developers trained on NuGet in two weeks. To meet the demands of the time, we need to have all existing code migrated to NuGet within the upcoming four week ramp-up period. If your department needs help, please let us know as soon as possible. We'll do everything we can to help get you up and running under NuGet.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Release Management

Sample 2: An email that states a clear, compelling value proposition for an intended change

The second email has the same operational content as the one previous. However, the key difference between the two is that the latter has a clear value proposition articulated and that articulation is done in a cooperative voice. Is the second email more lengthy? Yes. Is it voiced in a way that puts the needs and concerns of the recipient front and center? Yes. Is it worth the extra effort? I think so.

When it comes to change management, value must be evident at all times in the process. Otherwise, the initiative runs the risk of losing steam and being abandoned. Thus, the value of the change must be advertised continuously throughout the adoption process.

There are Few Do-Overs

There is a reason why many change management initiatives are called Flavor of the Month. There is a line around a corner of companies that have started on the road to making a change, only to lose focus and get lost in maze of organizational confusion in which the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Then, the initiative just withers away. It's pretty much like saying, "Remember this big change initiative we just spent all this time and money on? Well, never mind. We'll try again some other time." Maybe that "some other time" comes around; maybe it doesn't. And, if it does come around, it looks surprisingly like the first one that failed.

The are few opportunities for a do-over. Your current change initiative is the one that counts! Every program that does not come to fruition, every expense of labor that does not yield meaningful results becomes another item on the list of unfulfilled promises. A list of unfulfilled promises eats away the credibility of an organization. Once the notion of change loses credibility, true change become difficult, if not impossible. There are few do-overs. Thus, when planning a change management program, plan to see the initiative through no matter what. Of course you will have to make adjustments as are necessary. But, unless you have a very good reason to cancel the program, don't.

Still, not all change management programs are successful. Cancellations happen. If you need to cancel a program, do so formally and publicly. Articulate the reasons for cancellation. What caused the cancellation? What was learned? Concretely, how will things be adjusted for the better moving forward? A cancellation that is not recognized and owned throughout the organization, at all levels, becomes the elephant in the living room against which future initiatives will be judged. There are few things less gratifying in life than working for an organization in which any initiative for change is viewed as Flavor of the Month, something to be given lip service until the idea blows over.

Putting It All Together

Changing the way an organization behaves is not easy. If it were, every company would be doing it to great success. But, many change initiatives end up with having management being taken for a ride rather than driving the intended changing. Yet, effective change is possible when the company that is really committed to making the change can articulate a compelling value proposition to those who will be implementing the change as well as those who will be affected by the change. Articulating a clear value proposition continuously and effectively is one of the easiest ways to ensure that your change initiative creates the new behavior you want in your company and does not degrade into another Flavor of the Month. As those of us out there on the terrain have learned, when it comes to change management, there are few do-overs.


Tags: change management, project managers, change tolerance index, program manager




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