Constant change. Always being prepared to test
No matter how much we desire to keep things the same, the more things will evolve and change. This is especially true for technology and software and data management. What worked or did not even exist years ago is the new status quo. What is the status quo today will likely be obsolete in the not too distant future. Trying to stay the same and maintain the status quo for as long as possible is damaging to a business and at the least will limit your efficiency and opportunities. Or it may expose you to cyber threats, and other security concerns with your data and your clients data.
Change is constant, however that does not mean it is seamless and transparent. How you manage change within your organization will determine if and how it impacts your customers and your business in general. Change requires oversight, analysis and planning, training, and testing. Even after things are rolled out it has to be maintained and scrutinized regularly to keep it relevant and current. Lets look at these points.
1. Oversight. Something new does not mean it is relevant or the right thing for you or your organization. Someone fluent in the operations of your department and company needs to assess the tools and processes currently in play to determine if they will benefit from refinements or newer tools. Sometimes the feedback comes from above as an executive directive, or from the front line asking for help and improvements. No matter which, someone has to organize the requests and needs, set priorities, and organize and engage people at all affected levels for feedback and assistance. From the CIO at a large organization to the owner of a small company, there must be one person in charge of and overseeing change and technology.
2. Analysis and planning. Once a need is identified, analysis of possible solutions comes next. Objective is balancing cost/benefit, efficiency, integration, and complexity/training to determine viability. Once a viable path is selected based on best analysis and results, the rollout process is designed and all persons impacted are engaged in the process and encouraged to provide objective feedback at every opportunity.
3. Training. If analysis and planning was done in an open and engaging manner, training should be simplified and people will have an understanding of what is coming, how it will work, and the results that are expected. Training however, is mandatory. Assuming even the simplest solution will be intuitive and easy to follow without training will lead to frustration and delays when you roll out. Organize training by role and ensure managers are given priority oversight and initial training so they in turn can oversee training for their department staff. Training sets the standard and expectations on what needs to be done but is not in itself a goal. People need to use a new procedure for a period of time to become comfortable with it before they become proficient.
4. Testing. Change is coming. We are ready. We are trained. How do we ensure it will work as expected when it goes live? Test, test, and test some more. This adds cost to a project but do not cut corners. Failing to plan is planning to fail and same applies to training. It is critical to setup an exact environment to match the end goal. Load the system with real data and have people hammer away at it for days and weeks, maybe even months. Have people write all their issues and questions down in a list. Gather those lists and feedback regularly (at least weekly) so fixes and adjustments can be made. Reward effective feedback, and assist and guide those who have issues with feedback process. Finding a fault in the process is not always helpful unless the person also explains why it is a problem, and recommends ideas how to fix or improve. Be patient and explain how you need the feedback to be structured. Communication is the key. Do not rush things in haste to meet an arbitrary or imposed deadline. If you can test and ensure the entire team is ready in time, great, but always consider what the impact will be when you go live because it may not be possible to roll back if major issues arise after you make the change final.
5. Rollout. Analyze. Fix and refine. Repeat. It is a cycle that never will end. Always maintain readiness to test. For software that is relatively straight forward to setup a separate ‘Test’ copy of the data and system in an isolated location for delegated persons and teams. Encourage new ideas to be explored on the test system to see how it may work and if there are issues or side effects. Ensure the test data is updated periodically to reflect current operations. If testing is a routine process then update the test data daily (automatically if possible) or at the least every few weeks or monthly. Otherwise plan testing periods and refresh the test data prior to a testing period.
You do not have to be a software development company to need a test environment. Every company needs a test environment to manage their day to day processes even when using commercial software. Being ready to test at any time will save time and effort should an issue arise and you need to trace and resolve it on the fly. Having a seamless and ready test environment promotes ideas and efficiency when actions can be taken to assess opportunities proactively.
However you approach change, be consistent in your approach and keep things simple. Tackle the big issues first before diving into the detailed minutiae. Often what seems important to one individual may in fact be insignificant to the team, or may in fact be solved as part of a bigger foundational change. Work from the big and high level general concepts down to the details in stages in the design stage and again in the testing stages.
All the best and while change is constant, it is also a wonderful journey that keep companies relevant and people engaged and invested in their work.