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Change Management: The Silent Killer (of ERP Projects)

by Dave Hannon

August 16, 2011

By Dave Hannon

@Daveatwispubs

There’s a silent killer out there, waiting in the weeds of your enterprise for its chance to pounce and drag your ERP implementation down into the muck. It’s not a budget issue. It’s not a consultant problem. It’s not even an IT issue.

It’s a … people issue. (Insert scary organ music and loud, distant shriek).

I know, an IT organization’s worst nightmare, right? But the more I talk to companies about their SAP, ERP, and IT projects in general, the more change management seems to come up, always lurking around the fringes of a project. Never visible during the planning stages, casting shadows on the implementation, and finally creating absolute terror after go-live.

The topic comes up a lot, even in the ERP projects that are highlighted as success stories. For example, I was reading a research note from Gartner analyst Susan Tan, which reviewed presentations by SAP customers at the Accenture Leadership Council earlier this year. While the projects described in the presentations could not have been more different, there was a common thread: Don’t forget to include a change management strategy in your project from the beginning.

In one presentation, a company focused on mobilizing its SAP landscape provided a change management caveat: “Pay attention to change management. Impress on users the advantages of the mobility technologies, ensure they are well-trained to use them and obtain sponsorship at all levels of the organization.”

Another company that effectively virtu alized its SAP environment emphasized that change management affects the back-end folks as well as the users: “Pay attention to change management. Virtualization changes the roles and work of IT infrastructure personnel. Fear of job losses is a common reaction. Help infrastructure personnel evolve their skills and train them to focus on creating solutions instead of the hardware.”

And just last week, a company that successfully implemented SAP ERP last year on-time, on-budget, told me despite the implementation’s success, “I don’t think that we educated people as much as we should have about how their lives were going to change” as a result of the new system.

Why is change management such a silent killer? From what I can gather, there are a few reasons that combine to make this such a problem.  For starters, in too many projects, it may not be explicitly assigned to one team. It’s just supposed to “trickle down” during training and trickling is not a strategy.

Secondly, if change management is addressed, it’s almost always during training, which is way, way too late. It needs to be brought up to end users early, so when those changes approach at go-live, it’s not a technical and process learning all at once. It’s familiar. (“Oh yeah, I remember you told me about this earlier – that’s happening now. I get it.”)

Another reason is – and I mean this in the nicest way –  IT organizations don’t excel at people issues. Asking a technical person to “train” a user on a new system is one thing. But asking them to get in the mind of an end user in the business and think about how th eir processes and work habits will change – and then help the user design new processes – is asking too much. There needs to be someone trained in these areas specifically to bridge that gap.

And lastly, there’s a lack of resources out there. The are a lot of places to find technical help for IT projects, but when it comes to these organizational areas like change management, project folks repeatedly say they have to search around for training or resources in this area.  

Again, these are just my observations based on talking to companies and individuals that have gone through these projects. I’m sure you’ve got your own thoughts on why change management is such a silent killer and how it can be addressed. As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts here as comments, connect with me here on ILN, or on Twitter at @Daveatwispubs.

For additional information:

To read a great deep-dive on change management for SAP users, I recommend this story from the Project Expert knowledgebase:

Q&A: Managing Change: Best Practices and Advice to Be Sure the Change You Get Is the Change You Want

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