Your Workplace Action Plan Implemented (CAD Manager Column)31 Mar, 2007 By: Robert Green
Your Workplace Action Plan Implemented
In last month's "CAD Manager" column, I talked about building a CAD management action plan. Throughout that discussion I listed processes you can use to collect and prioritize your ideas and get a firm grasp on the steps to take to improve how your CAD department runs. What I hope you took from last month's installment was how to think through all of the issues that you face and condense them into a prioritized action plan. Without a plan for making things better, you'll just keep fighting the same old fights without ever really getting anywhere.
Now that you have an action plan, you may wonder how to put it into action. After all, the best plan in the world means nothing if it's never put into practice. In this month's "CAD Manager," I'll give you some concrete ideas for turning your plan into action.
Resistance to Change
No matter how much you've worked on your action plan or how many people you've involved, everything has been theory until the point of implementation. When you're ready to put the plan into action, the reality of the changes is going to start hitting your users. And when they start to realize that things are actually changing and affecting the way they work, their inevitable resistance to change will start to surface.
The important thing to realize in this phase is that you can't stop the resistance—it's human nature. You can control how you react to their reluctance, however. Managing your way through the reality phase by picking the right things to do and doing them in the right order can mean the difference between success and failure. As you read through the remainder of the steps I've outlined below, remember that there's an order to it all that will help you mitigate user resistance.
Create a Buzz
Whenever politicians or musicians want to announce new initiatives or concert tours, they begin the process with such media events as press conferences to create a buzz and grab attention. Your CAD management plan may not garner as much press as The Police's new tour, but why not kick off your plan with some buzz of your own? Here are a few approaches that I've found to work well.
CAD lunch kickoff. Use this event to gather all CAD users from all disciplines to talk about your action plan initiatives and get those users pumped up. The goal of this sort of event is to get information into users' hands about how efficiency will increase as a result of the changes. In this scenario, you're an evangelist of new CAD methods, so go out of your way to explain why the changes are good.
A kickoff memo. Written at an executive-summary level, this document will explain the launch of your CAD management action plan to those senior managers in your organization who don't attend the kickoff lunch. The main value to this document is showing that you're trying to be proactive in improving CAD efficiency.
In addition to creating a mobilizing call to action, organizing an actionplan-kickoff event/memo really allows management to see how serious you are about improving efficiency. Executives will also realize that you're willing to do the hard work to effect organizational change, which every manager can appreciate.
Pick Easy Winners
When you created your action plan, you did so by thinking of changes you could make to improve operational efficiency. Then you prioritized your ideas based on the time savings you could achieve and analyzed what steps to take for each item. The end result of this thought-and-analysis phase was that you gained a really good idea of which items in your plan would be easy to implement and which would be more difficult. To start, I recommend picking some of the easier ideas from your list and making those the first that you implement.
Why? Well, let me give a few reasons:
Time savings and focus. Easy changes will require less time to implement and will be easier to achieve user compliance. Remember that you'll be expending significant effort in the early action plan stages as you overcome user resistance, so picking an easy change will let you stay focused on your goal.
Success demonstrated. When you make an action item task work and stick, you show that you know how to pick your battles and that you can implement change successfully. Your users will notice your successes—and your senior management will really notice them.
Political cover. When you're trying to change user behaviors, somebody will eventually go to management and complain about something. When that happens, you'll have already demonstrated that you're managing the action plan quite well, thank you. Because your managers will have already noticed your initial successes, it will give you some latitude to continue rather than listening to complainers. I'll delve deeper into this problem below.
I should point out that I'm assuming that you're continuing to talk to your management team about the great job you're doing, right? If you aren't, you should be, because management needs to know how you're doing.
Managing the Recalcitrant
Whenever you change the way things are done in an office environment, some will like it, some will grudgingly accept it and some will simply refuse to go along. In the context of CAD management, I've found that this trend usually breaks along the lines of who will follow standards and who won't. The key is to watch who's working with you on your new plan and to keep track of who isn't. As users step forward to help you with your action plan, be prepared to reward them for a job well done. As the benefits of working with the new plan start to become obvious, you'll see a psychological shift in your favor.
The beautiful part of this approach is that after most people have made the change to a new method, those who refuse to go along won't be able to use the standard excuses. Let me illustrate how you can handle objections with those who won't go along with the plan:
Objection: This new method doesn't work.
Answer: Of course it does, look at the 10 other users who are already using the new method.
Objection: I can still do it faster the old way.
Answer: Everybody has a learning curve, but they wind up being more efficient when they're done. Look at all the other users who've already made the switch.
Objection: You can't make me learn the new way.
Answer: Maybe I can't, but upper management can, and it won't like the fact that you're not using the same efficiency processes everyone else is.
At this point, you've identified the users who simply won't go along with the action plan for who they are—People who simply don't want to change. You've been communicating all along with management, so you've now forced the noncompliers into confronting change head on, whether they like it or not. I've found this methodology to be a very useful—albeit stressful—way to effect change in those who will use every excuse to avoid it. Simply remove the excuses, and watch the change happen!
Ramp It Up!
At this point, you've achieved some measure of initial success, made some relatively easy changes and have your management's attention. Excellent! Now keep going by tackling successively tougher issues from your action plan as you keep the psychology of change moving forward. Simply go through your action plan list and keep focusing on slightly more difficult tasks. You'll find that as user resistance to change drops, you'll be able to spend more time on complex tasks, because you don't need to spend so much time paying attention to the psychology of change.
Ultimately, you may wind up working through your action plan in a slightly different order than you had anticipated, but you'll be tackling the items in a way that will keep you sane and allow you to accomplish something. Conversely, stubbornly tackling a very tough item early in your action plan's lifetime will lower your chances of user acceptance and success. You probably have a good feel for which items you can tackle based on project loads, resources and complexity. Use your instincts to gradually ramp up your action plan, and you'll get a lot more done.
Rewards of CAD Management
Putting your action plan into effect isn't an easy job, but it's the thing I find most satisfying about CAD management. By making efficiency-improving changes, raising user productivity and documenting these changes to your management team, you'll acquire an aura of success that very few technical managers achieve. And by pushing your CAD management action plan, you gain the high ground of making changes proactively rather than simply reacting to the next in a never-ending series of crises.
In next month's installment, I'll talk about how to make expensive changes, such as new hardware and software acquisitions, a reality by using ROI (return on investment) metrics. After you've got the ROI concepts to reinforce your action plan, you should be unstoppable!
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting in the United States and Canada. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.