The title of this article is, of course, Master Yoda’s well-known adage from The Empire Strikes Back. And it reflects what should happen when we apply change management to our projects. However, we may not always know the right time to apply this methodology. And sometimes, we can fall into the trap of thinking that, if a project has met its requirements, was finished on time, and fell within the expected budget, then we can consider it a success. Especially so if everyone involved in the project has been told about the solution and received the necessary technical onboarding. What more can we hope for?
However, if we adopt this mindset, we run the risk of making a common mistake: becoming satisfied that a tool is being used, but without confirming that people — especially those who should be using the tool daily — are truly embracing it.
The alarms might go off when the tool is introduced into real-life contexts and all kinds of issues turn up. Or what’s worse, there might not be any immediately visible issues at all, but the user adoption rate might be extremely low. In such cases, we should say goodbye to our grand plans to evolve our technology and achieve whatever ambitious results we were aiming at in the next few years. Again, this is a common mistake in many organizations. Yet the reaction, when faced with the evidence, is often self-deluding: “We did everything right. The project was launched in time,” goes the usual excuse.
But there’s no mystery to the failure. The reason behind it is quite simple: we haven’t actually applied anything resembling a proper change management methodology. Many leaders believe that, as long as they’ve onboarded people and communicated their plans, then success will be guaranteed. But this doesn’t consider the expectations of our users, that is, of our clients. It ignores the emotions of our team members or does not answer the most important question they’ll have regarding any change: “What’s in it for me?”
According to a McKinsey study, up to 70% of projects can fail without proper change management. At the same time, good change management can multiply our capacity to reach our goals by six and the likelihood that we’ll meet our deadlines by three.
This is important, since change processes are, of course, expensive. Consider the following scenario. If we’re implementing an ERP program, with an annual licensing cost of €100,000 and an implementation cost of €75,000, in three years, the total cost will be €375,000, with an estimated ROI of €500,000 during the same period. In this case, the risk would be: not only losing our investment but also never reaching our expected return.
But there is an even more profound risk. When change isn’t properly managed, this can give rise to the troubling belief that new tools and ambitious projects just don’t work at your company. And this belief can be so powerful, that it’ll bring future projects down with it.
In short, if we want to carry out actual change management — if we want to really do instead of just trying, as Master Yoda would ask of us — then these are our recommendations:
-Before getting started, make sure the Board of Directors is aligned on the purpose of the project and what it’s for.
-Proactively manage project sponsors. Make sure they learn how to be in it for the long haul.
-Define the purpose of the project. Appeal to the recipients of change with arguments that combine the emotional with the rational.
-Identify and define the role of the “influencers” who’ll become your change evangelists.
-Carry out your communication and onboarding in a segmented way. Listen to teams’ doubts and opinions.
-Always understand the true goal of the project: not meeting a deadline but achieving wide adoption.
-Draft a global project plan, which integrates and coordinates both project and change management initiatives.
And when in doubt, you can do as Master Yoda might say: impossible, nothing is; difficult, many things are.