It's one thing to deliver a successful change programme but quite another to ensure it is properly embedded. How do the experts ensure that the benefits promised at the initiation of a project are actually delivered over the long term?
We've all been there – the dog days of a great project.
The team has really come together and delivered. Processes designed, organisation re-aligned, users trained, milestones met and everybody is ready for go-live. One more heave and we'll have it over the line. A few weeks of stabilisation will take care of the snagging, followed by the mother of all parties and we can all get back to normal...
...except there is a small nagging voice in the back of your head: "What next? What's to stop things just drifting back to the way they were before the project? Who's going to make sure that the benefits that we promised are actually delivered?".
The reality is that many of the biggest change management challenges come after go-live, when the project team has packed up and moved on and the business faces up to owning and sustaining the change.
The good news is that the seeds of sustained change are sown – and the conditions for them to flourish can be set – before go-live. In the much quoted words of Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) it really is a case of "Beginning with the end in mind".
In practice that means defining the end point as embedded, sustained change that delivers its benefit case. Then it is all about setting expectations accordingly, building business ownership and establishing ongoing support structures as part of the deliverables for the project.
Having learned the importance of these principles the hard way, here are a few practical steps that will help to ensure that your change is not only delivered, but endures after you're gone.
In all aspects of communication and engagement, position go-live as the starting point for the new way of working rather than the end point for the project. It is critical that this expectation is clearly established in the minds of the sponsor, the stakeholders, the project team and the wider business from the outset.
Enrole the sponsor to be actively accountable for the realisation of the anticipated benefits as well as the delivery of the project per se. This includes clearly defining the benefits – direct and indirect – as well assigning business ownership for delivery and development of action plans for realisation.
Define the post go-live change management plan as one of the key exit criteria for the project. This will include deliverables, milestones and business owners for any ongoing change or communication requirements (e.g. addressing any training gaps, communicating ongoing successes and improvements, proactive management of the super user network).
It should also include review points for oganisational alignment with the new ways of working. These are typically a few months after go-live when the new systems and processes are bedded in and should aim to identify and close any capacity or capability gaps that are creating strain in the organisation. HR should be actively involved in the review process.
When engaging with middle and first line management across the business as an extended change network, call out their critical role in driving adoption of new ways of working – both by setting a positive example and by setting a clear expectation of compliance in their teams.
Actively involve business stakeholders in project governance from the outset (e.g. in steering groups and change boards). Actively plan and manage transition of control to these governance bodies toward the end of the project so that they can drive further improvements as well as manage future issues or change requests.
Secure transfer of critical knowledge and experience gained during the project back into the business by ensuring that key subject matter experts are re-integrated in the organisation and have an ongoing, active role in supporting the business stakeholders to embed change, drive improvements and realise benefits.
Set post implementation review points (owned by the project sponsor and supported by internal audit) that will hold the business leadership accountable for both compliance and benefit delivery. Make the timing and terms for these reviews clear in advance to all of the key stakeholders, especially those responsible for improvement and benefit delivery.
These are a few lessons learned from my own experience, I'm sure there are many more out there. If you have experience (good or bad) in the practicalities of sustaining and embedding change I would love to hear from you.