Change Management – Why haven’t we solved it yet?


It is not new news that Change Management is a big deal, and all transformation projects – probably “all” projects – need to invest in it.  We knew this decades ago – and for the most part, we still fail to do this. WHY?  I have worked in various roles on ERP and non-ERP transformations.  And I have also had the opportunity to formally and informally review projects that I did not work on directly. Here are my very biased five thoughts on this topic. They are not discrete – they are all intertwined.

1. Enterprise software is built assuming that users have to be formally trained in it

Some of the newer solutions have shown us why this is not an optimal solution. If software is built assuming that user should find it intuitive, incorporating training aids and simulations into the framework, a lot of change management challenges will go away.  From a sheer usability perspective, many established enterprise vendors have made big advances – but that is true only when you compare their new solutions to their own older versions, and not on an absolute scale.  This needs to be fixed on product development and project execution fronts – and it needs serious paradigm shifts in how we do both.

2. My best practices are not the best for you if you “blindly” copy mine

Instead of using best practices as a template, a lot of projects use them as holy grail and force fit business processes into it. ERP vendors and SIs and independent consultants are all culpable. This was the big selling point for ERP – we already have everything, just make your business run according to “our” model, and all will be well.  Even though we have seen a million times why this does not work, we still do it.  There are valid reasons to take this route – it costs less project budget spend and only needs a shorter time line, it minimizes support costs etc.  We just conveniently forget that this is akin to tail wagging the dog.

3. Business is not static – things change ALL the time.

Debits and credits still show up where they showed up before we were born, but these are a minority. They are an exception to the rule, and not the rule itself.

For example, in the world of financial planning – people who run a business might change how to do planning every so often. If you always had done operating income at product line level, and gross margin at customer level – all your allocation rules will need to be changed if you suddenly need a net margin by customer. Most ERP type solutions cannot respond to such changes in real time. Is there any wonder that spreadsheets still rule the world despite an army of vendors and consultants advising against them?

Same thing for logistics – you might have always sold in a “sales order, delivery, billing, payment” order. Now the new VP wants to change it to “Get payment first and then deliver” . Traditional ERP needs time to respond to this – config changes, code changes, testing etc. And by the time it hits production – sales clerks might not know how to do the new model for sales. These same “dumb” users can figure out 5 changes in an iPhone App after an upgrade, without any one telling them what to do. Why?

My bank has changed its website features at least 10 times in last 5 years. I never once had to call the bank to find out how to use any of them. Then why is it so hard for a company when it comes to giving a system or process for employees without making them pull out their hair?

4.  You get what you pay for. No more, no less

The primary reason, I think, is that the people who control the purse strings for a project usually think of change management as a “nice to have”.  Whether it is to train users, or to communicate changes, or to make software that is intuitive – it costs time and money. You get what you pay for. If the axe falls on change management budget, then it is also falling on the chance of success.  Sending blast emails to all users, you know – the proxy-written for a big wig type mails, is not a substitute for change management. I don’t read them, and neither does any one else I know.

5. As size of a company increases, the lesser your chance of getting a representative sample to make decisions

A senior executive from logistics is probably the wrong person to address the requirements of the shipping clerk. But often, requirements workshops are usually filled with people far removed from actual business process.  As size of a company increases, it becomes very complex to get a sample of people who can make good decisions that affect all of the company.