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June 24, 2014

Users Are Very Special People

Don’t go shortchanging your change management efforts. Those “people”-related change management factors can be critical to implementation success.

It ought to be axiomatic by now: For a successful IT initiative, you have to address people, process, and technology. In this post, I plan to put the spotlight on the first item in that trio, i.e. the people who’ll be using that technology, because – not to go all Barbra Streisand-y on you – you need people (and their buy-in) if your enterprise content management (ECM) initiative is to succeed.

I’ve seen it at a number of client organizations: people who are perfectly happy with how things are working today. They know the systems they need to know to do their jobs; they’ve long ago established their own favorite work-arounds for any inefficiencies they encounter. We ask them, for instance, whether their jobs would be made easier if it weren’t so difficult to find the information that they need, and they just look puzzled and say, “Well, I can always just go ask Dave; he knows where everything is.”

So now here goes IT, barging into the workday lives of these people, bringing them new technologies, or maybe just asking them to give up one of their work-arounds for the new piece of functionality you just rolled out. From their perspective, though, you’re taking them out of their comfort zone – and anything that messes with the way they do things now starts to look a little too much like a threat. (Ouch!) And these are your prospective users we’re talking about here!

You’re doing nothing less than asking these people to change the way they work with information, and the way they do their jobs. So if your initiative is to succeed, if you’re going to get those prospective users to become adopters of your technology (and realize all those promised benefits), you need to find a way to meet those users on their own ground. You need to do some change management.

According to a recent Deloitte survey of ERP deployments, people-related change management factors play a significant role in implementation success. These factors include:

  • End-user involvement
  • End-user communication
  • Involvement and support of project leadership
  • Organizational leadership
  • End-user training

I’d argue that these are the “people” factors to take into consideration in any technology deployment. I’ve seen them in action (and, alas, sometimes in inaction) in my work with plenty of Doculabs clients.

Let’s start at the top of the list: end-user involvement. Doculabs’ consulting approach typically involves end users in the information-gathering process: sitting down with those people and getting an understanding of just what jobs they’re trying to get done — the key documents, the processes, the workflows. In many cases, we also play an educational role: filling these end users in on some of the ECM functionality they can expect to see and how that functionality will benefit them (as well as the organization). But we’re also helping to ensure that the people who will be the future users of the technology are participants in the information-gathering and that they have the opportunity to be heard early on. This lessens the chance that when the technology is rolled out, people feel they’re being forced into doing something that they don’t understand (for reasons they don’t understand, either).

We also work with clients to develop communications plans and schedules, tailored to the information needs of the various user groups, as well as to the client organization’s culture. When people know what to expect in terms of change, as well as when and why the change is coming, there’s less potential for fear of the unknown among the various user groups.

That still leaves some pieces to be addressed on the client side, however – such as the involvement and support of project leadership. The organization’s business analysts, for instance, can work with project managers to help communicate to the business and work with project leadership to keep things on track. And don’t underestimate the importance of organizational leadership, to articulate the vision, scope, and benefits of the initiative for the organization as a whole, laying the foundation for project success – especially in the early stages. Just why is improving the management of the organization’s information assets important? What are you hoping to achieve? Make the case early on, or risk that employees will conclude the whole project is being arbitrarily imposed on them from above.

Finally, there’s end-user training, which turns out to be a huge part of change management (in the Deloitte study, it came in third on the list of success factors). Doculabs’ experience bears witness to this reality. When we assist clients in the RFP solution selection process, one of the components we evaluate closely is the vendors’ proposed approach to user training (e.g. instructor-led classroom training, vs. web-based training, vs. virtual classroom). What’s the most effective way to help our clients’ employees – i.e. those future users of the technology solution – learn the new skills they’ll need to perform their jobs? Consider: Nobody wants to be the odd person out; nobody wants to risk looking stupid. You’re giving your people this fancy new tool? Well, then, commit to equipping them with the abilities they need to make optimal use of it! Expand their comfort zones! Let them see for themselves just how downright tedious that work-around of theirs really was, compared to the new way of doing things!

Change doesn’t have to be onerous. But you have to plan for it; you have to make it part of your deployment roadmap, the same way you go looking for that “low-hanging fruit” and those quick wins. In fact, getting the right people on board and happy early on will help make for those quick wins – and pave the way to the user adoption you’re looking to achieve.

And those users? Well, they’ll be the luckiest people in…the…world.

Linda Andrews
Linda Andrews
I’m a Technical Editor. I help develop Doculabs’ publications and collateral, and execute the company’s social media marketing.