Audience message boards
a tool for change management and communications
A Tool for Change Management and Communications
by Bob Cook
COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT is one of the major challenges faced by project teams. And for those projects in which the product of the project is a new or revised process system that the project team will have to convince someone to use, change management is just as crucial. Whether your product is a new accounting system, a computerized maintenance management system, an enterprise resource planning system, a new project management software tool, or even a revised project management methodology; if you can't get your customer to embrace change and use the product of your project, you will have failed. so if you aren't managing change, you aren't managing risk, either.
One tool that can help you with the project management processes of communications planning, information distribution and risk response development is the Audience Message Board. Using this tool can help you to communicate effectively with your customers and thereby significantly reduce the risk of their not accepting and using your project's product. it also makes the task and process of change management clear within a team.
What is Change Management? According to the Department of Defense Joint Logistics Systems Center's (JLSC) Change Management Plan [JLSC/DMD, 30 June 1994], change management is a disciplined approach, with structured procedures, diagnostic tools and a set of comprehensive techniques used to:
Assess the level of organizational support for, or resistance to, change
Identify and decrease the barriers and increase the acceptance of change
Create an environment conducive to accepting change.
Bob Cook is a project manager for a technology services company. He is a founding member of the Tucson, Arizona, PMI Chapter. Bob recently received his master's in project management and intends to pursue PMP certification.
Description of Change Agents, Their Roles and Responsibilities
Exhibit 1. Change agents play many roles in investigating, guiding or implementing change. This roles/responsibilities matrix from the Department of Defense Joint Logistics Systems Center Change Management Plan [JLSC/DMD, 30 June 1994] spells out these roles in detail.
Why is Change Management Needed? in a few words: to reduce risk. Remember, if we can't get our customer to accept and use our project's product, we will have failed. Change management can be employed when any change is being undertaken, but major changes especially require it. According to the JLSC, major change exists when two criteria are met: there is a high cost if the change fails and a high probability that certain human factors may inhibit successful implementation of the change. Unfortunately, that probability is always high, because the No. 1 impediment to change in any organization is human nature. We all resist change, sometimes even when that change may be beneficial.
Thus we need to employ change management when we want to gain support and a strong commitment for change. A major part of change management consists of promoting the acceptance of change culturally as well as organizationally. The goal of change management is to create an environment that will be conducive to and supportive of the change we're trying to achieve. We can create the desired environment via change agents.
Change Agents. Change management requires continuous communication and feedback between all stakeholders involved in the change process. That means we've got to explicitly identify our stakeholders and define their roles and responsibilities in the change process. We have already defined our project's product to be one that would require significant change by the users of the product. For change management purposes we'll call all stakeholders “change agents.” Change agents’ responsibilities include communicating the change and generating support for the change. A more detailed description of the change agents’ role is contained in Exhibit 1.
What is an Audience Message Board? once we've gotten an idea who our change agents are, we can begin constructing an Audience Message Board—a document that identifies change agents by name, identifies their roles, and identifies the specific actions/responsibilities required of them. That is, it provides a highly visible tool for identifying and documenting specific actions that must be taken by specific individuals on specific dates. That's the power of the tool—its specificity. It outlines who needs to do what with regard to whom, and when. It's as simple as that. Generally, identifying the stakeholders and assigning them a role is pretty straightforward. Go with a consensus; it doesn't really matter if you don't identify the correct roles people will play on the first try. Eventually roles will become clear. The difficulty arises in getting a senior enough cadre of stakeholders together and conducting an informal, perhaps anecdotal, yet realistic, assessment of all the players. Depending on how widely used this document will be—whether it's used as a limited-access “thinking tool” for a small core team, or posted on the company intranet for all concerned to plug in their opinions and feelings—the issues and comments can range from the very candid (“Bill opposes any change that he did not propose; it will take top management intervention to get his cooperation” or “Since you asked me to post what I think of this, I will. I think the whole idea is a waste of time”) to the politically correct.
Sample Audience Message Board
Exhibit 2. In most organizations, an audience message board would be used within a team to focus their influencing activities, which is how the example shown here is framed. Of course, depending on the organizational culture, other types of usage are possible, including open posting on an intranet with all parties able to express their own views, whether of support, concern or opposition.
Remember that the purpose of the message board is to identify all stakeholders whose support, cooperation, and/or coordination are important to the success of your project, and to identify specific actions that can be taken to ensure that support, cooperation or coordination.
Penultimate Words: Consequence Management! What does the project manager or project sponsor do about those few individuals who actively oppose the change? The best answer to this question can be found in Exhibit 2. In the actions to be taken by Greg and Ralph (the sponsor and sustaining sponsor, respectively) relative to Joe. In any major change effort, you will always find at least one “Joe” in the organization. If Joe is in a position of power, he must be dealt with decisively, and early, or he will almost certainly cause the project to fail. John I? Kotter, in his book Leading Change [Harvard Business School Press, 1996], notes that “executives often express regret that they didn't confront problem managers sooner in the (change) process.” Kotter goes on to say: “If I've heard it once I've heard it a hundred times: ‘I should have dealt with Hal/George/Irene/ [Joe] much earlier.’” On the positive side of the ledger, if you've got someone who has enthusiastically embraced the change, formally acknowledge that fact. See the action planned by Ralph for Roy (the last change agent in the list). In the change management business, if change agents’ actions don't have consequences you will quickly find yourself trying to herd worms.
COMMUNICATIONS AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT frequently present a major challenge to a project manager. In fact, the project manager's ability to effectively manage change will often determine whether or not the project is a success or failure. The Audience Message Board is a tool the project manager can use to help manage both communications and change. Its use won't guarantee success, but not using it, or something like it which will accomplish the same goal, will almost certainly increase significantly the risk of project failure.
PM Network March 1999