Monday, December 11, 2006

How to Manage Change During Software Implementation

When new software or web applications are implemented in a business process, one that may not have been changed for quite some time or ever for that matter, resistance is likely to be encountered by those initiating the change. It's just human nature. In the software and web application development field, it's very important to manage and influence the change process that occurs with our clients in order to not have all our hard work rejected by the end-user.

Managing the Dynamics of Change is a book written by Jerald Jellison that provides a view of what occurs during a change process whether with a whole business unit or with an individual. Jellison describes it as the J-Curve of Change, which has five stages:

  1. The plateau - the beginning stages of change. Those affected know it is coming.
  2. The cliff - the change is implemented and the employees jump in feet first, sometimes unwillingly. Problems occur along with errors and resistance is often voiced more so as "I told you so!"
  3. The valley - things start to bottom out. Problems and errors are less frequent and some choose to embrace the changes.
  4. The ascent - performance improves and more people begin to embrace the change and leave behind the "old way" of doing things.
  5. The mountaintop - performance reaches or exceeds the previous level, prior to the change, and there is full acceptance of the change.
So how do you move from the plateau to the mountaintop? Just persuading people to accept change, like a new software or web application, doesn't always work. What many forget is an important element of persuasion called latitude of acceptance. Simply stated, it's harder to change people's thoughts and opinions on things that they hold near and dear to their hearts. A job and the way they do that job is something important. It is after all how they make a living. A certain flavor of ice cream or brand of laundry detergent? Maybe that's not so important and easier to persuade someone to change.

So, when you implement a change, especially a new software or web application into a business process, consider the latitude of acceptance. How important is the job or task to the person and what is the difficulty at which you will have to persuade someone to accept the change?

Jellison offers his advice on how to make change more acceptable:
  • Break the overall change into smaller, more manageable steps. Small victories will lead to the greater victory.
  • Provide rewards for early adopters and those willing to work through the change, setting aside their own fears and apprehensions.
  • Provide a safe environment to make mistakes (Note: well-designed software will allow for the end-user to make mistakes and recover quickly to get back on task).
  • Provide guidance and training. Learning allows end-users a sense of control.
  • Encourage involvement by giving end-users a choice in which small steps to take to overcome their challenges toward the change.
  • Be sympathetic to negative feelings toward the change. Listen to their concerns.
  • Stay committed to implementing the change. As a leader you must show you are invested in it, otherwise those who answer to you will follow your lead and reject the change. In other words, lead by example.
By identifying the change process and knowing how to influence acceptance to change, a more natural progression can take place that will make the change more readily accepted by your end-users.

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