Peter Drucker, the celebrated author of
numerous works on management principles, once wrote that "quality in a service
or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets
out of it". Certainly at the implementation stage of the systems development
process, those words carry an increased level of appreciation.
Implementation of a new system or software package is the decisive moment.
All of the hard work, planning, and creativity have resulted in a constructed or
configured product. This is the System Builder's opportunity to turn over the
carefully coded, tested, and finalized results. The team has put all of its
talent and spirit into creating what it considers to be a high quality
accomplishment. But how will the client feel? What about those last minute
screen and report changes that had to be made? Will the client react favorably
to the additional functions and features the team added? Does the client even
remember the deliverables presented months ago at the prototyping, design, and
This reunion with the client must be handled properly. This process
represents change, and change, whether it is perceived as positive or negative,
will always encounter a certain degree of challenge, resistance, and
scrutiny. Recognizing this situation, the System Builder must strive to make
the organizational change process as painless and smooth as possible. For the
client, moving from the old system to the new, is both an exciting prospect as
well as a journey into the unknown. Several techniques should be employed to
ensure a successful transition.
Overcoming the Resistance to
Winston Churchhill once said that "there is nothing wrong in change if it is
in the right direction. To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have
changed often". If the resistance to change can be overcome, and the client is
sincerely open to an innovative or "different" approach to the new or existing
business situation, a major hurdle has been overcome toward the new system
existing in concept.
Unfortunately, the management of organizational change is one of the least
appreciated concerns of the system building professional. Viewing clients as
"users" who only perform redundant, clerk-type work seems to be common attitude
among project teams who only consider the proposed system from a "technical"
viewpoint. After all these years, it's no wonder business clients fear the
delivery of new systems! What new and clever ways of making our lives miserable
have the system builders come up with this time?
The first step to breaking through the resistance to change is to begin to
take the client "perspective". Business challenges and day-to-day
responsibilities must be viewed in the same light as the client sees them. This
means understanding both the underpinnings and objectives of the client's
activities. The second step is to realize that the business client is being
placed into a position of incompetence. No matter how ineffective the
current way of conducting business may be, at least it is familiar and the
client understands how to make it work. The prospect of a new way of doing
things represents a level of uncertainty to the client which is very real and
The system building professional must initially develop a sensitivity for
these concerns, and then later, form a strategy for reducing their effect. In
many cases, this can be achieved through continual, sustained client involvement
through each phase of the development process. This participation serves to
counter the client's fear of uncertainty, and it gives them a firm stake in the
Riding the Organizational Change
One fact which all system builders should always keep in mind is that change
is not always easy to cope with. In fact, any change will evoke a degree of
emotional reaction from almost everyone.
Take the business clients through all of the phases of the organizational
This is the initial reaction to change. Depending on the current state of the
client's preparedness, this reaction may range anywhere from a barely noticeable
flinch to highly traumatic outpouring of emotion. In any case, what the client
is reacting to is the possibility of a threat to the established status quo.
This always disturbing and somewhat disarming.
The system builders should be somewhat empathetic, but they should not
attempt to minimize the real effect of the change on the business clients.
The next reaction tends to be one of disbelief or denial. This is the classic
"maybe if I don't think about it - it will go away" response. In some cases this
actually works, and the irritating change does go away! To make this happen, the
business clients simply drop out of the process, withholding their support and
participation to such an extent that the proposed change becomes very difficult
The system builders should strive to keep the business clients actively
involved in the change implementation process. This involvement should include
exploring the various options which will help to make the upcoming change work
within the client's business environment.
Once confronted with the reality of the pending change, many of the clients
may express their displeasure either through subtle negative reactions, or
through more open and direct challenges. They are literally mad about being put
through this! Even the strongest project sponsors will show slight flare-ups as
they work through their temporary states of incompetence. "I never thought it
would work like this!" is a fairly common statement during this period.
The system builders should absolutely not take this reaction personally. They
should assist the business clients in working through these feelings by helping
them to understand how to make the new/updated system work to their benefit. In
addition, a clear approach show be developed and presented to address the
anticipated business client learning needs.
As the actual implementation of the change nears, the affected clients may
begin to look for concessions. "Before I really go along with this, can you make
this additional change for me, since I am changing for you". If this response is
not handled right, it can also turn into another effective defense against
change. In fact, this is the last ditch effort to stop the momentum!
The is the point which the system builders need to start exhibiting some
resolve. Each request should be weighed carefully. If it will truly help to get
the client completely through the curve, making the client requested change may
be beneficial. If it appears to be just a stall tactic, the system builder has
to toughen up and keep things progressing forward.
From the business client's perspective, it is beginning to feel like nothing
really worked. Maybe they managed to get a few concessions here and there, but
it seems that the system builders are really going to go through with it! The
change is actually going to happen. A feeling of depression sets in. For the
clients, this is a kind of mourning for the old, familiar way of doing things,
and a slight dread of the unknown.
Now is the time for the system builders to provide maximum assistance. They
must work hard to help the clients see themselves working in a new way.
Training, presentations, hands-on testing assistance, and easy to use
documentation all help the clients feel that they will be able to cope with the
Finally, the day arrives when it is time to start doing things the new way.
This is the part of the curve which is a steady progression from incompetence to
competence. Depending on the ease and success of the transition, the client's
reaction to the new change can be very positive and rewarding.
At this point, the system builders should be providing real encouragement,
and confirmation of progress. Any concerns should be handled appropriately, and
in as timely a fashion as possible.
Once everyone has again reached their individual comfort and competence
level, things begin to settle down into the new, sustainable routine. In some
situations, one may actually overhear something like "I can't believe we ever
did this function any other way!".