Improving IT Service Delivery – Implementing Change #3
Hello again. Finally, in this series of articles looking at improving IT Service Delivery, we get to the hard part. We get to the part where the rubber meets the road – where we have to take all of our ideas, designs and plans and turn them into reality – the implementation of change.
In the last article we highlighted the fact that in most cases, to make sustained improvement, you need to consider changes that cut across all levels of the operation – people, process and technology. While you might gain some quick wins and reduce some pain by swapping out an old device or two, to make a real improvement that delivers lasting improvement you need to consider the ways that you work, who is doing what and whether they are equipped to do it.
In our experience, changes which fail to exploit opportunities at the people and process layer tend to deal with just the symptoms and do not address the core, underlying problems at root cause. Because of this, this article focusses on implementing changes at all these levels and not just the technology layer which is the traditional focus of IT.
Implementing People Change
There are some aspects of “people change” which are easy to address. Obvious issues such as skills shortages and clarity of governance/reporting lines can be addressed by providing training, recruiting staff and tidying up organisation charts and job descriptions. These are simple activities which do not require much thought or effort to implement.
Much more difficult are areas such as culture or behavioural change… these require greater thought and effort to implement successfully. Behaviour and culture change is a huge domain, and I’d do both the topic and myself a massive injustice to try to address it all here.
From a change implementation perspective, in my experience, the key points to making sure that the change to the culture or behaviour within a team or function is successful are that you really need to be crystal clear on what it is you’re trying to achieve and why – spell out how you want people to act in certain circumstances; and then ensure that measures are taken to reward teams and/ or individuals who demonstrate the new behaviours and that measures are in place to identify and discourage those who’ve failed to adapt. And then repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat some more until the new ways of behaving become ingrained – if you do not maintain this level of focus and continue to follow through to ensure the change has stuck for a good period of time after the initial efforts staff tend to see these initiatives as a “flash in the pan” which they just need to endure before the focus switches to something else and they can go back to how things were… this is a symptom of an organisation suffering from “change fatigue”.
You also ensure that the behaviours and culture you’re trying to bring in are consistent with the values of the company and are not at odds with how other parts of the business work – or you may find that staff resent the changes forced upon them, or that senior management don’t support the changes. Any example of senior management operating in a different way to the way in which you have asked staff to act will immediately undermine your efforts and render the hard-work useless pretty quickly – so make sure you have got the support of those above and around you and that they know what you’re trying to achieve or things can quickly go awry.
Implementing Process Change
This article assumes that you have done all of the planning and design of the new process prior to getting ready to implement the change. If you have not, take a few steps back and make sure you cover all of the bases so that you don’t cause more problems by tweaking working practices without understanding the potential consequences and implications – too many times we’ve seen examples where problems have crept into our customer’s organisation because of minor process changes that were made without proper planning and a controlled implementation… these small changes have a tendency to “knockout” other associated processes which leads people start to invent workarounds and before you know it no-one is following the agreed way or working and control is lost.
The real key to implementing a changed process is communication. Make sure that the new process is clearly documented – process-flow diagrams, RACI matrices and detailed work-instructions are essential to letting staff know what’s expected of them.
Also you need to make sure that any changes to document templates, forms and/ or systems have been made and verified as correct prior to releasing the new process.
Finally you need to train staff in the new ways of working. This may be as simple as holding a briefing session or two, or may be so complex that it requires a full training programme to be put together – your job is to work out what those needs are and make a plan for it, then to deliver against that plan. Don not just expect staff to be able to work out what to do simply by sending them the new procedure and telling them to get on with it.
When you have made the cut-over, you then need to monitor staff to make sure they are doing what is needed and quickly deal with any issues. It is during these early days that staff will be vocal if there are problems… if issues aren’t quickly resolved staff will figure out a different way of getting the job done and that’s the opposite of what you want to happen.
Implementing Technology Change
As you can draw-out from the above, implementing changes at the technology layer is much more straight-forwards than the other layers… mostly because you are dealing with 1s and 0s and not unpredictable people!
Obviously there is a people element to the technology change, in that you are reliant on your staff (or partners) to have correctly specified the requirements and design of the change and that either system testing has been successful or there is a clear plan to perform testing prior to making the change live… by this point you should be very confident of success.
The actual process (Change & Release Management) for implementing technology change is very simple – follow the Timed Implementation Plan that was agreed and approved during the Change Board meeting… quite simply if there wasn’t a Timed Implementation Plan put forwards then the Change Request should have been rejected by the Change board. If you run into difficulties along the way and need to back-out, follow the Back-Out Plan agreed at the Change Board meeting and perform the regression testing as per the agreed Regression Test Plan… if you do not have a Back-Out Plan or Regression Test Plan then why are you proceeding with the change?
The above sounds very blasé but in our experience there is no shortcut or substitute to the Change & Release Management process – never implement a technical change without going through this process… if you get away with it you’ve been very lucky, but if your change fails it is often catastrophic unless you have properly planned all aspects sufficiently.
As I have already said, to achieve lasting improvements it is usually necessary to make changes at all levels – people, process and technology… so when you’re considering the above you’ll need to weave together an implementation plan that ensures dependencies between each layer are understood and planned for accordingly.
Finally, do not forget one of the most important aspects – when implementing change make sure that whatever you implement is designed in such a way that it provides you with the metrics and measurements to enable you to identify further opportunities for improvement, thus creating the “feedback loop” that continuous improvement is dependent upon. It is much more effective to build these metrics into new ways of working and new systems at the time of release rather than to have to go around after the event gathering information… and creating the feedback loop is essential for you to continue to grow and improve.
Well, that’s it for this series. I hope you have found it useful and thank you for taking the time to read our articles. Please take some more time to browse our other blogs and the rest of our website. If I can help you with any of your IT-related needs, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org