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The Change Management Challenge – Key Lessons for Ensuring Project Success

Tony Pullman, former Global Head of Business Services Delivery at Hogan Lovells, has recently joined Pinnacle to lead the consulting group’s new change management and transformation practice area. Here, Tony shares his thoughts on how to ensure that projects don’t just deliver the required new technology but the desired business benefits, too.

All Change!

So, you are putting in a new system with updated processes. It should be reasonably straightforward shouldn’t it? Choose and buy the solution, get your project team in place with a good plan and methodology, build the solution, test it and train people near go-live, put out some emails and an Intranet page with updates along the way, hand out the go-live mouse mats, and away you go! Easy, right? If so, why do so many system implementations or projects fail to realize the business benefits that were set out in the business case or envisaged when the cost was signed off by the board? So many miss the mark, take far too long to get adoption, end with a diluted outcome, or don’t deliver on the intended benefits early enough.

I started the article by being deliberately glib. Anyone who has been involved, for example, in implementing a new practice management system, knows how complex it can be, and it goes without saying that having the right solution with the right implementation partner with a good project approach and team is essential among many other factors. However, successful delivery of the business benefits that firms want from projects also relies heavily on individuals in the firm fully adopting not just the new technology but changing their behavior in order to realize the outcome wanted. And frankly, a few emails and some last minute training won't cut it. Firms need to prepare their people for the change properly to drive the outcome they want.   

Project success will be measured by how change has been managed and delivered – we can (relatively) easily build solutions!

So how do you prepare your people for the change you are making? There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It varies depending on complexity and desired outcome. However, here are some -level tips for preparing your people for implementation based on 20 years of coal-face experience.

Start Early and Use a Structured Approach

Invest early in planning for change and engagement to save on time, effort, and cost later. Preparing people requires different tools and techniques to involve those impacted in the right way at the right time. Starting a project by putting a core team in a room somewhere for months while they build something and then re-appear near the planned go-live to deliver training will end in failure. Have your change manager in at the start. Integrate a change team and approach tightly into the project methodology and governance, as they need to work in tandem.  Beware of over engineering the process and structure, however, as that doesn’t always work. People often have to be dealt with in a more direct or tailored way as things evolve. The approach should be pragmatic and shouldn’t slow the project down.
Remember also that change can (and should) happen before system implementations. Thinking ahead about what can change before the project even starts is hugely valuable. For example, consider data quality reviews, roles and responsibilities, operating model changes, etc. 

Be Clear at the Outset

Clarify what the overall initiative/project aims to do, the benefits it aims to achieve, and how people need to adapt behavior to achieve those benefits.  Be careful to avoid lots of meaningless vision statements and be practical, honest, and inclusive. In my experience, people will be encouraged that management is forward-thinking and transparent. The sooner they know what is changing, the sooner they can engage and react, and that reaction (good or bad) can then be worked with.

Assess and Track the Impact of Changes Made

Assess changes at a process and system level as early as possible and the impact on people's work. Never assume you know how people work or how they feel about the change. You have to ask them and engage them throughout. Change impact assessments become the basis of your plans. Use your change team as the gatekeepers and project conscience to remind everyone of the intended benefits especially when things look like they are being diluted. The tracking of changes also gives a strong link into the testing and quality assurance processes that otherwise can get lost.

Analyze and Plan Involvement of Stakeholders Early  

Get everyone impacted involved in a managed way and get the right people around the table early to make decisions. Involving people outside the core project team in different phases of the project is a powerful technique. For example, bring business teams into the training and testing processes early.

If you think that projects can be left to support teams alone then think again. Use fee earner time efficiently and effectively so as not to waste it later. A good change manager knows how to engage all stakeholders appropriately using effective communications for a legal audience and without wasting people's time and. Getting the right business sponsorship is also key and not only from support functions.

Culture and Project Landscape

Take account of the firm’s culture when planning and executing change but also balance what you are doing in the context of the wider firm’s portfolio of activity. Too much change at once can compromise impact and cause fatigue.

Plan for Sustained Change and Actively Recognize and Surface Resistance

Build networks of people and teams to support the project through implementation and beyond go-live. Built early, those networks can be used in various ways and as the help on the ground. Don’t ignore negative feedback or resistance: captured early, this is valuable and allows you to prepare to mitigate any risks to success.

Regularly Assess the Business Readiness for Change

Establish mechanisms to measure readiness, gain input and feedback along the way, and provide various levels of support for different audiences.

Training Isn’t Something You Do Just Before Go-live and Isn’t Just about Pressing New Buttons

Training and education should happen along the way in various guises and be a function integrated into the project team. The training process should also involve the right subject matter expertise to deliver full training that prepares people from a system, process, and policy understanding.

Adoption and Change Activity Doesn’t End at Go-live

Much of what you have done during the project should be embedding new ways of working that will continue beyond go-live. Projects are rarely perfect, and the good work needs to continue. Good structures and approaches set before and during a project should evolve beyond it. Putting in a new platform can be a huge effort, but firms should not stop there. Rather, they should look to continue the change process beyond go-live in smaller and iterative ways to maintain a process of continuous improvement.

Final Thoughts

Implementation success is dependent on many elements, but getting your people ready for the implementation and the changes it brings is vital. Change management activities are so often neglected, done badly, or are an after-thought. We have all seen projects fail to deliver expected results. There is much research that shows that projects are significantly more likely to meet objectives if there is a managed approach to change. Failing to dedicate time and resource early to manage the change in a project becomes a false economy and results in reduced or lost delivery of business benefits. But when integrated into a well-run project, then getting adoption together with the desired business benefits is significantly more achievable. 


Pinnacle focuses exclusively on providing 3E consulting services to law firms throughout the systems implementation lifecycle. Pinnacle consistently has a positive impact on project outcomes. Services offered include implementation and process consulting, data conversion/balancing, and development/customization. Click here for more information.

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