top of page

Pain relief - 12 Change Management best practices for major system upgrades

There will be pain. OK not the cheeriest of opening statements but true nonetheless. We are in a fast moving world where terms like 'business transformation' and 'disruptive technology' are increasingly heard in the boardroom and what they really mean is change. Change for the way we do business, change for the firm, change for its users and change equals pain. The key to a successful implementation of change is to minimise that pain.

One thing I have learnt in 20 years of managing IT system rollouts is that the most underestimated element of a project is the need for good Change Management. Whether you are rolling out a small upgrade, a firm wide replacement or introducing a global system for the first time, a well thought through change management strategy will save time, save money, minimise disruption to the business and keep stress levels low - in short manage the pain.

Now acting as a consultant I get enormous satisfaction helping businesses with their change management strategy and here are the 12 pillars of my change management framework.

1 Change Advisory Team

Set up a CAT. This should include stakeholders, Senior Management and (often forgotten) end user representation. Ideally an independent consultant should participate (I would say that) as they will not be affected by internal politics and with a foot in neither camp be able to challenge both internal management and the solution vendor in equal measure.

2 Consult

Hold meetings with representatives of all areas of the business before any project plan is announced. Explain the change coming and listen to the immediate reaction.

3 Identify

Be clear as to the areas of the business likely to be impacted and how this may differ. In the example of a global accounting system rollout the impact on the end user is very different to that of the back office Accounts team.

4 Engage

Get staff involved. Create supportive Change Ambassadors that act as evangelists and become a critical part of the communication strategy.

5 Communication

Probably the most important and yet most difficult component of the change management strategy. Clear and frequent communication is essential but the challenge is how. E-mail is typically used as the primary communication tool but has a remarkably low impact. This is a key area for creative thinking as to what will have most effect in the business and I have seen everything from posters on water coolers to 'theme' days in the staff restaurant to software branded cookies delivered to desks.

6 Promote the benefits (to all)

You are introducing change for a reason. It may be to improve efficiency, reduce cost, replace something that doesn't work, enable access to information or introduce new ways to win business. Whatever the reason focus on the positive and include promotional messages in all communications.

7 Remind of today's issues

With any legacy system it should be relatively easy to identify frustrations and pain points. Use these as 'we've listened to you' points in communications and describe how the new system will make life better.

8 Training

Getting staff trained and ready is probably second to communications in both importance and difficulty to achieve. Good quality training is essential and depending on the firm's culture may be compulsory or voluntary. If voluntary, top down support, reminders etc are helpful as is an incentivised attendance strategy.

9 Touch Point Focus

However large the project or system there may only be a small number of areas or functions that impact the end user. It is important to focus on these and where possible consider a phased approach to these changes. If for example a new Accounting system is being introduced, is it practical to leave the existing reporting function in place until the core system has bedded down?

10 System v Process

Many firms see the introduction of a new software system as an opportunity to introduce new processes and practices. The thinking is based on taking immediate advantage of new functions/tools and getting as much change out of the way as possible. This can be a very risky strategy. It is often the process change that gives users the most pain and the new system will likely unfairly take the blame. Worse still, key metrics such as system performance will be very difficult to ascertain when users are struggling with the process change. If practical consider separating system and process change into two defined phases of the project.

11 Integrate

Help users adapt to change by updating all relevant firm training, documentation and references to the new system. This might include the on-boarding process, marketing materials, the firms mission statement on the website or even the performance review process.

12 Support

Post rollout support is critical. Most firms have well embedded support processes that typically involve a form of help-desk usually run by IT. Do not assume that the existing arrangement will adequately cope with the change. Floor walking, catch up training and access to SME's (subject matter experts) should all be considered. If the new system is one not typically used by IT staff consider creating a temporary support team using internal experts.


Keep expectations at an appropriate level. The new system may be the best thing since sliced bread and your world may be infinitely improved with huge profits just around the corner, but it will take take time to settle down, users will take time to adapt and... there will be pain.

If you are need of Change Management consultancy contact me at

15 views0 comments


bottom of page