Earlier today I wrote about what I called the "swag factor," or "selling" process improvement initiatives to employees by making them fun. As Ian Gotts explained, too many people view process projects as well as technology implementations as "IT projects." They make little real effort to influence user behavior. Until they do, Gotts said, "lots of these big Oracle and SAP projects will be black holes that people keep pouring money into them."
I encouraged IT organizations not to discount that swag factor. Giving folks a coffee mug, a light-up pen or other cool tchotke can help get them interested in and more involved with projects. A system implementation can meet all of its technical goals and come in on time and under budget - but it will be a failure if no one actually uses the new system.
That said, I realize some folks may roll their eyes at this idea, and/or they may have zero budget for pens and the like. Even more important than trying to make change fun is communicating with users about it early and often.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I shared some insights from smart Forrester Research analyst Connie Moore, who with Forrester colleague Claire Schooley recently completed a research report on business change management, titled "Effective Business Change Management Requires More Than A Wait-And-See Attitude." Among their findings: Seventy percent of process initiatives fail because of poor business change management. One of the two biggest gotchas in business change management is failure to communicate up and down the organization throughout the duration of the initiative. (The other is tackling too much change at once.)
There are all kinds of ways to communicate, of course. Earlier this year when I wrote about a successful ERP implementation at TNG Worldwide, a supplier of products to spas and salons, TNG's consultant partner told me the project's very active executive sponsor (the CEO of the company) wrote about the project on his well-read internal blog. Said Pete Martin, president of EntryPoint Consulting:
There was communication the whole way about what was happening, what was about to happen, and what the results were afterward.
Another way to ensure communication channels remain open is to put IT personnel in close contact with business users. In a piece published in PC World, Rock Swanborg suggests CIOs should consider assigning business analysts and program managers to the project team for a predefined time. He writes:
Their primary goal is to support changes to the organization and business processes and help with training on new tools, all of which are needed to exploit the innovation created through an investment.
He notes they may end up doing this for up to three years for large projects. However, he adds, some organizations say they can double or even triple their project's expected ROI by providing this level of support. Such folks can be based in the project management office, so analysts can share ideas, he says.
Maybe so, but not every organization has a formal project management office. Even those that do might want to also embed IT staff in business units where they can become more involved with the lines of business and familiar with their issues and needs.
This is the approach being adopted by Lee Anderson, CIO/IT director of American Railcar Industries. When I interviewed him earlier this month, he told me:
[Business users] like it because they'll have someone who is part of their team to go to with issues. They won't have to explain all of the nuances of their processes. It cuts down on the number of Q&A that needs to happen. Members of my team will already be aware of issues. I think the reactive model of waiting for someone to call is beginning to change. We need to do things more proactively in terms of understanding where the business is coming from and where the next challenge will be. We need to work side-by-side with the business to solve their problems.