In these uncertain times, many companies are focused on minimizing their operating expenses to regain their competitive position. Many expect that a new solution alone will foster operational change and deliver operating efficiencies. They have the utopian expectation that they can find a product in the marketplace that will allow them to perform their customized operation within a standardized framework.
For many businesses, the search for a new solution begins with the expectations that the new solution will support their unique legacy processes. While the solution provider will use the term “vanilla solution” when describing their base offering, the decision maker believes the new solution will deliver a customized experience. Starting from the beginning of the process, the vendor and purchaser have a very different expectation of the new solution and the vendor is required to provide a sharp price expecting a vanilla experience.
To ensure both can deliver and meet the needs of the business, here are a few learnings to consider when implementing a new operating solution:
- Engage the Business Owners: Include operational stakeholders who understand the ins and outs of the business and can evaluate and ensure the “vanilla solution” will support the business’ needs. Where the needs are not met, the business leaders should document all shortcomings and the specific needs of the business.
- Process Reengineering: The current business process is a combination of historical operations and recent evolutions. The team should step back from this approach and determine the right process for today without bias to the current operation. The project team should not be encumbered by history but allow the freedom to reengineer the business to meet future needs.
- Change Management is Difficult: In his book “Leading Change,” John Kotter states that only 30 percent of change projects ever succeed. Success in change management is driven by the project leader’s ability to create a burning platform and manage the business with an openness to accept change. By design, whoever is empowered to lead the project must provide a rationale for the change, a vision of the end result and a project management or support process to ensure the effort’s success.
- People Resist Being Changed: Peter Senge once said, “People do not resist change, they resist being changed.” In this statement, one must recognize that leading change requires a care that enables the changing entity to retain its dignity and absorb the change as if they were deciding to adjust. Enable the person or group going through the change process to create the solution and thereby help design the end result.
- Culture Change Takes Perseverance: Like everyday life, any trip will run into unplanned activities, changes or events. Leading a team successfully through change happens when the leader provides guidance through the turmoil, leaving the team with the sense of control and protection. From a young age, we all want to know our boundaries and feel like we are protected by a leader with a vision for right, wrong and our best interest.
Frances Hesselbein, CEO of the Girls Scouts of the USA from 1976-90, once said, “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” From this, we learn that changing a culture means changing the way people interact and problem-solve.
- Leaders Must Get Into the Details: The Hawthorne effect demonstrated that people’s behavior is altered by the fact that their actions were being watched. In a major project with many moving parts, it is the leader’s responsibility to connect and steer all workstreams to ensure they all work together as a single unit. To be able to do this, leaders must roll up their sleeves and understand the details. Like a master craftsman developing each part, the collective summation of the parts must complete a task greater than any single item.
- Face-to-Face Work Sessions: Teams are more productive when they can work together face to face to share understanding and create collective solutions. Leaders should recognize the added stress and complexity that remote teams create. Managing change is much more difficult utilizing remote team members. Leaders should balance the gains of face-to-face discussions with the savings of remote connectivity.
When developing the work plan to manage a large project, make sure to incorporate change management activities to ensure alignment, clarity and an attention to detail. Use project management principles to align all tasks from the executive level to detailed workstream tasks to ensure all focus on the mission at hand. Any breakdown in the commonality of the vision and understanding of the approach delivered by the selected solution will create change management issues that must be quickly and decisively managed.
When selecting the right solution, you need to have a vision for the end state and ensure that the solution delivers on that vision. Using the current operation as the baseline often leads to overlooking functionality that can add long-term value. The selector must have a detailed understanding of the business’ needs prior to reviewing the available solutions.