Lost in Transition?

2014-10-22

Vision, strategy, plans, and projects are all important parts of organizational life. These and other aspects of leading all focus on moving the organization from where it is today to some desired future state. Thus, an inherent element of leading is change. You and your organization cannot stay the same because the environment, and your competitors, are all in the process of change. Of course, we all know this. I am not stating anything that you did not already know. However, something I’ve noticed is that while we are all used to an endless stream of projects designed to help people and organizations move into the future, many of these projects are not effectively implemented and many even fail. Why?

I believe the answer is largely due to not properly helping the organization prepare for and accept the new project. The issue is not implementation (although that is important). The issue is transition.

Imagine someone asking you to label the major phases of implementing a project. Your list will probably look something like this:

  • Project definition of needs and strategy
  • Project design
  • Project testing and implementation
  • Ongoing monitoring and improvement

That’s pretty typical and I see projects being implemented in this fashion all the time. How often, though, do you find in the implementation and ongoing monitoring phases that existing systems and people were not fully prepared for effective integration of the new project? In people, this shows up as pushback, frustration, and poor performance with the new systems. In systems, we discover incompatibilities between the systems that can corrupt data or even produce faulty product.

So what’s a better approach?

Recently, when conducting research for a separate project, I ran across something that my friends in information technology leadership are already very familiar with. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library, or ITIL, is a set of procedures, processes, checklists, and other tools, for the purpose of aligning and integrating technology with business needs.1 Any organization can use these tools as they are not organization specific. In fact, I propose that the model can be used in a non-IT setting and non-IT projects.

What I found so intriguing about the ITIL model is that it makes explicit recognition of the importance of transition, which is what I believe to be an important element of successful project implementation.

The five phases of the ITIL model are strategy, design, transition, operation, and improvement. Here is a brief description of each.

Strategy

Who is this project or change initiative for? What will be offered and why? How does it serve the organizational mission? How does it support the values and vision? How does it meet the needs of the people it is intended to serve? Strategy is the important link between an organization’s vision and mission with daily action and decision making.

Design

A project’s design must address stakeholder expectations in a cost-effective manner. Design also considers issues such as tools and resources for implementation as well as methods for monitoring effectiveness and success.

Transition

The transition phase involves implementation, but the emphasis is on transition. It is important to prepare people and existing processes to effectively integrate new systems. Pilot testing is often an effective way to help people through transition and it serves as a means to verify design as well.

Operation

Once the project has been implemented, there must be a plan for ongoing management and oversight. Consideration should also be made for system failures and emergencies.

Improvement

An element of the previous operation phase is to monitor how well the system works. That data will yield ideas for improvement as well as entirely new projects. Continuous improvement is an important element of any organization that wants to remain competitive and continue to succeed in its mission and vision.

The model is very straightforward. My brief descriptions do not do it justice, so I encourage you to look for more information on this approach. My goal today, though, is to emphasize the importance of transition.

Think about the project you most recently completed. Consider the projects currently on your desk. Has the issue of transition even been addressed? Have you taken time to consider how what you are proposing to do will impact people’s daily work? Have you considered the changes that will be required in existing systems and how that will affect people’s work? Most importantly, have you taken time to get their input?

If you carefully consider the issue of transition, you will have better buy-in, more complete solutions, faster implementation, and better outcomes for people and the entire organization.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Credits
Photo “Morning, Noon, and Night” by Bob Vonderau. Available at Flickr.com.

Notes:
1: For a short white paper on the basics if ITIL, goto http://www.best-management-practice.com/gempdf/ITIL_The_Basics.pdf

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