29 June 2017

IT skills for librarians: change management

This post is Number 5 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation at the New Librarians Symposium 8 on 25 June 2017 in Canberra. You may want to start reading with the first post in the series

Change management is an IT skill that I wish more librarians were interested in. In 2013 I spent six months seconded to a project that was implementing collaborative research data storage services. It was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have ever had.

I got an enormous amount of satisfaction out of being the 'bridge' between a group of highly skilled IT professionals with a fantastic service to offer and the group of researchers who could really make use that service if they only knew it existed. I've blogged before about some of my experiences on this project, in particular around developing a communications and marketing campaign to launch a new product.


The name for this skill in SFIA is "Change implementation planning and management" which is a bit of a mouthful! SFIA defines it like this:

The definition and management of the process for deploying and integrating new digital capabilities into the business in a way that is sensitive to and fully compatible with business operations.
In this context we're not talking about the management of organisational change such as restructures, but rather the set of activities in an IT project that make sure the people who will use a new or upgraded product or service are aware of what’s happening and able to respond to the changes.

I’m sure you’ve all experienced in your study or work life what happens when an IT product is replaced or upgraded without attention being paid to communicating with the people who need to use it. It's pretty annoying at an individual level, and at a macro level it has serious consequences for organisations. One recent report from the US Project Management Institute had some pretty shocking findings: two in five projects did not meet their original goals, and of those, half the failures were related to ineffective communications. This study found that projects with poor communication were far more likely to run over time and over budget.

As an information professional, change management offers you the ability to contribute to the successful rollout of new products and services by ensuring everyone is committed and has the information and training they need.

In the early stages of a project you would be involved in analysing all the parties that will be affected by or interested in the outcome of the project, and coming up with strategies to ensure that their needs will be met throughout the project. This can get get pretty complicated on a larger and more complex project, as the parties could be everyone from senior managers, who may require an monthly email or a briefing paper, through to users of the service who will need frequent and more detailed information if a change is going to affect the way that they do their work.

Later in the project you might coordinate with communication and marketing specialists to produce different kinds of collateral such as printed materials and online self-help guides and videos, as well as a plan for social media. You could be involved in developing a budget for a launch campaign, and working out how you will measure whether your campaign has been successful (sign-ups for a new service, increased usage, positive feedback etc).

You might also be involved in developing and implementing training programs, which could range from very light-touch opt-in approaches through to mandatory training programs for large numbers of people. These could be developed face-to-face, online through webinars, or via self-directed learning (e.g. an online module). Again, there will be costs associated with these that may need a budget to be prepared and endorsed.

In terms of required skills, change managers need to be great communicators - you need to be able to negotiate, persuade and influence. Your ability to tailor messages to different audiences is key. It's also helpful to have an understanding of how projects work (and particularly any methodologies that are used in your organisation). Change management is now a fairly well-established discipline with its own professional bodies, and there are different theoretical models and ideas about best practice that are interesting to learn about.

Below you will find links to some free or low-cost options for learning more about this area. In the next post I'll be talking to Julie Toohey, a librarian who has worked as a change manager and has lots more great advice.

Getting started in change management 

Watch: Lynda.com (free trial) Change Management course, especially the section on change management in projects

Read: Esther Cameron and Mike Green (2015), Making sense of change management : a complete guide to the models, tools & techniques of organizational change (available to borrow)

Find: A project manager or change manager that you can talk to

Follow: @Prosci