PDM and Change Management


The Change Leader

A change leader receives authority and responsibility to make changes from their manager. For a major change project, such as enterprise-wide reengineering of the product development process and the introduction of enterprise-wide PDM, authority and responsibility is received from top management.

As change projects are never easy, change leaders should be selected with care. Among typical characteristics for a good change leader are the following.

An ability to work with a wide range of people. The change team itself will include people from many functions and at many levels. People from many levels and functions of the company will need to be consulted and worked with during the change process.

Good communication skills. The change leader will need to be able to communicate effectively with top management, the change project team, and people in all functions that participate in the product development process. The change leader has to communicate goals and targets from top management to the project team, and take responsibility for coordinating people from many functions.

A good understanding of why change is necessary. Although this may seem obvious it is surprising how many project leaders turn out to be smooth talkers with only a superficial understanding of the need for change. Unfortunately for many of them the result is that they are removed from their position when progress begins to slow.

Sufficient resources (people, money, time) to make change happen. Again this would seem obvious but many a good project leader will fail because the necessary resources are not available.

Able to take and tolerate risk. Almost by definition, change projects involve a lot of risk. People who have been successful project leaders for traditional projects may be unable to change their behavior and take the risk of stepping into uncharted waters. Instead they may, perhaps unconsciously, turn away from risk-bearing activities. In doing so they may turn away from potential opportunities, and condemn the project to failure.

Able to delegate. It's not the role of the change leader to carry out all the changes, but to make sure the changes occur. Project leaders who have always been hands-on may find it difficult to find the right balance between leadership and involvement in details.

Able to listen to what other people are saying. Change will not occur if the change leader only tells other people what to do. Everyone has to have the opportunity to communicate their ideas, exchange thoughts and build up their own logic for supporting change. The change leader has to be able to stop talking and start listening.

Able to respond to what people are saying, and to communicate clearly, correctly and concisely. Change is difficult enough to understand when it is communicated clearly, correctly and concisely. If the change leader is long-winded, woolly and prone to making mistakes, then no one is going to understand the proposed changes. There is a danger in change projects of communicating different things to different people. Often this is done to avoid communicating to a person or a group something that can be expected to be rejected. However, in the long-term it's an approach that is doomed to failure. Eventually, people will find out what is happening, they will rebel against the change leader who has been dissimulating (i.e. lying) and they will dig their heels in and reject the proposed change.

Good sales skills. The change leader will have to sell the need for analysis and change to some cynical, worried, inflexible and apathetic functional managers, and to sell the results of the analysis to top managers, functional managers, and users of engineering information.

Good analytical and conceptual skills. The change leader will need to be able to think in a well-structured way to handle all the information that is collected, but also be open to change, and be able to think laterally about the way information will be used in the future, for example after process reengineering.

Be skilled in problem-solving techniques. A change project will throw up all sorts of problems and the most appropriate way will have to be found to solve each one. Some may be answered by individuals, some by groups, some in traditional meetings, some by brainstorming, some by questionnaires, etc.

Be an able and willing coach. Many people will have little idea of the entire scope of the change project and will look to the change leader for guidance.

Be a good builder of team effectiveness. It's easy to bring a few people together and say they are a team. It's much more difficult to get them to work together as an effective team.

Be able to keep track of progress. Many things will be happening simultaneously in a change project and the change leader needs to have them all under control.

Be able to maintain focus in a changing environment. Many new ideas arise in a change project. The change leader needs to be able to integrate good ideas into the project without losing sight of the original objective.

Be interested in the company and in change. The change leader should be deeply interested in finding out how things work today, and how they could work better in the future.

Good knowledge of the product development and support activities of the company. Practical experience of the way the company works will make the job much easier for the change leader.

Be thick-skinned. The change leader will probably face hostility from many people. There will be hostility from some functional managers who don't want anyone interfering on their turf, from users who just want to be left alone, from top managers who are not prepared to make unpopular, yet necessary, changes and from many people who are just averse to change.

Be credible. The change leader needs a sufficiently wide range of experience, and an action-oriented and relatively unblemished reputation in the company.

Be optimistic, positive and success-oriented. At times a change project will seem tedious, never-ending and unlikely to succeed. At such times, the change leader must find the will to keep moving forward, motivate the team, and meet the objectives.

An ability to present the results of the team's work in a way that is easy for others to understand and allows them to criticize the work in a positive way and to suggest improvements.

Able to behave in the project as if change has already occurred. The change leader shouldn't behave in the change project with all the bad habits that characterized the old environment (turf wars, lying, scoring points off fellow team members, dividing to rule, etc.). If people see their change leaders haven't even managed to change their own behavior they are not going to believe that the change leaders are going to be able to change anyone else's behavior.

Be able to stay with the change project. The change leader should stay with the change project from beginning to end. Changing change leaders in mid-project is even more risky than changing horses in mid-stream. It's difficult for new change leaders, taking over during a project, to make up for lost time. This is not a question of not having time to read all the documentation, but of not being aware of all those apparently unimportant, but actually crucial, events that occurred but were not documented.

Be able to go back to top management for guidance or to stop the project. The change leader has the authority and the responsibility to make changes happen. If however, it appears that changes are not happening quickly enough, or are being opposed by particular interest groups, the change leader should be able to go back to top management for support.

So how does your change leader rate on the above points? Maybe you should read them through again and see where he or she is doing well and where there's an opportunity for improvement. Don't be too hard on them if they don't score full marks. It's really difficult to be a change leader, and there are very few good ones. With time though, the situation will change. Change leaders will analyze their own behavior, identify the weaknesses and take the corresponding steps to improve.

Home | Top of page | Front of PDM and Change Management section

Page last modified on March 16, 2000
Copyright 1999, 2000 by John Stark