The Forgotten Elements in Systems Engineering: Part 3 Change Management

Published by on April 22, 2015 at 12:00 pm.

Part 3 Transition into Future State

Change Management(See Part 1 and Part 2 first)

The final part to the Forgotten Elements in Systems Engineering series is on the Transition Plan. Transition planning is an important part of systems engineering. It is what moves the current state to the future (ideal) state. Most people refer to this as Change Management. Change Management is the first step in every systems engineering project. You are changing a current system or way of doing things to create an ideal state.

Change Management starts early with transition planning and all the way through the transition. The problem with lack of transition planning is that the operators are less likely to accept the new system and that causes all kinds of political and personnel problems. An example of forgetting change management is Disney World’s recent change of their fast passes. The fast passes have always been a ticket system. You come and pick up your tickets and return later at your designated time. Due to improved technology, higher competition, increased park attendance, and complexity of the system they knew they needed to make some changes. They updated their system, so now you can reserve fast passes up to 6 months in advance. However, many Disney World fans and employees were upset by the change. Systems must change otherwise they become less useful and eventually obsolete. However, to avoid problems we use change management techniques to prepare the people for the change. The more complex our world becomes the more we have to change our methods of dealing with complexity.

Obviously, the transition plan is extremely important. So why is this one of the forgotten elements in systems engineering? What we have been seeing throughout this series is that engineers are avoiding important elements until late in the lifecycle or just ignoring them completely more than they are just forgetting them. In some cases it’s because they are being careless or preoccupied, but the major reason the transition plan is ignored is resistance from the team. Not everyone was happy about the latest update to Disney World’s fast pass system. Employees and park attendees disliked the change. They did not know what this change would mean for them. Although the old fast pass system was slow and had issues, they knew it worked. With the new system, people are uncertain of whether or not it will work. People resist change because they are afraid of the uncertainty. It is important as the project manager to take away this fear and push forward with the transition plan. If the employees do not understand the need for the change, then they will not be motivated to make the changes necessary

The first part of managing employee’s resistance to change is to recognize the signs of resistance. The common signs you will see are:

  1. Anger – Anger is the most obvious to spot. Your employees will show signs of anger. This is extreme, but they might openly let you know they disagree with the change. They might even yell, scream, and show aggressive behavior.
  2. Passive aggressive behavior – Passive aggressive behavior is a lot less obvious to see than anger. Look for a sarcastic attitude towards the change. Even if it seems light-hearted and funny, it might be a sign that they are resisting the change internally. Unfortunately, this attitude will rub off onto other employees, causing them to not believe that the change is needed.
  3. Ignoring their daily job activities – A major sign if an employee is resisting change is if all of the sudden they “forget” important tasks they do every day on a regular basis.
  4. Being late – Just being late is a huge sign that an employee is resisting change. If you’re a dedicated employee all of the sudden starts showing up late to work, they might be unmotivated.
  5. Disruptive behavior – Some employees will be a little less subtle. They might protest the change by making active attempts to disrupt the work place. It’s important to stop this one immediately.

Change ManagementAs the manager it’s your job to recognize these signs, and motivate your employees into being a part of a team effort to make the change happen. Have a meeting to discuss everyone’s concerns and explain to them how this is going to be better for everyone. Do not be like the people in the picture. Nothing is going to get better magically even at Disney World. It’s important that you make your employees see that too.

Unfortunately, if you are unable (after considerable effort) to motivate your employees positively, than you may have to “add pain.” Pain can be added through firing, demotions, and other such forms of punishment to stop disruptive behavior. You can see the first picture shows that sometimes pain must be added in the beginning of the transition to move the transition along.

Keep to the following rules to improve the Transition Plan: 1) Develop any transition plan early and thereby avoid running into all kinds of issues with long lead items and other problems; 2) Keep the transition plan up-to-date with the changes in the future state of the system; 3) Look for signs of employee resistance for change; 4) Manage the resistance. Most importantly make sure resistance is not causing your project to avoid developing the transition plan.


Further Reading: