Project Management: Implementing a new authoring tool

        In late 2018, my organization decided to create Learning Management System (LMS)-compatible versions of its published training materials for upload and use by subscription members.  In order to create content that could easily be uploaded into most LMS, we needed to purchase an authoring tool that could publish in the four most common formats – AICC, xAPI, SCORM 2004, SCORM 1.2.  Traditionally, our training decks were published in Microsoft PowerPoint and were designed to be instructor-led, so this was a departure in both format and design. 

        The Learning Solutions team was tasked by the AVP to oversee implementation of the authoring tool and manage ongoing operations related to the LMS downloads.  Given the necessity for Research subject matter expert(s) to consult on training material conversions, the team communicated its intent and high-level goals early on with this key stakeholder group.  Other stakeholders were informed of the project later on, according to the communication plan. 

The Project Plan

        Our internal project planning approach requires that a project plan is constructed for all projects, with the complexity of the plan mirroring project scope.  In this case, an internal Project Specialist was tasked with creating a project plan with input from the project team.  The plan was based on a pared-down version of the Project Management Institute (PMI) framework and included a team charter, an accountability matrix, stakeholder information and analyses, and a detailed task list with assignments.  In addition, a communication plan was created by the project lead that included targeted messages for all internal stakeholders, along with the timing of those communications.

        On the whole, the plan was a success: the project was completed on time and on budget. However, just prior to the launch of the LMS Downloads product, we encountered a challenge: the salespeople were struggling to understand and communicate the features and benefits of the new product to prospects and members, despite having witnessed a demonstration and participated in an interactive presentation.  As a result, we decided to create robust Sales support collateral for both internal education purposes and for use by external members.  In retrospect, the need for sales collateral of this kind was foreseeable and was a gap in our planning.  As a result, we have added this to our list of considerations for small projects going forward.

Going Forward

        The Project Management Institute’s framework is a robust one that is well suited to large, complex projects and will continue to be our go-to approach for the foreseeable future.  The pared-down version of PMIs framework that we use for small projects is also suiting our purposes well as most of our projects have a quick turnaround time, meaning environmental changes have less chance of dramatically affecting our plans.  However, despite our fondness for PMI, we will continue to watch for emerging models that can better help organizations navigate projects in a high change environment.

 

Change in Digital Learning Environments

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”  – Niccolo Machiavelli (1531)

 

Machiavelli, a 1530s Italian diplomat, politician, and philosopher who has become known for his ruthless approach to leadership, is undoubtedly an odd choice to kick-off a blog post exploring contemporary change leadership in learning, but he captures the reality of change we still face today: change is arduous to plan, precarious to navigate, and unlikely to succeed.  Proof of the ongoing struggle to successfully navigate change is easy to find in change management research, with several studies making plain the high failure rate (~70%) that plagues change initiatives (Balogun and Hope Hailey, 2004 as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015; Beer and Nohria, 2000 as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015; Grover, 1999 as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015).

To explore how leaders currently manage change in Digital Learning Environments (DLE), two senior leaders at a management research firm were interviewed.  The participants were asked to explain their process for managing and leading through change, and to offer insight into change leadership in DLEs.  The interviewees use an almost identical high-level process for navigating change, likely due to the fact that the management research firm in which they are both employed has a published change management model, which is used for both internal and commercial purposes (i.e. change management research, advisory calls, workshops, and consulting). The change model includes three steps: “1. Prepare for change; 2. Create the change action and communication plan; and 3. Implement and sustain the change” (Figure 1).  The model is similar to the Planning approach put forth by Lippet et al. (1958): 1: ”Scout; 2. Enter; 3. Diagnose; 4. Plan; 5. Act; 6. Stabilize and Evaluate; and 7. Terminate” (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015, p.246); as well as the TQM approach put forth by Deming (1986): “1. Plan; 2. Do; 3. Check/Study; and 4. Act” (as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015, p.246).

Although the McLean change model is an intuitive high-level approach, it became clear through the interview process that the interviewees were breaking two of the high-level steps into smaller ones, effectively creating a five-step model (Figure 2).  This approach helped them to create more distinct task categories and appeared to help both change leaders (in this case, the interviewees themselves) and change stakeholders maintain a sense of consistent progress.

Leading Change in Digital Learning Environments

When considering Digital Learning Environments (DLE), the interviewees emphasized the additional complexity introduced into the change process with the introduction of digital aspects, particularly when none existed before or when the change was a significant deviation from current practice. One interviewee offered the following examples: a change leader who wants to add a synchronous webinar session to a primarily face-to-face program may only require small tweaks to the standard approach to learner communication.  By contrast, a change leader who wants to create a fully online version of that face-to-face program will require a much more involved change management process that reconsiders requirements at all change stages.  The high-level process in both cases remains the same, however the way in which a leader prepares for and executes the change will vary considerably.  One interviewee suggested that leaders in a DLE environment should embrace a more detailed, task-explicit change management process to ensure the impact of DLE on all change factors was adequately considered.

In an effort to display the idea of a more detailed process, one interviewee worked with me to modify McLean & Company’s standard process (Figure 3) and create a more detailed process for application to a DLE (Figure 4).  This adapted model captures additional task items like the setting of success measures (Figure 4, 1.4) and communication with all stakeholders early in the change process (Figure 4, 2.4), which are arguably more critical in a DLE than in a standard roll-out.  In addition, these items are likely to look very different in a DLE, making attention to them critical to change success.

In addition to supplementary tasks in the model, there are certain tasks in the original process that could represent a common failure point in a DLE context, such as organizational readiness (Figure 4, 1.2).  Let us consider Weiner’s definition of organizational readiness for change: “organization members’ shared resolve to implement a change (change commitment) and shared belief in their collective capability to do so (change efficacy)” (2009).  In cases where the organization is not adept at navigating DLEs, it is easy to imagine that readiness is less common, and therefore a more important factor to accurately assess during change planning.  One means for exploring organizational readiness could be assessing the organization’s resiliency  (Weller & Anderson, 2013).

Conclusion

Change leaders in a DLE can benefit from taking a structured approach to change management, just like their non-DLE counterparts.  In addition, DLE change leaders may particularly benefit from a detailed, task-heavy process that ensures the impact of DLE on each process step is considered.  Given the current interest in context-driven processes as a means to drive greater change management success (Burnes & Jackson, 2011, as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015), it is likely research on change process tailored to DLE  is forthcoming.

 

 

 

References

Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262.

Machiavelli, Nicolo (1531). The Prince. Retrieved from https://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Nicolo_Machiavelli/The_Prince/CHAPTER_VI_p2.html.

McLean & Company (2018).  Navigate Change Storyboard. Available from https://hr.mcleanco.com/research/ss/navigate-change.

Weiner, Bryan J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67).

Weller, M., & Anderson, T., (2013). Digital Resilience in Higher Education. European Journal of Open Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53-66.

Managing Change for Learning in Digital Environments (Activity 2.1)

A thorough review of the history of change management research, as well as an exploration of many change-focused theories and models, shows a distinct shift in response to a transformed (and still transforming) macro environment. Let’s explore this shift and its impact on leadership using a few question prompts:

1. How have the theories/models for change adapted to take into consideration our current technological, economic and societal contexts?

The change management arena is littered with change processes intended to suit all organizations, regardless of change scope, organizational readiness for change, or any other factor.  These “one fit” processes were the norm up until the early 1990s – and were, understandably, high-level and often comparable.  For example, Lippet et al.’s Planning Method included seven, rather generic, steps: Scout, Enter, Diagnose, Plan, Act, Stabilize & Evaluate, and Terminate (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015).  Alas, the dismal change success rate of under 30% (Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015) suggest that “one fit” processes such as these were ill-advised – and researchers took notice.

As early as the 1990s, researchers in the change management arena proposed that no single change process could produce success in all cases; change strategies must suit the context of the change (Dunphy & Stace, 1993, as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015).  However, it was not until the late 2000s that it became more widely accepted that many methods would be required to suit the wide variety of change contexts (Burnes & Jackson, 2011, as cited in Al-Haddad & Kotnour, 2015).  This attitudinal shift prompted many researchers to consider factors like organizational context, readiness, and change type as important inputs to process design.

As we operate in an increasingly complex, competitive, and ever-shifting macro environment, it is no wonder that a multitude of factors determine change success, and that those factors are not constant across applications.  Although there are many promising multi-factor theories and models emerging (e.g. Weiner, 2009, Weller & Anderson, 2013, Al-Haddad & Koutner, 2015), the field is too new yet to offer any well-supported guidance on change strategies that factor in multiple variables.

2.  Which theories/models do you think best align with your own approach to leadership? Do these approaches align with your organizational context?

Weiner’s theory of organizational readiness for change, which “treats organizational readiness as a shared psychological state in which organizational members feel committed to implementing an organizational change and confident in their collective abilities to do so” (Weiner, “Summary,” 2009, para. 1), resonates with me because it places emphasis on the importance of employee beliefs and motivation to the success of organizational change.  The ‘hearts and minds’ of employees as individuals and as a collective is particularly critical to change success in my organization because it is high-change environment and changes almost invariably require an alteration in collective behavior in order to be successful.

3. What role does leadership play in managing change?

Leadership plays a key role in managing change – both organizational leaders and change leaders. It is critical that our organizational leaders – from the Executive tier down – visibly support the change, and that we have strong change leaders who ensure a smooth, inclusive change process is outlined and followed.  As Elaine Biech (2007) says, we “must plan the work and work the plan” in order to realize change success (“Models of Change,” 2007, para. 2).

4. What are the unique challenges in managing change for learning in digital environments?

There are many unique challenges in managing change in a digital learning context, with the dominant one arguably being ensuring that function and identity are retained through any change as these are “particularly relevant to scholarship” (Weller & Anderson, 2013).  As I work in the Research department of a Research firm, this is also a dominant consideration for me as I design online experiences for our members: to deliver an exceptional online experience based on the same core functions as our in-person offerings where nothing is lost because of the change in form.

 

References

Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262.

Biech, E. (2007). Models for Change. In Thriving Through Change: A Leader’s Practical Guide to Change Mastery. Available from https://library-books24x7-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/toc.aspx?bookid=22651

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67).

Weller, M., & Anderson, T., (2013). Digital Resilience in Higher Education. European Journal of Open Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53-66.