Building Support for New Software Projects

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Building Support for New Software Projects

Software systems often fail – not because the technical aspects were bad – but because people failed to build support. This is a transcript of a tape.


by Rick Maurer

This is the transcript of an audiotape I made a few years ago.

Here is a six-step process for building support for new software systems.

  1. What support do you need in order to be successful?
  2. What support do you have today?
  3. What’s the gap between what you need and what you currently have?
  4. What skills do you need in order to bridge this gap?
  5. What actions should you take immediately?
  6. What long-term actions should you begin putting in place?

Number one: What support do we need in order to be successful? Think about a department or a particular leader in your company that must support you on development projects. If you were to rate them on a 1 to 5 scale, you’d give them a five. Their support is that important. In other words, by giving them a five, you are saying that their support is critical to the success of the project.

Let’s continue with this assessment. On a scale of 1 to 5, how likely is it they will support you?. . . . (pause)

If you gave them a four or five, you are probably in good shape. Their support is critical – a five – and you said they are likely to give you that support. That’s a good combination.

But, what if you could only give them a 1 or 2, that could be a problem. You said that you must have their support and commitment, but you also said it is unlikely they’ll give it. If you have any of these mismatched relationships, this six-step process could be vitally important to your success.

What, if any, levels of resistance do you typically get from this individual or department? (Level 1)  They never seem to understand what you’re talking about. (Level 2) They tend to get threatened by your ideas. (Level 3) They just out and out hate you.

I urge you to complete this assessment on all the departments and key players in your company. Don’t forget to complete it on your own department as well. . . This assessment will give you a baseline to let you know where you are today. A bunch of low scores indicate that you need to be paying far more attention to the human side of change. On the other hand, a lot of high scores probably shows that you’re handling things quite well.

Step Two. What ‘s the gap between the support you need and the support we currently have?

I recall one information technology department that had pretty strong working alliances with most other departments in the organization, except for marketing. The turf wars were not unlike the cattle ranchers and sheep farmers fight for land in the Old West. They were Level 3 on just about everything. Whenever information technology had a great idea, it was tempting for them to get excited about the gee-whiz technical aspects and forget about the Level 3 resistance down the hall just waiting to kill it. . . So, what’s the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be?

Step Three: What skills do you need in order to bridge this gap?

Remember, the gap between the support you need and the support you actually have can spell the difference between success and failure. We are developing a feedback assessment that focuses on change management skills. Here are two of the major areas we’ve identified:

Leadership. Are your managers as skilled in leadership as they are in  technical know-how? Many IT departments place far too much emphasis on technical brilliance – to the exclusion of leadership skills. But if you and your managers are not natural born leaders, don’t despair. You can learn those skills, but you first have to recognize that this is a area that will need attention.

Another skill is. . .

Knowledge of Change Management Strategies. Look at the way you manage change today. Do these strategies work most of the time, or are they hit and miss? Do your strategies get people in other departments excited about the change, or do they create opposition? Your ideas may be great, but the way you introduce and implement them need fine-tuning.

By the way, if you’d like a complimentary copy of the complete list change management skills, give us a call.

Step Five: What actions should you take immediately? Even if the distance between the support you need and what you’ve have is wide, there are things you can begin to do today to narrow the gap. For example, after listening to this tape, get a group of managers together to explore these six steps, could be a very beneficial short-term strategy.

Another thing you could do right now – begin speaking to other departments in plain English. Many people may not truly understand the range of possibilities that software applications can give them. But, it will do you little good to send them technical reports out of your favorite journal. You may as well send them Norwegian literature. Because their chance of understanding these reports will be about as likely as their being able to read Norwegian. You must find ways to translate what you see so they can understand it.

Here’s a simple example: buying a laptop story xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

One of the best things you can do is to get people interested in the things that excite you and the things that keep you up at night. But, you will need to translate your concerns and ideas into their language. Don’t expect them to learn yours.

And, the final step: What long-term strategies should you begin putting in place? If the gap is wide, then you will need long-term strategies to build bridges. Support for information systems wasn’t built in a day. . . One IS department has created a joint planning process, where representatives from all concerned departments meet for a few days to work on plans for new projects. By doing this, they get concerns out in the open, work on glitches before they occur, and build buy-in during the earliest days of planning.

© 2009 Rick Maurer. Rick uses his Change without Migraine™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations.