Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on a real-life situation. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

The dilemma
Bob’s project to consolidate multiple financial applications was coming to an end. This project hadn’t been easy, but the team persevered. In my last coaching call with Bob, I thought that the project would wind down fine. However, this morning I received one more call.

“We seem to be running into some resistance with the consolidation of our financial applications,” Bob began. “Of course, the people who are already using the system are happy. However, the areas that have to give up their old systems are not happy at all.”

“That’s to be expected,” I replied. “I have heard a number of complaints about the old financial systems, but at least the users were comfortable with them. Now you’re asking them to do something new.”

“Based on the new complaints, you would think we were asking them to go back to pencils and paper,” Bob said.

“You held your training classes last week, right?” I asked. “Is that when you received the complaints?”

“Exactly,” Bob replied. “Since it was a group training session, the people seemed to feed off each other. One person would complain about this or that and pretty soon the whole group was up in arms. We tried to handle the objections, but my sense is that they were not convinced.”

“What actions do you have planned to make the implementation proceed more smoothly?” I asked.

Bob confessed. “Well, actually, that’s why I came to see you. You have worked on this type of project before. What did you do?”

Mentor advice
Most projects that IT managers work on don’t require a fundamental change in how people do their work. However, sometimes they work on larger projects that end up having a more dramatic impact on how people do their jobs. These types of projects need to be seen as culture change initiatives.

The generic definition of company culture is “the way we do things around here.” If you ask people to change how they do things, you always need to take the human factor into account. Bob’s project team was providing end-user training to the people who’ll use the new system. However, training is the minimum that would be expected.

This project will proceed, and, ultimately, everyone will get used to the new financial systems. The question is how much pain will be expended during the process. Obviously, if the end users are excited about the change and are looking for ways to make it work, the transition timeline will be much quicker than if they kick and scream the whole way.

IT and business clients need to be much more proactive and creative in dealing with this project as a culture change initiative. After a few minutes of brainstorming, Bob and I came up the following ideas to help make the transition an easier one.

  • Meet with all the teams individually to explain what’s going on, how the change will affect them, and the value to the company of consolidating on one standard financial package.
  • Ask for end-user feedback on areas that could make the new application easier to use.
  • Hold follow-up training sessions for small groups to answer any lingering questions that they may have.
  • Work with the end-user managers to ensure that they are supportive of the changes and will work through any difficulties. If the end users know that their managers are committed to the new solutions, they’ll probably come around sooner than if their manager is complaining about it as well.
  • Make a smooth transition part of the performance objectives of the end-user managers.
  • Provide close support from the client to quickly address any problems or complaints that come up in the first 30 days after implementation.
  • Assign end users who are already using the system to help coach the end users that are just learning.
  • Do some fun stuff like bring donuts or pizza to the groups when they are first beginning to use the new system.

These are just some of the methods that can help the transition go smoothly. The key point is that, when it comes to changing people’s jobs, it’s human nature for individuals who don’t like change to offer up resistance. Ultimately, you can fight your way through the problems after implementation. However, you can make the transition process easier and more acceptable to end users by using some creative and proactive activities that address this normal—albeit frustrating—reaction.