If You Build It, Will They Use It? Assessing Your Client’s Change Management Readiness

A software project can’t be called “successful” unless it’s implemented successfully. And believe it or not, there’s a lot that software consultants can do to help with successful implementation. It starts back in the initial planning stages, with an effort to understand as many facets of the unknown as you can.

Being curious and inquisitive will help you understand the significance of your project to different stakeholders. With complex software projects and with humans, you’ll never know exactly how things will unfold. However, with experience, diligence, and time, you can get better at understanding people’s needs and desires.

One way to start is by asking questions about people’s past, present, and desired future. These questions can also be applied internally to making a shift in how you work.

The Past

1. How did this [process, policy, way of working] come to exist? What incidents, laws, regulations, or norms informed its creation?

This may prompt key stakeholders to share some critical information about the regulatory environment in which they work. You may learn how their company has grown and what impact this has had on business. You can use this information to document risks, shape relevant recommendations, and support them in building a more holistic change management plan.

2. What did your organization look like when this [policy, process, way of working] was created or defined?

With a question like this, you can start to unpack the culture in which this software will be deployed and how you may want to tweak your rollout to be relevant to your audience. You may learn key information about the client’s competitive landscape and the relationship they have with users of their existing software.

3. Have you attempted a project or initiative like this in the past? If so, what are some of the outcomes or lessons learned?

You might hear that your client has tried to solve this problem with out-of-the-box software, and the result was frustrating and painful for the company. This may give you a hint that there will be some skeptical stakeholders. They will want to know that this project is going to have a better outcome than previous efforts.

The Present

4. How does your organization/team make decisions? What is successful about that process? What is challenging about the way that you make decisions?

Some teams have strong self-awareness around how they work. Some clients may not have had the opportunity to reflect on how they work. You may learn that this group of stakeholders has never worked together before! The answer to these questions may give you a sense of what it will be like to guide this group through this change.

5. Which groups use the current system/process? Who do you believe is excited about this change? Who is invested in keeping things the same? Who is neutral?

The answer to these questions will tell you where to support your client in gaining support and broader buy-in. If there are groups that the client is unsure about, document it as an unknown. You might not be able to solve all unknowns, but at least you can be aware of them.

6. What do you feel is personally at stake for you? What do you feel is professionally at stake for you?

It’s good to know what’s riding on this project, both personally and professionally. These are especially important questions for an entrepreneur. Getting this information can help you understand how you can be supportive and where you can provide some additional education about custom software or change management.

The Future

7. With this proposed change, what do you want your organization to look like in one year, two years, or five?

This is a great question to help you understand the broader vision. What you hear may help you better align recommendations to the big picture and build trust with your client, showing them that you understand and are invested in their long-term success.

I hope that this post is a good beginning point for your project. Are there other questions you ask at the beginning of a project to help you understand what changes are required for success?