They are making us do it

Rebellion! - Forced feeding - Suffrage SeriesPeople don't like change, right?  Via Twitter, I came across Richard Veryard's article on Why New Systems Don't Work.  It seems to be part of a larger discussion, but it's a beautiful example of where the focus on the software brings you a failure.

In many organizations, I agree that individuals can't openly rebel or resist the official adoption of some corporate system such as ERP. However, despite the absence of visible resistance, the organization somehow frustrates the purposes of the ERP system.

How does this happen? Over-[simplifying] enormously, let's say the business case (top-down purpose) of adopting ERP across the organization is based on the cost-saving from eliminating surplus stock. But local managers like to have surplus stock, because it gives them more flexibility to achieve their targets. So we can observe the local managers diligently complying with the demands on the ERP system, and yet for some mysterious reason the surplus stock doesn't disappear. In other words, people whose departmental interests may be slightly at odds with the overall corporate interest, or who may feel their autonomy challenged by a centralized ERP system, may somehow manage to mislead the ERP system in order to preserve their local surpluses.

This is exactly what I would expect to see in organizations where the reason for installing new software is that "they are making us do it."  Unless the software is insanely better than the way things work today, there is about 0.5 percent chance that it will be readily adopted by the people affected in this way. 

Interestingly, one of the things I have noticed in our implementations is that people tend to focus on the software, even if that isn't the primary driver behind the change.  This is such a strong reminder that the reasoning and thinking behind the change needs to be reinforced and repeated over and over throughout the course of the project - and beyond.  What is the goal of the project?  What is the expected (positive) impact on the people?  Are you getting that impact?  Are you seeing some other (negative) impact?  Was it expected?  Can it be mitigated?

Good stuff, and as the comments of Veryard's article indicate, the implementation has to pay attention to the entire eco-system of the organization, not just one element.

People don't like change, right?  That is only true when the change is something they aren't invested in. 

Happy New Year all!  I don't expect to be posting much over the next couple of weeks. 

[Photo "Rebellion! - Forced feeding - Suffrage Series" by scrappy annie.]

5 Comment(s)

Thanks for your comment about my blog. You are right that this is part of a longer discussion - on next practice and lenscraft (the use of multiple lenses for systems thinking) - on Linked-In and elsewhere. Please join the Linked-In Lenscraft group.

I just want to add a small twist to your remark about the software being "insanely better than the way things work today". The question we generally need to ask is - better for whom? Many system designers seem to think this question doesn't matter, or is somebody else's problem.

Thanks, Richard. You might have guessed from my tone of "insanely" that I was trying to be extreme. You've got it right though - it might be great for Jane, but Joe hates it. In which case, Joe will obstruct, either directly or with the subterfuge you have mentioned. Fun. Changes need to be understood by everyone expected to participate, not just the people doing the implementation.

Chris Bird said:

Ahh, yes. It must be insanely better for someone/something. Sometimes it is hard to see what.

HR systems (and associated things like expense reporting systems) are great examples - and examples of how if you apply POSIWID thinking you get to an interesting conclusion.

One might (naively) think that HR systems are to make life easier for the employees. Nothing could be further from the truth. HR systems benefitthe HR staff - even though the majority of users are not HR staff.

At my emplyer we changed expense reporting systems recently. The new system was trumpeted as the "SAP Expense Reporting Tool". No mention of why having the SAP name it would be better for we users. I have no idea why it exists. It is so bad that I would rather pay out of pocket for small items than have to fire up the damned tool! Maybe that's its real purpose. Like when I was a kid - do the job so badly that someone (mum) would clean up and never ask me to do it again.

"The new SAP reporting tool will save us lots of money. It provides for more accurate accounting - by annoying users so much that they won't enter their expenses at all" Now there's a winning statement

You say "Changes need to be understood by everyone expected to participate". However, some people believe that the only cause of resistance or sabotage is misunderstanding - if only people fully understood the change, then they would enthusiastically embrace and support it.

Our discussion indicates that we both regard this belief as simplistic and naive. Your word "insanity" reflects the psychotic nature of many organizations.

Chris Bird is right, and very few of the software systems hoisted on workers make their lives either more productive or more pleasant. The best implementation depends strongly on the current maturity of the overall corporate culture, and the management cultures of the affected groups. This takes a seeing multiple perspectives which I have seen very few implementation "experts" know how to do.

And it's not just whether a system will benefit you. People will resist systems that will drastically increase even their pay if their decision system doesn't support seeing it.

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