Change is such a small word, and yet we each know its impact.

Having worked in IT for many years now I have experienced a world of change just in technology, let alone the people around me and myself. It’s hard to get across to anyone under 30 just how much has happened in such a brief time.

It was explained to me once that we all handle change differently, sometimes the smallest of changes can catch us off guard, whilst the biggest we just handle in our stride. As a developer, I have had to learn to understand my end users, to make decisions based on their needs and those of the system I am working on, this isn’t always the same desired outcome.

When installing a new system for someone, there is always someone who doesn’t want the change to be happening, that’s not a criticism it’s a fact of life. Handling that person’s perceptions of what’s happening is one of the most important parts of the implementation, as with all things in this world, one person leads to two people and before you know it the world is averse to the change.

I am always disheartened by the assumption that a new system will be exactly what came before with a few more lights and buttons, that’s an upgrade! Most of the time we change systems to get an improved situation, better processes, faster results. After all, we have made some decision, or most likely someone above us has, to change systems for a reason.

To give an example of this, consider an HR system in which I was a project manager responsible for changing.

I had no say in why we needed a change, nor in the system we chose to succeed what we had, I couldn’t even stop the change when I discovered some major problems with the new system. The first thing we found was the old system had a staff hierarchy which was specific to that system. The Finance system said something else, and if you asked a member of staff where they fit into the hierarchy you would get a different response again. We decided to go with what the staff believed was the structure of the business, and put this into the new system.

That’s when the problems began. Of course, we then had to map this somehow to the Finance system, a task which had been done years before with the old system. It was obvious we needed new procedures to handle all of this. What came before was irrelevant, and to be honest we didn’t see that coming. It cost us a great deal of extra time, compounded by a looming deadline of ending our contract with our existing supplier.

I started to resist the change, as a consultant later put it to me when reviewing the project and so I lost my trust in the new system. That was very damaging - to me and the project. I had no choice but to change, there was only me to complete the job in hand, so I stood back, and quite literally changed my mind about the whole thing. Positivity was the name of the game; yes it had problems and I didn’t hide those or look the other way. I simply measured the extent of them and looked for ways around them. As I am a developer I had tools to help me, I just had to stop short of creating a whole new HR system.

An example of this in action was the lack of a holiday booking system, something we believed it had, but alas no, and no sign of one coming anytime soon. We tasked one of our developers to write one, he did an amazing job, and I did something new in the process. I made him show his work to the end users while it was in development!

We had never done this before, the feedback was very positive, not much we had to tweak, but what we got (and overwhelmingly got) was support, people were asking “when can we have this?”. Buy-in I think is the term. They didn’t care that we were doing this, that the new system didn’t do it, they liked what we were doing - end of story.

We had to change a lot of policies and procedures to get the new holiday system working. To be honest, we didn’t have much to start with, so we created them. What we had at the end of the process was a way forward in the future, an understanding of what holiday booking meant to us.

The staff for their part took that part of the new system the best by far, I wish in hindsight that we had done the same process with other aspects like the new payslip, it was like the old one, but not the same, and that caused confusion and upset.

Just because I am a developer does not mean I am somehow immune from change. I must use a multitude of systems on a daily basis, and some of them change in ways I cannot fathom. As to why certain decisions are made is beyond me, but that’s the way it is. When it comes to the products that the company I work for are released I sometimes look and think “what were they thinking!”, but I don’t have the luxury of dwelling on that, it’s my job to understand it, consider if that’s ok or we need more, maybe even workarounds, and then convince our customers its useful.

One thing which is so different now to when I started in IT is the speed at which products can change, meaning companies and developers, want to hear your feedback. Recently, someone asked me why I write software - my answer is simply “so it can be used”. I think that sums up everything else I could say. Gone are the days where there is one system for x and another for y, you have options and we as developers and suppliers must work harder to convince you to use our creations. Use that power to improve your processes, not just to keep the old for the sake of not changing.

As I have been writing this post, I have had to concede to a change to a piece of software I created many years ago now and spend a lot of my time still now refining and improving. It was a substantial change that I had resisted for a long time as it went against the fundamentals of how I had created the application. It turned out to be far less of a job than I had envisaged, as the application has changed so much since its inception, and I was much more able to handle the change than I had believed.

The message in this post is to take a step back when you are presented with a new system, sadly it will require you to do things differently, not necessarily for what you consider the better. I urge you to look at it as an opportunity to start over, throw away the old ways, consider new ways. If the new system constrains you in a certain way, then live with that and accept that maybe, just maybe, that’s for a good reason. All the same, give feedback to the people you got it from, good and bad, we want to hear.