A Time for Everything

Jul 09, 2011 No Comments by

Most change initiatives would benefit more from good OCM techniques that are diligently carried out than they would from perfect OCM techniques that are haphazardly executed.

In my last post, I described how Change Agents should consider adopting a few practices used by Project Managers as they plan and execute their work.  I’ve been both an Organizational Change Leader and a PM for many years and my client work relies strongly on integrating these two fields of discipline.

In my last article, I introduced four steps in the PM process that Change Agents should follow and went into detail about the first step of defining and managing the activities needed to execute the work of guiding change.

Today I’ll get into how Change Agents can build a realistic schedule for the activities of their change project. I recommend these four steps for this part of the planning process:

  1. Sequence the activities
  2. Verify dependencies
  3. Estimate durations
  4. Sanity check & integrate the change work with overall plans

1. Sequence the Activities: Look for which activities depend upon others and string those together first. The most obvious chains of dependency are rather self-evident and look like this example that’s expressed in outline form:

Process Change Training Activities:

a.     Identify process changes by business role
b.     Design training curriculum for process changes
c.     Develop training materials for process changes
d.     Schedule process change training
e.     Deliver process change training
f.     Measure effectiveness of process change training
g.     Close any gaps in process change training
h.     Process change training complete

Once you have laid these chains of activities out, it’s time to look for outliers and dependencies that go beyond the obvious change work.

2. Verify Dependencies: I’ll offer a couple notes of caution regarding the previous sequencing step: many dependencies are not self-evident and many more are not within the control of the Change Agent.

PM’s call these internal and external dependencies and they need to be considered as you string together your lists of activities. An internal example might be:

…if the training program will be outsourced, how much lead time will be needed by the contracting department?

Other external considerations are resource dependencies and business cycle dependencies that are not necessarily a direct part of your project. Here’s a common resource constraint:

…a key person whose involvement will be needed is not available to the project at the time you originally planned to engage them, so their activities need to be moved.

Change Agents must also take into consideration the strategic context within which their change is being rolled out. Here are a couple questions I routinely ask based on past experience with change initiatives:

Does my project need to avoid the busiest parts of the organization’s annual business activity cycle? If so, what are the busiest times?  What particular departments need to be left alone during what times?

Does our team need access to the organization’s financial processes during a time when they are shut down for year-end closing? (…this dependency is surprisingly common with big tech / business system changes)

Every organization has a natural set of business cycles – even if it is not initially evident. For a good example of how you may need to account for business cycle dependencies, read my post from earlier this year on how online coffee retailer Shoffee.com rolled out a big business process change during one of their busiest times of the year:http://thebigrocks.com/shoffee/

3. Estimate Durations: Next, Change Agents should verify how long each activity in their plan is estimated to take.  The best person to provide these estimates is typically the person who will do the work, but avoid allowing each estimate to be based solely on only one person’s opinion.

There are several detailed methods for deriving estimates, but the most common approaches involve applying the previous experience of an expert who has done the exact same task. For example, a corporate communications director can tell you how much time it takes to draft a global message to all employees, review it with the necessary managers and get it released through the appropriate channels – because they’ve probably done it before and it’s within their area of expertise.

Experienced Project Managers know that sandbagging estimates is almost as common as not giving estimates at all…

Note that the reliability of an estimate erodes if the person doing the estimate has never done the task before, or the person doing the task has less than an expert skill level with that specific type of work. Consider having all estimates reviewed by at least one other person. PM’s sometimes call this technique a “peer review of estimates”. This approach tends to flush out the practice of “sandbagging“, in which estimators routinely overstate how long each task should take in order to give themselves more time than is actually needed to get the work done.

A final rule of thumb regarding estimates is that it’s better to adjust the time line expectations before a plan is published than to ask for forgiveness mid-project when the schedule starts slipping.

4. Sanity-Check & Integrate:  Your initial schedule will start to take shape as your activities are sequenced and the durations are plugged in. Once this is done, it’s a good idea to review the overall schedule with a few key stakeholders.

If your change activities are part of a larger initiative, engage the Project Manager for that project.  Consider reviewing your schedule with sponsors, managers of the impacted departments, the people who provided activity descriptions as well as vendors.

In each case, make sure they look for schedule risks with respect to their other routine work and project tasks.  Look for areas where resource overload might indicate a need to spread the work out or engage additional resources. Make sure any “black out dates” that are driven by external factors are accounted for within your plan.

Bring it all together: Work with the PM and the team to get the change-related work accounted for in the overall plan.

Once this review is complete, work with the PM to integrate the change-related work directly into the overall project plan.  (I have found that it’s typically best to have a single integrated project plan rather than separate plans for the change work, the technical work, etc.) This integration may highlight a few more dependency adjustments, so circle back with the responsible parties as needed.

Summary: Deriving a realistic schedule for change-related work can be a daunting task, but Change Agents can borrow a few proven techniques from the discipline of project management to get things under control.

A little diligence during the planning stages can save you a lot of grief downstream. In my final article in this series, I will address how Change Agents need to account for resources and access as a part of their planning.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. Have you experienced a change that had very poor planning?  How did this impact your ability to get things done as a Change Agent?
  2. In addition to the ones I’ve listed, what other internal and external dependencies might need to be considered?

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