Written by Tony Hopwood

and Ben Salder

In the last article, the users’ perspective of a systems implementation was discussed and some of the key change management challenges were identified in the article “This new System is rubbish!”. In this article we’re looking at the same event from the line manager’s perspective.

Are you in shadow of the tsunami, or riding the wave? Are you Victim, or Victor? You have a choice, but it’s not easy. For many it’s a once in a lifetime event that needs a clear head and an experienced coach to make the best of the opportunity.

Take one step back?

That’s the familiar first reaction to learning of a system change coming down the track because it is scary! Everyone’s heard the horror stories, and there never seems to be an upside, but does it always have to be like that? No!

A major system implementation brings with it a wealth of opportunities for personal growth, network development, skill development… and above all Leadership skills

Step up and seize the moment!

Select your team. Do you want the technical individuals who specialize in their niche area, or natural leaders who cross boundaries and have a strong network?

We’ve seen project teams with junior staff founder as they run out of experience to envisage the issues that can occur at the boundaries between systems and roles. On the other hand, well respected individuals with good managerial insight can try to see across the battle field, but may never have done the jobs being redesigned and can’t know the detail. Given the cost per week of running the project, they need to be very fast learners.

So what’s the answer? Of course it depends on your organization, but there’s a lot to be said for taking the department leads and / or first line supervision into the project team. It’s easy to think these folks are indispensable, but they hold many of the key cards:

  • Line management authority
  • Leadership relationship with the users
  • Detailed knowledge of the tasks and processes
  • Best possible to influencing arguments to clean the data
  • Day to day relationships with adjacent departments
  • Clear understanding of the Key Opinion Leaders in their area – good and bad!
  • Opportunity to ‘try out’ their successor as their deputy for the day job
  • At a point in their careers where the project is a boost rather than a beast

Where do I get backfills with the right skills?

They’re all around you! Ask your team members to step up or step sideways to enrich their careers.

Of course you might need specialists to fill specific gaps, but for the most part junior staff are easier to attract and retain and often keen to take on extra work of hours for the right incentives.

…and now for the big question:

Exploit the opportunity or just accept it?

Whichever option fits your business; you’ve got to be in it to win it! Make sure every member of your team feels empowered; a sense of entitlement to challenge and explore the options and propose a balanced solution for the benefit of the business as a whole, not just an opportunity to automate a process they’ve always disliked doing.

For each project decision, make sure you’ve got a seat at the table. Cost vs. Benefit, Long term vs. Short Term, Risks, Failure Modes, Skills vs. Availabilty.

Choose a change methodology and build on it

There are many good change methodologies around (see previous issue), but they need commitment both to the approach and to the individuals concerned. Change is an emotional journey and your team need believe you’re with them every step of the way.

This is not just a new system; this is a new way of life. You wouldn’t buy a new house based on a specification and a training manual on how to open the bathroom window… you would want to believe that you and you friends and family could live there and preferably enjoy it:

  • How would I throw a party?
  • Can I get away from the kids (or the spouse!)?
  • Will I be isolated in the kitchen, or able to chat whilst I cook?

These are just a few examples of processes supported by a house, you need to think about the processes you need to run your part of the business:

  • How do I answer customers’ order queries?
  • How do I know what to do next?
  • What do I need to do to improve my service?

If you take a system perspective of change, you want to make sure everyone knows what buttons to press… given the lack of resilience of some back office systems, ‘check it, don’t wreck it’ might be the order of the day. However, if you want a really smooth Go Live, focus on the processes and particularly the reporting and analytics.

Processes flow in business, not because the transactions are done well, but because people have developed a natural feeling of what can be done and when the process is working well. You need to recreate the feedback loop that helps everyone keep on track:

  • What does good feel like?
  • How do I know when something’s not quite right?
  • What should the work queue look like and how do I prioritise?

Failure Mode Effect Analysis: Where do I build my safety nets?

Once the die is cast and your team understands the scope and scale of the change, it’s time to look into the abyss! What could go wrong and how are you going to buffer it:

  • Strategic stock to buy time
  • Alternate distribution route
  • Later / different carrier collections

Don’t forget, it’s cheaper to build stock in advance than have to scrabble around after Go Live when your capacity is being eaten up whilst slowly executing new processes (as long as you keep control of this “buffer” stock!)

Design your key reports now. Your continuous improvement reports for the future are exactly the ones you need to manage Go Live: late orders, part orders, on hold. Once you’ve got the systems live you will get more experience and build out the full set of reports you need for steady state, but make sure you’ve got the essential visibility for the first few days /weeks.

Now you’ve got a plan, look for prevention… Call out the risks and look for mitigations. Pull in external support for a truly independent view.

Now you’re underway, ride the wave!

This is a wave of change, it’s time to ride! You need to re-write those old SOPs, now’s your chance. You need to reinforce standard work, what better reason? All that old data, get it clean and have reports in the future you can rely on. At last you’ll have the visibility to drive continuous improvement to be proud of!

That’s all very well, but will it work when we switch it on?

Naturally you’re going to test the new system… but with the team you’ve created, that’s going to take a whole new level. No one will want to be the one to have a problem, or pass on a problem to a down-stream process. Your team leads are the key to testing, they are the ones who know the data.

With the right team on the ground you will not be stuck with integration arguments about whether the data’s wrong, or whether it’s the system design.

Cut over: problem solving on the fly

Of course the cutover itself requires rehearsals and detailed, painstaking data preparation but the key to getting the job done on time is problem solving in the moment. You may need to re-sequence data loads and hence having some folks start work earlier than planned and others run later.

The leadership challenge is preparing your team to understand the need and be willing to step up. Book out more than one weekend for project slippage and explain to your team why they might need to flex on the day. Get everyone involved in the planning, talk about what might go wrong. Check and double check – does your team know how to validate the data loads?

Can some data be manually fixed after go live – what would that mean operationally. This is the kind of discussion you need when you first pick the team… they won’t relish the long hours before go live, but every hour turns into ten hours after go live if the job is not done right. This is an operational impact your existing leadership team can understand and will want to mitigate.

Go Live: Fingerspitzengefuhl*

By picking your leadership and supervision to run the project, you have a massive advantage at go live. They know the business they know the natural flow of the supply chain and they can tell when a process is running slowly vs. when it is broken.

They know who can help, and they have the insight and authority to devise and use a workaround. An order running late for a critical customer – do whatever it takes, but keep track of the information to correct the system later.

Everyone can play his or her part. In manufacturing, hit the back orders first. In distribution, process orders based on which customers could still hit service with an expedited delivery tomorrow, compared to others, which must ship today.

Triage on behalf of the customer – managing the project like the supply chain

And this is the key; the whole reason for taking the department leads and / or first line supervision into the project team. At the point of go live your team leads drop back into the organization, they understand the customers and their needs and any issues can be triaged through the eyes of the customer and not IT…

This is not an argument about the priority of some particular defect, this is about looking across the supply chain and having your team leads pick the problems to fix that are going to have the most impact today, tomorrow, next week. Get your supply chain planners involved, have them look at available stock, alternate freight routes, have the project team estimate the time to fix each defect and ask the planners to make the call.

Run reports every half-day to look for orders that appear to be ‘stuck’, these are the jobs that have lost their way, the problem may not even have been spotted or reported. Are they a symptom of something worse?

Keep track of the unexpected results, do you have a low level problem that will bite you later?

Once in a lifetime, you need a coach!

Nobody can get all this right first time without support. Find the experienced support and coaching you need and seize the moment!

*Fingertip feel… of the battlefield