Start, switch, stop: How to regroup your IT projects to prepare people for change

As an IT leader, explaining your tech projects can be difficult. Here's how you can group your IT projects to better prepare users for what they entail.

Start symbol, switch symbol, and stop symbol
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

"What are your plans for next year?" asked the CEO.

"Infrastructure upgrades to speed up the network," said the CIO. "Deployment of two-factor authentication for all employees for more security, a migration of the financial system from on-premise to..." and that's the point when many people stop listening.

Technology plans tend to look like a long list of projects. They're comprehensive, accurate, achievable, connected to the organization's goals, and they include costs and timelines.

But tech plans often leave out people. Or, more accurately, a plan will identify a project, without helping people understand how the project affects their work, their tools, or their habits.

I've found it helpful to group tech projects into one of three categories: Start, switch, or stop. Each category suggests the nature of the change. Are we starting something new? Switching one tool for another? Or stopping an outdated practice?

You can sort your projects into "start, switch, or stop" categories with a variety of high-tech or low-tech tools. If your team members work from more than one location, I'd suggest you consider Trello or MeisterTask (as shown in the screenshot). Both of these tools allow multiple people to edit, support drag-and-drop of items from one column to another, and let you add details, assign tasks, and update the status of each item. Or, you can go low-tech and scribble project names on a whiteboard or sticky notes.

Screenshot of MeisterTask, showing projects in Start, Switch, and Stop columns

A tool like MeisterTask (shown) or Trello, makes it easy to group your IT projects into categories that help communicate the type of change that will be required.

1. Start: Learn new concepts

An item in the "Start" category signals that people need to learn something new; that they may need to master unfamiliar concepts and tools. For example, I had a client start using Hangouts to hold meetings. While the employees had watched webinars, no one on the team had led a meeting online. So, we spent some time teaching, experimenting, and learning.

2. Switch: Learn how

"Switch" category items suggest a change in habits or tool; a move from one tool to another, such as switching from an Android phone to an iPhone (or vice versa). A switch typically means that people need to learn tasks, not concepts—how, not why. And in many cases, "Switch" projects require no change at all: A switch to faster Wi-Fi access points just means things get faster, with no learning needed.

3. Stop: End a habit

A "Stop" technology project ends a practice. As such, these may meet the most resistance, since they require that people no longer work in the same manner as before. For example, stop faxing. You have a camera on your phone, many network printers also include a scanner, we have secure ways to share files (other than email), so stop faxing. Yet, a stunning number of healthcare systems continue to fax out of habit. The same is true for desk phones: You have a speaker, microphone, and network connections in your laptop, your tablet, and your smartphone. Companies like Dialpad and RingCentral make the desktop phone obsolete.

SEE: 5 steps to avoid overcommitting resources on your IT projects

A project goes on the "stop" list when technology has moved on, but habits haven't. Stop projects often meet the most pushback, because they require three changes, not one. People have to stop a prior habit, switch to an entirely different tool, and start to work in a new way.

Check the lists for balance

"Start, switch, stop" groupings may also help you identify an imbalance. Lots of projects in the "switch" category? You're just doing upgrades or swapping out tools, not innovating. Is your "stop" list long? Watch out for a user rebellion; you may be asking for too much change at once. The "start" category is one exception: While you don't want it filled with projects for everyone, you likely do want your team to try out new tools and ways of work.

So, the next time someone asks you about IT projects, put your plans in context. Say, "Next year, we're starting [projects], switching [from old, to new], and stopping [old habit]."

How do you describe your IT projects to help prepare people for change? What language do you use to indicate the nature of each project and behavioral change required?

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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