Why change management is essential to digital transformation projects [Q&A]

digital transformation

Digital transformation is currently an attractive option for many businesses. But to make it work it needs to be effectively managed.

We spoke to Nital Hooper, senior manager consulting at consultancy company Servita to find out about the importance of change management to successful digital transformation.

BN: Can you achieve transformation without change management?

NH: As Sinatra would say, 'you can't have one without the other'. Change management, often seen as the fluffy part of transformation, is the love to the marriage of vision, strategy and IT. Usually we see no investment in change management, or when we do, it’s embraced half-heartedly. Change is a full-time job.

However, unless it's incorporated and understood, it won't work. The transformation project will suffer – from delays and rising costs due to competing priorities and a lack of employee and leadership belief from the very start. People affected by the change must have the belief and the buy-in of the plan, benefits and the organizational vision.

BN: Who is ultimately responsible for change management?

NH: Project managers manage stakeholders. That's their job. So, surely this problem is theirs and theirs alone? Having witnessed how this impacts overall project quality and speed, I would argue that the responsibility is much wider -- that it needs to extend beyond the immediate line of reporting. Change management needs a much broader, wider picture.

BN: Who else in the business should be involved outside of change managers?

NH: Change management should be a recognized chunk of work for any IT project and program, without inhibiting project managers and delivery people. Effectively what you want is one team to initiate, define, deliver and conclude successful transformations that ensure business benefits are achieved as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Transformation will always impact business as usual (BAU) and vice versa; this is where I often find a weakness (regardless of which side is responsible) but I do believe the communication and impacts should be realised upfront between Ops and Transformation.

BN: Where is change and transformation being delivered well?

NH: In the UK, we are actually pretty good at recognizing CM -- I have worked with big clients that understood it’s necessity at the very start of the project. In those cases, the projects have flourished because projects work well when people know what is expected of them. Problems will always arise when the change is not properly consulted and defined.

For example, back in 2011 the public accounts committee said the Firecontrol scheme, a project to set up nine regional control centers for fire and rescue services in England, had not achieved any of its objectives and that eight of the centres were empty 'white elephants'. The project was deemed a 'complete failure' and wasted £469m, MPs say. A total lack of stakeholder consultation was considered as the key reason for the failure.

Often communication is centered on what the transformation will do. There is very little of “what this means to you”. It’s understandable. Change is often not thought about in terms of opportunity, but in terms of fear. That’s a basic human reaction. But we need to think of it as the former, and senior management within large organizations need to communicate that effectively.

We need the support of everyone within the business to see a complex, large-scale or high value business transformation program to its fruition. You cannot lose out on the motivation and productivity of your team because you haven’t effectively addressed concerns with the 'what this means to you' question. Chaos interferes with the IT project being delivered. You need those people on board, working towards the end goal.

BN: What needs to happen to make change and transformation work?

NH: For the industry, I want to see CM incorporated into the scope of the project from the beginning. Communicate it well, and you can unlock the benefits of shared ideas and joint working to enable quicker, better and more cost-effective outcomes, ultimately achieving the transformational vision you started with.

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