Change management requires being ready to change, being willing to change, and having an understanding of what it takes to make change.

Working on Change Management

Recently, I’d been working with a company on change management. While I do work with some savvy customers, this situation surprised me because the questions I got and the issues they thought of made it clear they were on top of this. They were ready. They understood the issues they’d face with regard to managing change. I was both surprised and pleased. I like to think that people will be able to have a great success ahead of them.

With that said, they’re in for disappointments, failure and miscommunications. But they know that’s what’s ahead. That’s what they’re planning for. They’re planning for those failures that always happen and how to best resolve them. They’re aware of all this and that’s what will make them successful, despite all the failures they’ll have.

The Big Problems With Change Management

We all know that change is hard. That’s the first problem with it.

Beyond that, projects have to be both ready for change and willing to change.

Back to How Hard Change Management is

As a consultant, it’s part of my job to find ways to deliver information to customers. Even with all my experience, communicating change information is challenging. It’s usually more difficult than me noticing something to change and telling them, ” You need to change this!”

Sometimes, they might see the problems but don’t see how what I’m pointing out is related.

And then, they might even know about the problems but think they have a different solution to them than I’m suggesting.

But there are those times when they think everything is fine, even if it’s not. They haven’t recognized the problems, yet. In some cases, they purposely ignore the problems because they’re not ready to deal with them. Sometimes, a project just isn’t ready for the change.

An Example of a Lack of Change Management

There is a project I’ve talked about from the past. It wasn’t going well. The answer to the problems that management came up with was to keep adding more layers of oversight. Each extra person of oversight cost the project more money. This problem continually cost them much more money than budgeted yet did not seem to make progress. By the way, most of the reasons for this were the type that most of us would think were pretty clear. However, the project continued to sink more money into oversight that had nothing at all to do with the actual problems.

This project, despite having many people tell them what needed fixing (I don’t mean me, by the way) truly couldn’t figure out why the project was costing such an enormous amount of money and not getting anywhere.

This sad situation was so broken that you wouldn’t need to have any real expertise in project management or change management to make it better. However, it never seemed to improve.

This Extreme Case

In this extreme example, the communications were entirely broken where no-one talked to the right person about the right issue. No-one understood how to keep track of the issues and assign people to them to fix them. I could go on. It really was astounding.

The bottom line was probably that they had plenty of money to keep throwing at the problems and thought it was as easy as doing that. They never seemed to realize that there’s a lot of hard work that goes behind it.

Change doesn’t typically come by throwing money at problems. But they weren’t ready to hear that.

Communications and Other Hard Work Over Budget

So, I started this out with a group that wasn’t actually spending much money on making the change, when you consider they were incorporating the efforts along with everything else they were doing. The additional cost of specifically addressing the change.

They recognized that much of change management comes through the communications they orchestrate between their managers and their project team. They were ready to take this on and they were willing to do it.

To be fair, though, they already seemed to have a strong team in-place which was not the case with the extreme example. In the extreme example, no-one knew what anyone else was doing. No-one took responsibility for anything. Despite continuing to add layers of oversight, there was no-one that was really in-charge of it all.

Projects Can Change

And then, most projects fall somewhere in-between the extremely bad example I gave and the really terrific people I’d just worked with. Change management isn’t always either entirely missing or super-charged. Sometimes, change management isn’t advanced but is there and continually improving. With that said, projects are always changing and people are changing the way they think about their projects, over time.

Here’s a different example: a few years ago, a customer told me about a problem they were having. Then, they told me about a solution they came up with to fix it. I told them I was skeptical that what they were doing would fix anything. But they were happy with their plan and they went ahead with it. I gave them an alternative to try but they were so excited about their own solution that I don’t think my suggestion sunk in.

Here it is a few years later. Just recently, they told me about a problem they had had and how they tried to fix it. But the outcome was that what they did didn’t fix their problem. It was the same problem we’d discussed a few years ago. They hadn’t remembered my alternative.

Is it time for me to say, “Hah! I told you so!?” Well, sort of, but in a nicer way than that. In any case, I told them the way I thought they needed to approach making their change, yet again. This time, because they had some experience with the issue behind them, they finally understood why my method was likely to work when theirs didn’t.

It’s a Learning Curve

Sometimes, it’s not until people have some failure behind them that they start to understand why change isn’t going the way they need it to. They need that experience to be able to understand how to pick from the alternatives. That’s when they usually start thinking more seriously about change management as a specific topic.

In the last example, both times, I did explain why my solution was likely to be successful. But, the second time, with the experience they gained, it made sense to them.

Being ready to change often requires a broader understanding of the issues that only comes with experience. Soon after this, many projects also become willing to learn more about how change can be better managed.

That’s about the time that the lightbulb goes on and they start thinking, “Hey, this change stuff is a lot harder than we thought. It’s not trivial, at all. Let’s stop and spend a little time thinking about how we can make change more successful for our situation.”

My last thought on this is that there are plenty of broken projects that need change. You might look from the outside and think that anything you could do would help it. You might think that coming up with good ideas for change would be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. That part might be obvious. But unless they’re both ready to change and willing to change, those projects will remain horribly broken.