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From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Value of Walking in Others’ Shoes

Sometimes I hear people saying, ‘Nothing has changed.’ Come and walk in my shoes” – John Lewis, American politician and civil-rights leader

Every individual possesses a unique frame of reference through which they view their world. That’s one of the reasons why change can be so fraught with peril. Finding ways and means to expose the unique aspects of each person’s frame of reference, share the common ground and rationalize the differences is the key to delivering change successfully.

Perhaps the simplest approach is to walk in others’ shoes. In the following case you’ll see how the change manager took that mindset and helped everyone in the organization climb their own personal hurdles to deliver a unified solution with cohesive individual and shared views of the new normal. It demonstrates the value of walking in Others’ shoes.

The Situation

This manufacturing and distribution company had big plans. With hundreds of employees spread across the country in its main office and a dozen satellite stores, it planned to expand its offerings and expand through acquisitions as well.

However, it faced a sizeable roadblock. Its existing ERP system was a decade old and out of support. Further, it didn’t offer the enterprise integration current solutions provided in terms of comprehensive customer relationship management, financial, inventory, supply chain, distribution, human resources, social media and business intelligence support.

A consultant hired by the organization to explore options recommended a state-of-the-art SaaS solution to provide them with the features and functions they needed going forward. He recommended that he stay on to manage the technology implementation and proposed that a change manager be brought on board to guide the organizational change.

The CFO, the project’s sponsor, liked the consultant and liked his recommendations. When the CFO took the proposal to the CEO and the board, they agreed with the recommendations and approved the project. And so the journey began.

The Goal

To deliver the recommended SaaS ERP solution across the organization in nine months. Interestingly, there were no financial targets beyond the estimate the consultant had placed on the effort and the quote from the service vendor. The mandate was, simply, Make It Happen!

The Project

With the project funding in place, the CFO hired Peter Koebel, the owner of Data Sciencing Consultants, to fill the change manager role. In reality, the CFO was intrigued with Peter’s data analytics background and thought his expertise in that field could help the organization maximize the wealth of data the new ERP solution would provide. Of course, while Peter was tackling that challenge, his technical expertise would enable him to support 300 plus staff across the country embrace the new technology.

When Peter arrived on the job and surveyed his new responsibilities, he found four major stumbling blocks.

  • The existing ERP application was managed by and focused primarily on the Finance organization and the financial functions.
  • The technical expertise and experience with the ERP system varied widely across the company from experienced, heavy users in head office to essentially no experience in some regional offices.
  • The new system would affect just about everyone in the organization and would introduce new interfaces, new data and new work flows across the company
  • His exposure to organizational change management practices was extremely limited.

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Peter began the assignment with a deep dive into the leading change management practitioners and formulated his approach for the assignment:

  • Listen to understand
  • Leverage sponsorship
  • Build a feedback loop to reinforce
  • Build trust
  • Be the always available confidant

Peter’s team began to assess the requirements for the various departments and the individual users starting with the standard SaaS application offerings and prioritizing the requested changes using a MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have) approach. Peter had frequent conversations, often daily, with the sponsor to keep him appraised of progress and leveraged the sponsor’s influence to resolve priority and commitment issues, especially with demands from the C-suite.

Peter recognized that training was going to be the critical success factor and placed considerable emphasis on getting the process to be a low risk, high reward exercise for everyone involved. The training plan leveraged the standard materials from the ERP vendor. Curricula were developed for each department and role and the standard content was tweaked based on discussions with the managers and staff. The online courses and classroom sessions were mandatory but staff was encouraged to revisit the online material as often as they wished. Questions from the formal and online sessions were fielded expeditiously by Peter’s team and often resulted in updates to the offered training materials.   

Peter developed a number of dashboards to communicate the progress being made and the issues encountered and resolved including adherence to project plan and business and change readiness. He also recognized that the project’s success was ultimately dependent on the effectiveness of the training and skill development across the organization and so featured training progress in his sponsor conversations and broader communications. The two charts below highlight the power of a chart to get the message across.

PM Oct16 2020 1

PM Oct16 2020 2

Project governance was provided by the sponsor and a steering committee that included senior managers from the affected organizations plus the consultant responsible for the technology implementation. Meetings chaired by the sponsor were held weekly and evolved from free and open discussions early on to more rigorous, agenda based meetings later in the project. The early structure helped to build camaraderie and trust and yielded a highly collaborative governing team.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was driven by the arrival of a new COO midway through the project. The new COO was not familiar with the industry or the company and had no previous involvement with the ERP solution being implemented. He was reluctant to spend the time to get up to speed on the project and made numerous demands that were at odds with plans and goals. Peter worked tirelessly to bring the COO up to speed and, with the sponsor’s help, was able to convert him to a valuable asset and a staunch and informed supporter of the change.

And the project continued towards a successful conclusion.

The Results

The project was delivered in twelve months, three months longer than initially planned. The extra time was required to bring a few organizations with previous limited exposure to the technology and ERP functionality up to speed and fully operational in the new environment. The extension was proposed to ensure a quality implementation and was endorsed by the sponsor and CEO.

The transition went relatively smoothly. Users had extensive exposure to the system functionality through the offered training and became comfortable with the new system quickly, which helped keep business flowing.

How Great Leaders Delivered

Peter discovered the value of walking in others’ shoes and practiced that mantra throughout the project to outstanding results. The following factors helped make it happen:

  • Enlightened sponsorship – The CFO owned the change from the beginning to the end. Peter leveraged that fact to resolve issues, overcome resistance and reinforce the positives for everyone throughout the project.
  • Change manager role – Peter’s approach to guiding the project helped build awareness of the need for change across the organization. His personal approach encouraged the affected managers and staff to support the change, to build their knowledge and skills and sustain that commitment to make the change successful for everyone. His continuous focus on WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) made sure that everyone affected could answer that question with a smile.
  • Communication strategy – Peter’s emphasis on understanding each person’s perspective, helping each individual answer the WIIFM question, providing sound arguments articulated by an informed, engaged and respected sponsor, delivering reports and presentations that elicited insight and understanding and leveraging champions and creditable colleagues proved a force multiplier.
  • Push and pull training – The project used a combination of carrot and stick incentives to get all staff, including some reluctant managers, to go through the training regimen and revisit the materials on their own, as often as they needed, to feel comfortable and confident going forward.
  • Progress dashboards – With the ERP change affecting every corner of the organization and the vast majority of staff, the use of charts and graphs was a significant catalyst for broad understanding and enduring commitment.
  • Practice evolution – There was a commitment to take advantage of existing best practices throughout the project but to adapt them as appropriate to the need. The steering committee evolution is a perfect example – collaborative when it needed to be, strict and rigorous when required.
  • A single, seamless implementation – I’m a believer in phased and staged implementations. Peter and his team did consider those options because of the disparate communities involved. However, they decided that the extra effort to manage a phased functional delivery and geographically staged implementation would increase the scope and timeframe significantly. Consequently they put additional effort into training and testing for a single implementation. It paid off.

So, if you’re involved in a sizeable organizational and operational change, consider what Peter and his team did to achieve a successful outcome. It worked for them. It can work for you and your team as well. And remember the value of walking in others’ shoes. Also, make sure you use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors. 

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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