During a technology initiative, the signs of trouble are not always clear. Team members can be working their hardest to complete their tasks, but somehow the project milestones keep getting delayed or redefined. Rarely do staff want to pull the emergency brake on a project, openly calling attention to major concerns, even if they are frequently discussed in private and impacting costs. (Read about the costs of struggling projects here >>) This is why it’s essential for leadership, managers, and staff to be aware of common warning phrases that can signal trouble is on the horizon for a project.
Obviously, these aren’t the only warning phrases, and team members may not use these exact words. Notice that similar themes underlie these statements, such as short-term resolutions, team disagreements, refusals to contribute, and refusing final responsibility. If you’re hearing these themes during a project, your project may be at higher risk of encountering deeper challenges or even failing.
“We have always done it this way.” This is probably the most common signal that a project is faltering. It’s particularly dangerous because it can be uttered a hundred different ways on a hundred different small decisions and add up to one big waste of time. Resistance to changing how work gets done rarely leads to complete project failure, but regularly leads to lost time and money. Countless technologies have been implemented that result in little-to-no organizational transformation because they end up being used exactly how the old systems were used.
“I don’t have time to participate in planning/requirements/testing. I’ll just learn what I need in training.” In most organizations, there are people who specialize in back office and operations support and there are people whose work is focused on relationship-building or service delivery. It is not uncommon for people in the second group to find the introduction of new systems as a hindrance to their work instead of a benefit. Have you ever put off getting a new phone or computer because you know it’s going to take you longer to get stuff done at first or because it’s simply annoying to have to get everything set up the way you like it? This is like that, but on a larger, more costly scale. Sometimes, it’s also a sign of fundamental misunderstanding about how new technology is supposed to help them. Either way, it’s a big problem for the project because planning solutions without input from end users is a sure way to find out it doesn’t do what they need.
“This shouldn’t be so hard.” This is one that often comes up during testing. It’s close cousin – “This used to be easier” – is probably muttered hundreds of times in the weeks following any launch. Sometimes this just means that the person is not yet used to the new process. But other times, it’s a more ominous sign that people expected things to be different than they are. It is not uncommon for people to assume that technology’s sole purpose is to make our lives easier, when in fact, most of today’s CRM systems allow us to engage with our constituents in more effective and impactful ways, but not every step will be simpler.
If you start to recognize these phrases and themes during your project, don’t worry, all is not lost and your project is not doomed to failure. As long as you don’t ignore them, you can get back on the path toward success. When you identify the root causes of your team’s concerns and address those issues directly, things can often get back on track. You may be surprised to find the main issues could stem from easily identified and resolved sources of resistance. Inconsistent communication, unclear goals, and fear of the unknown can build up during a chaotic and challenging initiative, but can be successfully resolved when identified and addressed in an open and timely manner.
Project management industry studies reveal that more than half of project resistance could be avoided using effective change management strategies. If you feel your initiative is at risk, Heller’s certified change management specialists are skilled in identifying and reducing project resistance that arises before, during and after implementations. Since each organization, and each change initiative, is unique, Heller offers a variety of change management services to ensure your organization successfully achieves your technology vision. Our services have clearly defined deliverables tailored specifically for nonprofits, and are coordinated to match your project phases. We can join your in-progress initiative to advise and realign teams that are showing signs of resistance and increasing risk.