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The Importance of Operational Change Management in Your Practice Management System Implementation

Operational change management (OCM) is a critical component of a successful practice management system (PMS) implementation, but is often overlooked or not understood. Many times, it’s described as “the fluffy stuff” or confined to the softer, people-related, nice-to-have, corner of the project. However, firms who underestimate the importance of OCM during the course of their implementation often fail to achieve desired business outcomes.

A new system of this nature and size affects the entire organization, as the touch points for the system will be spread across almost every role within the firm. Day-to-day tasks may change, and with that comes an inevitable learning curve. It brings more exposure to and interaction with new business processes and data. People can’t embrace what they don’t understand, so communication is vital when presenting changes and benefits. Often the Why and the How are not communicated firm wide: why has the firm decided to do this, and how will it benefit the firm and those that work there? The road through a practice management system implementation often has many twists, turns, bumps, and potholes. Unless everyone has a clear vision and understanding of the benefits to be realized, it’s easy to lose folks along the way. Operational change management is, therefore, the practice of shepherding, cajoling, and supporting the firm through this transformative period of change.

The OCM strategy for a project of this nature is largely based on the project complexity and scope and can be broken down into five key pillars.

  1. Benefits Realization: It may seem obvious, but it’s often ignored. Identifying, communicating, and measuring the benefits to be achieved is an important part of any implementation. There is a need to put in place the structures and processes to help ensure those benefits are realized. Sometimes these benefits may not have been identified prior to the decision to change the system. There may be other drivers for the change, such as end of support for the legacy applications or a firm merger, for example. Benefits realization is something that will extend well into the future and beyond the implementation timescale, as most often benefits are not actually realized until well after the go-live event.
  2. Stakeholder Management: It is important to identify the key project stakeholders and stakeholder groups. Some of these groups or individuals may be fully on board with the programmer, giving it full support, and may therefore require very little management in terms of expectations. However, there are likely to be key stakeholders who may have differing priorities or may be resistant to the change that a project such as this will bring about. Some of this may be due to fear of the unknown or to a short-term increase in workload, for example. There are many tools available to manage these stakeholders through the process. Using frequent interviews, communications, surveys, and follow-up action workshops will help ensure these important stakeholder groups are fully engaged and supported.
  3. Employee Transition: It is almost inevitable that a change of key technology such as a finance and practice management system will result in role and responsibility changes for some of the firm’s employees. The likely impact will depend on the level of business process and organizational change being undertaken. It is vital to capture the key business processes within the firm, both current and new, and to document these processes effectively with clear procedures and document templates to identify and capture the process differences. This exercise will provide valuable information to the project team and implementation project and will also provide the basis for any job impact analysis to be undertaken as part of the employee transition process. How this pillar of your OCM strategy is managed will have a knock-on effect in the stakeholder management, communication, and training components of your OCM strategy, so it is vitally important to get this one right.
  4. Project Communication: On most projects, the first communication role undertaken by the change management team is communicating the project launch to the team and the wider firm. At a minimum, the project launch should inform the firm about the project, its objectives, the key milestone dates, and members of the project team. It may be worth dedicating a section of the internal Intranet to be used as a repository for status updates and general project news. It is essential to have a communication plan which identifies formal communication events as the project unfolds. As well as status updates, it is important that employees of the firm outside the project team are informed of new process designs and changes. This will assist with any sign-off process the firm may have. The more widely you communicate potential change, the more likely it is that people will understand and accept the change. It also will help with identifying potential project champions, who will prove invaluable when it comes to reinforcing benefits and changes among their peers.
  5. Training Effectiveness: Training is often the forgotten discipline but one of the most critical phases of the overall project. It’s critical to the success of your operational change management program. While a high-level training plan can be put in place quite early on in your project, training needs to be tightly coupled with your business process definition phase. Early on, it is possible to identify elements such as the approach you will take for training, styles of training delivery to be deployed, the level and nature of end user documentation, and how you will measure the success of your training program. However, once the design phase has been completed and you have business process definitions with roles and responsibilities, your training needs analysis can commence. The development of training courses and documentation needs to fully incorporate the business process information alongside the change messages and reasons for change. It is important that this information is consistent throughout your end user documentation, training delivery material, and any online and classroom sessions planned during the deployment. This investment will not only support the go-live process, but will serve as a knowledge base for the future for new joiner training programs and possible future phases of implementation.

In summary, OCM as part of your practice management implementation will provide a solid backbone to your project and should not be overlooked as one of the key components of success. It doesn’t need to be an over engineered element of the project, but should work hand in hand with the key strands of business process definition and training to minimize any potential negative impacts of change on your firm.

PPL Solutions

Professional Plus Solutions is a business transformation consultancy that designs, implements and supports solutions that address complex business issues faced by law firms with practice management and CRM tools. Professional Plus Solutions has two flagship products: InfoPlus, an Information Generation tool and BCon, a business continuity communications framework. Click here for more information.

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