PDM and Change Management


The difficulty of change

Change is difficult, time-consuming and costly - yet for today's product development organizations it is necessary and offers tremendous potential for improved performance. As they try to respond, many organizations get caught in the trap between fear and greed. They'd like the benefits of change, but they're afraid of failure. So they try for low-cost change, exhorting their managers to do their best. The managers nod their heads in agreement, and then go away and do whatever they were doing before - and change doesn't happen. If you expect a new product to have a significant effect on the organization, you set up a specific project. It's the same with change. If you want a change to have a significant effect on the organization, you have to set up a change project. Change is an activity in its own right. No development activity succeeds on its own, so why should change?

There's almost a physical barrier to overcome before many people can understand that change won't happen unaided. Although they may understand the need for change, they don't seem to be able to respond. Often they don't really accept that change for the organization implies that they personally have to change - and they don't understand that 'change' is an activity in its own right.

Does this have anything to do with PDM? Maybe yes, maybe no. In a particular organization it may be that the implementation of a simple PDM system will result in clear benefits without any major changes being necessary - and everyone will be pleasantly surprised how easy the implementation is. Yet in many cases, things are not so simple. An attempt to introduce a system stagnates because it is linked to changes in processes and working procedures, it calls for new skills and interfaces, and it would change old habits. What appears to be the simple introduction of a great new system gradually becomes a major source of problems.

When most companies are faced with a major development activity they will make sure they have a well-defined objective, clear specifications, a project team, a project manager, a project plan, project phases, test plans, etc. The same approach has to be taken for a major change activity.

For mathematicians, the equation for change is easy to write:
(New state) = (Change matrix) x (Old state)

All that's necessary to solve this equation is to know what is in the three matrices. As this takes more than a few lines, let's just look at some of the implications of the equation. At first sight, it might seem that there is just one 'old state' (also known as the current situation or the 'as-is' situation) and one 'new state' (also known as the 'to-be' situation or the vision).

However there are also an infinite number of intermediate 'new states', for example, the state after one year and the state after two years. Rather than just thinking about 'as-is' and 'to-be' states it's important to think about the intermediate states, because in the real world this is where the change project will spend most of its time.

The intermediate states are continually changing, a bit like shifting quicksands, and are not a very pleasant place to be. Yet this is where people spend most of their time in a change project. Understandably most people don't like it, and they really want to know if there will be any solid rocks to walk on during the change, where they can be found, and just how far away is the solid ground on the other side.

The old and new states can be defined with reference to as many as nine variables depending on how big the change is. The change may affect customers, the product delivered to customers, business structures, processes, functional structures, people, information, techniques and computer systems. A major change project aimed at completely changing the focus of a corporation will address all these variables. Projects of more limited scope will only address some of them.

The contents of the change matrix can be understood by asking questions like 'who carries out the change activities?', 'what are the change activities?', 'when are the change activities carried out?' 'how are they carried out?' The 'who' questions here are asking about the people involved in change. The 'how' questions ask about change activity and its timing.

The people involved in change can be divided into different categories such as leaders, sponsors, agents, champions, accepters, blockers and sleepers.

Leaders, sponsors, agents and champions all try to make change happen. There are never many of them in an organization. Sponsors are the people at the top of the organization who provide the backing for change. They provide resources and time for the change activity.

Sponsors are often senior managers already fully stretched running the business. Often they don't know exactly what change is needed - but know some change is needed - and are prepared to provide the resources. They don't have the time to develop a change plan and make it happen. In some cases, the sponsor may actually know where the change should take the company, in which case the sponsor is also a leader.

Agents are the people lower down the organization who really make the changes happen. Without sponsorship from above, they can't succeed. Champions are very visible and active supporters of change. Leaders and agents may be champions. Sponsors are rarely champions.

The percentage of people who are going to make change happen is very low. Change will happen to the great majority of the organization. Some of them - the accepters - will accept change and do their best to make it succeed. Some - the blockers - will try to prevent change. Others - the sleepers - will neither support nor prevent change.

There are two types of change activity - those that represent the process of change and those that are tools that support change.

The process of change is going to take an organization from its 'as-is' state through a set of intermediate states to its 'to-be' state. To start with, there's an activity of defining the 'to-be' state, the 'vision'. Usually it's also necessary to define the starting position as well, the 'as-is' state. Once the start and end states are defined, a strategy has to be chosen for the way to get from the start state to the end state. And when that is done, the detailed plan of change activities can be developed.

The plan defines in detail what activity will be done at what time, and by whom, with what resources, and it shows the links between activities. On the other hand, the strategy doesn't get into this kind of detail.

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