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The Straight Poop on Implementations

Toilet_monsterIf you've been reading my blog over at Carpe Factum for any length of time, you'll know that in our house, we've been in the process of potty training a toddler.  Well, this week we began the official "cutover" implementation from pull-ups to underwear.  We're all holding our breath, but so far all of the training, reading, discussions and practicing appear to be working fine.  There has been minimal backsliding.

I started thinking about the parallels between potty training and project implementations.  Essentially, both involve weaning people from one (generally comfortable and probably low maintenance) way of doing things to a new, uncertain, and uncomfortable set of processes.  Nobody is immune from going through this.  I even ran across a church blog that is dealing with this issue.  In describing their issues, Chris writes:

"Boy, it’s a lot more convoluted than i thought it was going to be. Mostly we’re going to have to sandbox each ministry and see if we’re going to be able to really use it the way that we want to. We bought it about 3 months ago, and we’re realizing now that a straight cut over is basically impossible. We visited Rolling Hills church and talked to their implementations manager there, and got the scoop on all of the problems that they were having, what they worked through, and a list of improvements that need to be made."

See?  When implementing a project, nobody - even those doing the work of a Higher Power - is immune from the pain of cutting over from one thing to another.  But watching my daughter go through this process has been especially telling.  Here are my lessons learned on implementations:

  • Prepare your stakeholders:  We began reading stories about potty training to my daughter a year ago, and put the toilet seat in the bathroom so she would begin to get familiar with it.  Don't leave the change targets hanging until the last second.  Advertise your project and what it will do for them.
  • Make it a priority:  We're busy people in our house.  Potty training could have been a "whenever she's ready it will happen" mindset.  We inadvertently take that approach in organizations also.  As Paul Williams writes in the Think for a Change blog"Executives fear successful innovation programs because they look at their already overworked resource pool and wonder how in the world they are going to add more projects to the mix, even if they look extremely promising.  This fear leads to risk avoidance which then leads to either complete inaction or very slow action."
  • Train and test:  We gave our daughter demonstrations with her dolls about what to do.  We've let her see for herself what it will be like.  Your stakeholders would probably like the chance to pound on the new software or see what your latest product will be or know what the post-merger org chart looks like.  Give them hands-on experience... BEFORE they need it.
  • Accidents will happen:  We all have those oops moments.  We never get upset with our daughter, regardless of how inopportune the time is when the accident occurs.  We comfort her and let her know it's OK.  Nothing will kill a new organizational initiative faster than punishing those who find problems with it.  Debugging and solving problems should be praised.
  • Relevant Rewards:  In the end, it was all about my daughter's timing and finding the right thing to motivate her.  In her case, two of her friends beat her to potty training and were promoted to the next level classroom at daycare.  My daughter hates being left out.  You have to find the right motivational carrot to dangle in front of your change targets without letting them know you're dangling a motivational carrot.  But make it something worth while that will make them care about this initiative.

So, remember as you approach your implementation date:  you're potty training your organization.  Are you ready to handle it?

Carpe Factum!

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