Seamless transitions

managing change on difficult projects



Organizational change can be traumatic by its very nature: Some individuals respond well; many others resist. However, market leaders depend on their capacity to change behaviors, skills, structures and processes. In addition to time, patience, persistence and upper management support, a change management process is an indispensable project management tool.

Caja Granada, a banking company with offices throughout southern Spain, needed to implement new banking technology. For the new equipment to be successful, stakeholders, including Caja Granada's staff and customers, had to agree to use the technology. Hewlett-Packard (HP) Consulting, Madrid, Spain, was chosen to lead organizational acceptance through project management skills and processes.


Spanish banking firm Caja Granada relied on an external consultant to lead organizational acceptance of a technology implementation.

Setting the Stage

In 1997, after 10 years of stability and prosperity, Caja Granada was under tremendous competitive pressure. Even though the company's customers were satisfied with old banking systems and methods, Y2K forced all financial entities to be prepared for disaster, meaning they had to update or create processes, train people and upgrade, or change technology altogether. If the firm did not adapt, other banking companies would.

Caja Granada chose to implement new technology. “Alhambra,” an internal information systems (IS) strategic project that consisted of functional and technological innovations, answered the company's market and environmental needs. It was fairly easy to demonstrate how the system worked—one dedicated team member started one machine to demonstrate—but gaining organizational buy-in would be more complicated. The HP project team had to work with the firm to understand all project stakeholders and their behaviors to truly transform the company.

A consultant has success at a large Spanish bank showing project managers how to break through the status quo to achieve organizational buy-in


A consultant has success at a large Spanish bank showing project managers how to break through the status quo to achieve organizational buy-in.


The Alhambra, a palace in the mountains overlooking Granada, Spain, served as inspiration for Caja Granada's internal IS upgrade. The site is named for the red color of the mountain on which it is built.


Tough Going

Clear communication and intimacy with bank managers were critical success factors. The Alhambra project was clearly linked to the bank's overall customer strategy, and that connection proved very helpful throughout the project. By implementing an evolved information system (from mainframe to open systems), the bank could answer its business and market needs, generating competitive advantages, increasing the quality of customer service, and keeping an efficient cost and profitability framework. Upper management knew it was a high priority.


Hewlett-Packard credits five overall factors in Caja Granada's change project success:

  • Upper management sponsorship
  • A link between the project and the corporate strategy
  • A quality management plan
  • Communication planning and deployment
  • Encouragement of the end user.

HP's corporate project management initiative (a form of project office) had summarized a process for leading change. To gain support and minimize impact on the customer, the team worked to identify key players, develop an implementation plan, understand reactions to change, and lead the change process.

Who's Who

Identifying and analyzing all the critical players in the organization took more than two months. Periodic meetings were held to involve and inform staff about the project's status. In addition, the HP team leader was available on a daily basis to facilitate information flow and communication among team members.

The HP model establishes key players:

  • Advocates are people who want change but do not have the organizational power to sponsor it themselves. In this project, the advocates were the IT management and the Quality Management teams.
  • Sponsors are people who have authority to commit and demonstrate a continuous commitment to the change. For this project, it was the information systems manager reporting directly to the Bank Executive Council.
  • Agents are people who assess and develop the ability to be effective relative to characteristics such as competence, credibility, trustworthiness, willingness, availability, tolerance to ambiguity, and proactiveness. For this project, the team leader and customer's project manager played that role.
  • Targets are those who must change.

Planning a New Reality

First, the HP team identified the milestone events necessary to guarantee change and to define the value of the transformation. HP involved all team leaders early in the planning phase, and every team leader was responsible for a different functional area.

HP had to analyze the gap between the old system and its applications and the new one. Considering the possible impacts and contingencies in terms of process, people and technology, the HP team developed a plan for implementing the change. The plan also had to account for the changes in processes, systems, people and the organization.

To facilitate change, HP Consulting shared the plan and its rationale with Caja Granada upper management to convince them of the plan's effectiveness. Next, HP sought approval for the implementation plan from the project sponsor, and the team leader got consensus from the steering committee as well as the other stakeholders in the organization.

Predictable Reactions

As expected, the HP team found resistance to change throughout the project life cycle, but resistance diminished with personal communication. Change was imposed by the bank, but HP had to explain the reasons and justifications for that change to each internal group. The team leader had personal meetings with each branch director to clarify project goals and objectives and convince them of the major project benefits for them and for their businesses.

The customer situation was stable in terms of process, people and technology, but the upper managers of the bank knew they couldn't ask for extra effort without any added recognition. Customer management compensated team members through bonuses. According to the roles and responsibilities of each functional team, prizes were awarded for achieving goals identified by each project milestone along the project life cycle.

In the beginning, the branch end users were slow to participate because they felt they were not covered in the initial study. They displayed resistance to imposed change, lack of involvement and a “we tried that already” attitude. To succeed, the team had to recognize the stages that people go through to cope with change—denial, resistance to change, exploration and final commitment—and allow enough time to work with everybody in the organization.

Direct Efforts

Four elements were key to guiding the technology implementation and change effort:

Leadership. Eight functional groups were defined, including different goals for individuals. Team leaders were empowered to participate in most decisions. This allowed the HP team to influence the organization without wielding internal power.

Testing. People were invited to express their reactions to the change along the project timeline. This feedback allowed the team to learn from errors and make improvements.

Recognition. Metrics were established that allowed room for improvement and recognized the efforts and achievement of the team and its leaders.

Follow-Up. Every project is alive and must be monitored. In this case, the follow-up consisted of weekly brief reviews with team leaders, analyzing the results and learning from the real experiences.


Throughout Caja Granada, functional team leaders owned the whole project life cycle and were responsible for talking and meeting with end users, leading software development teams, and managing all tests. Leaders were trained by HP consultants to be prepared for managing and motivating their teams.

Steering Committee members also participated not only in sponsorship tasks but in all communications and dissemination tasks. The members talked to and supported people, boosting morale and recognizing their efforts publicly. To garner organizational support, the HP team used teamwork exercises, roles and responsibilities definitions, which were then published in the planning documents, and change agent training.

Mission Accomplished

Complete buy-in on the Alhambra IS project took six months. Success at Caja Granada can be measured in terms of the process, people and technology.

Defining, modifying and using processes was one of the most difficult parts of the project, but process ownership was key. Step-by-step, each end user adapted behavior to the new system functionality and to the new processes. The level of involvement by end users grew in a positive way over a period of months.

Defining, modifying and using processes was one of the most difficult parts of the project, but process ownership was key.


All software modules in the new application are working, and the customer has a “foundation platform” for building future IS for the new century. Technical results are improved over the old system. Performance is much better, and the system places the customer in a technologically competent position within the financial market. PM


Each phase in Caja Granada's change management effort required attention from the Hewlett-Packard project leader:

  • In initiation and planning, the leader spent 100 percent of time in scope validation and planning (time was spent with the customer's project manager, team leaders and other stakeholders).
  • In execution and control, 75 percent was spent in communication management (with the whole team) overall. Weekly, 40 percent of time was spent in project meetings with team leaders, management and the steering committee with the rest devoted to planning, monitoring and control.

Alfonso Bucero, PMP, is a senior project manager for Hewlett-Packard Consulting (HPC). Based in Madrid, Spain, he travels around Europe to manage projects and train people in project management. He's implemented a project office for HPC and assists a global effort to improve project management across the company.