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The Challenge of IT Change

IT and software projects regularly under-deliver because, despite best efforts, the nature of the change is often unexpected.

Consider this scenario:

  • A business decides they need better insights into customer behaviour
  • The current CRM is identified as the bottleneck for extracting reliable insights
  • A decision is taken to implement a new CRM
  • CRM is implemented at great cost without properly finding out the actual limitations of the existing system or addressing the fundamental requirements of the new system.
  • The result is an expensive replacement which doesn’t do a fraction of what the previous system did and also can’t provide the value it was commissioned for.

Unexpected change is hard for anyone to cope with. Change, if planned, can be fine. But often the impact of a change is hard to communicate or predict if the development or implementation of a new system happens without the continuous involvement of the stakeholders.

But is that even possible? And if so, how?

Understating the Impact of System Change

Two fundamental truths must be acknowledged when it comes to system replacement:

Any system that has multiple touchpoints in your business will be hard and expensive to replace.

The replacement cost for your system increases exponentially with the age of the system that it’s replacing.

Acknowledging these facts upfront will save you time and money in the long term by allowing you to fully estimate scope, plan better and then manage the migration.

So assuming that you accept that change is going to be more expensive than pure development or implementation costs, what can you do to alleviate the pain of change?

  1. Be transparent about timelines, costs and expectations. Communication in all projects is key as is clear decision-making.
  2. Commit to your change project as an entire business. Don’t think that significant system change can be undertaken in the background while you continue business as usual.
  3. Ensure that change is aligned with all partners – internal and external in order for them to fully understand the potential impact on “business as usual”.
  4. Accordingly – make change happen quickly. Timebox your development and deployment work. The longer you spend implementing a system, the more painful and expensive it will be.
  5. Work together to focus your efforts on ensuring that the system is fully tested and ready to go live as soon as it’s available.
  6. Decommission the old system as soon as possible in line with your regulatory and fiduciary commitments. Ensure that everyone is using the new system and that your IT support partners are fully aligned with turning around fixes and patches (they are inevitable) and that you’re not relying on the old system for anything.
  7. Finally, show how your business has been improved through this IT change and ensure that you celebrate it as an entire business.

Why Move So Fast?

Most people doing a job, have not come to expect change. Their knowledge is the domain in which they work, their expertise. The have come to rely on a system that you may want to replace.

Therefore it’s easy to see how many people in your business can feel overwhelmed with IT change.

Many companies also fail to effectively predict the cost of the change, the actual effort required for the change from staff members and the residual impact it will have on working processes.

Therefore – acknowledge that it will be hard. The older the system that is being replaced – the harder it will be.

Run your IT change project quickly with the buy-in of your entire business and your stakeholders. Be transparent, keep everyone aligned and help everyone get your project over the line as quickly as possible.

Want to know more?

The Phoenix Project and Beyond

The Phoenix Project is an impressive book showing the impact of understanding and improving IT change and software delivery processes in the context of a fictional car parts manufacturer. It does this from the perspective of the IT leadership – and it aims to give insight and ideas for IT leaders to make IT change simpler and more effective.

However, as a non-IT leader of a business, a lot of the issues raised by the Phoenix Project don’t necessarily make immediate sense. The context helps but without recognising the impact of poor IT change on the whole business, you won’t be able to properly prepare to lead a fitter digital organisation.