In discussions with participants on challengingÂ projects, one often sees fear and aversion to change combined with a strong desire to improve outcomes. In other words, folks hope for success, but are too scared to take positive action.
Of course, those fears are completely understandable. The cartoon shown above reminds us that creative solutions involve change and risk, words that are among the most dangerous and terrifying in business. In a blog post, Tom Fishburne, the cartoonist, summarizes a key message:
You can tell a lot about an organization by how they treat failure. Do they focus on the learning or do they focus on the punishment?
Terrifying or not, managing business change is the essential ingredient of successful projects. Organizations often introduce technology to drive transformation and disrupt established, yet inefficient, processes.
I asked analyst Jonathan Yarmis, who researches disruptive technologies, to explain the paradox between fear of failure and organizational imperatives to drive transformation:
Frequently, senior enterprise leadership state that transformation is an objective, butÂ tremendous resistance exists in the organization. This happens because individuals working in the trenches see tremendous risk (I lose my job if this doesn’t work) and fundamentally no upside (I get to keep my job if it works). From the worker’s perspective, this isÂ the same situation as if we hadn’t gone through the change exercise at all. When risk and reward are misaligned, there is inherent tension and increased likelihood of failure.Â Technology usersÂ don’t want disruption: they want easy migrations and evolution.
Managing transformation and change is one of the most difficult aspects of enterprise software implementations. In my study of IT failures, poor communication ranks high on the list of key issues that cause problems on large projects.
The importance of communications in running successful transformation initiatives can hardly be overstated. Michele Clarke, Senior Vice President at public relations firm Waggener Edstrom, shares tips for improving communications on technology-enabled projects:
Early assistance can save weeks, and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, compared to dealing with a full failure. Determine whether specific circumstances, for example the demands of a quarterly close, are creating lack of engagement or if deeper issues, such as unclear objectives and cultural resistance, are present. Cultivating effective champions within your user population is critical, as is pacing the rollout to establish positive momentum while controlling speed to ensure true understanding among users.
Advice for enterprise buyers: The degree to which social and political fears drive organizational denial is extraordinary. If you are a senior manager, find ways to draw out constructive criticism, by rewarding those who expose waste and bring forth ideas for improvement.Â There is no magic bullet for running a successful IT project, but listening closely to concerns of stakeholders and front line workers is a great start.
Cartoon byÂ Tom Fishburne