The Impact of Ignoring Change

I was recently working with a west-coast municipality supporting their Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) business case development process. The project was going quite well as all the ingredients for success were in place, including:

  • Strong executive sponsorship,
  • A committed project manager, and
  • A sound change management (CM) strategy led by a seasoned CM veteran.

During the course of the project the executive sponsor needed to step aside as other competing priorities were consuming her time. This was a critical moment for our project and we realized that a smooth transition would be needed. The project manager and I provided the executive sponsor a list of potential candidates we thought would be qualified replacements for her. Unfortunately, she selected someone who was not on our list, but was very loyal to her. Though the new executive sponsor was very competent, he was not very committed to change management.

One of the first steps the new sponsor did was to put in place his own team, including a new project manager. In addition, the change management lead was marginalized and was no longer invited to project team meetings. Though I counseled the new executive sponsor about the benefits of change management, he decided to plow forward with his own approach. That included utilizing me in an advisory role instead using me for providing hands-on tactical support. Unfortunately, the following issues arose:

  • Managers and staff were unwilling to devote sufficient resources to the project because the executive sponsor and new project manager did not provide adequate direction about their new roles and did not continue utilizing the CM communications plan that had been developed
  • The uncertainty of the project team roles and the overall project direction led to the development of negative messages about the project that went unchecked by the project team
  • Some project team members that remained on the team lost interest in their work because they were no longer receiving the positive feedback that the CM team fostered
  • Valued employees voluntarily left the team because they felt disengaged
  • Several leaders of the pilot departments shifted their priorities because they viewed the transition as an indication that the project was no longer mission critical – behavior that went unimpeded by the new project team

Surveys by two of the leading public sector trade associations, the Government Finance Officers Association (http://gfoa.org/) and the International City/County Management Association (http://icma.org/en/icma/home) confirmed the above problems. They found that in nearly all the cases where an enterprise-wide software deployment did not meet the specified objectives (budget, timetable, efficiencies, cost savings, etc.), it was related to issues managing the impact of change on the employee and the incumbent processes. Very rarely was technology the issue. If they could do the project again, the municipalities indicated that:

A more intensive and planned change management approach always is at or near the top of the list.”

So back to the west coast client. What happened? They eventually selected a software vendor and are currently implementing. However they exceeded their initial budget and blew the timetable. In addition, they let the vendor drive the requirements, not the city employees. These factors led the executive sponsor to reconsider the impact of CM, and he got the CM lead re-engaged in the project. The lead is focused on educating the staff about the overall project plan and identifying the process efficiencies the CRM software could generate. The CM lead has helped re-energize the project team.

Let me close with the following questions:

1 – Does this situation sound familiar (been there, done that)?

2 – How would you have handled it differently?

Tune in next week when we will discuss “The Critical Success Factors of Change Management.”

Previous Post:

Change Happens – How Do You Manage It?

Spencer Stern specializes in assessing the business and process impact of new technology-based solutions, ranging from enterprise-wide software systems to wireless communications networks. In 2008 he launched Stern Consulting where he continues to focus on assessing the financial impact of large-scale strategic implementations.

Please email any feedback to:

[email protected]

For more information, please visit:


Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Been there, done that, started the hashtag. Great example that reinforces the folly of not recognizing the need for good change management.

Dennis McDonald

It’s not clear to me how much of the problem relates to deficiencies in change management and how much to deficiencies in just plain old project management.

Hans Hinners

Yes, I am a survivor of process re-engineering. Unfortunately, too many change management efforts are formally or informally connected to the current leadership’s personality even if staff has bought in.

IT enabled change management can take years to implement and personnel changes are inevitable. I wonder if smaller kaizen style events, that to show immediate real success, would improve a project’s chance of reaching the finish line.

Spencer Stern

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for your comment. Clearly project management was an issue, but de-emphasizing the change management lead was an indication that it was no longer a priority. Poor project management in making this decision, perhaps, but it sent a strong signal that change management was no longer integral to project success.

Victoria A. Runkle

Your comments are timely reminders for any project — it does not have to be technological based. Clear expectations at the front end and commitment are very important. Enjoy your posts — they are thought provoking and I share them.

Deb Green

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get whatcha always got – CM is about doing things differently. Falling into the old ways of handling business is a recipe for not achieving the change you started out reaching for. Rule #1 – if you’re serious – dedicate the resources to it. If you’re not given resources for the project/change/program etc, steer clear. They don’t really want the change they’re claiming they want.

In my experience, it’s not usually the platform that fails; it’s the lack of commitment to the programmatic (ie, people/resources to handle what the platform delivers) elements that spells doom.