The Change Agents

DQI Bureau
New Update

Hey! another bug," exclaimed the sprightly young QA (quality assurance)

tester, jumping up from her seat. Soon, she was engaged in an animated

discussion with the project manager about exactly where in the application the

bug was located and how it could severely cripple functionality in the long

term. In another corner of the room, a team of software developers exchanged

knowing glances, each cringing at the prospect of rewriting program code in

order to clear the bug this young enthusiast had just located. Soon, the dissent

among the software developers translated into a mutiny of sorts, aimed at

ousting the young professional from her position as QA tester.


"After all, she is just a greenhorn sales executive. Why have her

testing our application," queried one developer. "She doesn’t know

the basics of Net navigation. She wants us to explain every functionality on

every Web page, as if the application is to be used by children,"

complained another. "I mean most of the ‘bugs’ she claims to have

located are cosmetic changes and not really needed. Users surely know more than

that. They don’t need to be spoonfed," said a third. The fourth was even

more critical–"Why have a non-technical QA tester at all? Someone from

the development team should assume the QA and documentation functions. We’ll

finish the project on schedule then, instead of wasting time on such needless


The mutiny described above typically displays a techie’s ignorance about

the base knowledge of end-users. Technical professionals developing software

applications are so deeply involved in the technology they are working on that

it is rather difficult for them to view it with an open mind. Besides, in most

cases, ‘professional’ QA testers, who are essentially professionals with a

strong technical background and good documentation skills, test software

applications before they are deployed. So even if the application in flawless in

terms of technology, there are bound to be problems during implementation as the

actual users are at sea.

So here is Rule #1 in smoothening out user problems during a software

implementation–get the users involved from the very beginning. In fact, let

them interact with the technical team and test the systems to be deployed before

the application is frozen. "In most cases, users look at the application

for the first time after it is deployed and this is where problems in acceptance

and delays in deployment begin," points out Vrinda Ballal, head of project

office and software QA at Opus Software, Pune.


Wipro Infotech general manager (e-commerce) Rajat Mathur highlights the

importance of planning and recording the testing criteria for a shift to new

systems, including testing all critical reports with the old system, however

time-consuming it may be. For a company, the return on investment (RoI) from a

new IT system is critical. If the onus of ensuring quantitative benefits lies

with the IT department, the IT staff would certainly try to ensure that the

system is used.

But the initial user reaction to any new IT system is one of suspicion and

stems from an inherent resistance to change. "Users normally view any such

implementation as an impediment in existing work processes. A proper change

management approach is required to make users understand the impact of the new

system," says Hilal Ishar Khan, IT manager at Honda Siel.

Ring out the old

Most companies carry a legacy of manual or semi-automated systems. People

get used to these systems and all the business processes get built around

existing systems. "With time, people feel comfortable working with them,

however inefficient they may be. This eventually leads to a tremendous

resistance to change," points out CP Gurnani, chief operating officer of

HCL Perot Systems. Some software solutions expect businesses to change their

processes to suit the processes that are built into the solution. "New

processes and systems mean users have to give up using their existing ways of

working, the comfort level they have built with existing systems and go through

the learning curve again, resulting in delays and slower adoption" adds

Arvind Pandey, managing director of Persistent eBusiness Solutions (PeBS).


Honda Siel’s Hilal Khan explains that users try to replicate the existing

process in the new transaction system, thereby killing the basic objective of

process transformation and business process re-engineering. "The adamant

attitude of users only results in increasing the level of customization,"

he says.

BG Srinivas, head for enterprise solutions at Infosys Technologies, cites the

example of an IT implementation which failed primarily because users were not

prepared to accept it. "Our client had taken over a couple of small

companies, each of which had a separate IT manager, a distinct IT strategy and

its own legacy applications. Some of these managers wanted the implementation to

fail since it was encroaching on their authority," recalls Srinivas. In the

scenario described by Srinivas, employees were only partially aware of the

proposed changes. As a result, newer and better processes were not accepted and

the same old processes were mapped with extensive customization and interfaces,

and the project ended up a non-starter. A clean break from legacy systems is

essential for success, no doubt, but a change does mean that you chuck out every

legacy system, even if it is good.

Bathwater without the baby

A new IT system may also bring with it fears about the change in role of

some of the users. And in order to disguise the fear of becoming obsolete and

sidetracked, insecure users often take to finding faults with the new system.

The feeling may rub on to other users and soon, the system acquires the

reputation of a ‘devious management strategy’ to unseat old employees.

"A very transparent process of defining change and assuring people,

especially old-timers who have got used to a way of working, must be followed to

check this," says Rajat Mathur of Wipro Infotech. Mathur points out that

one must also bear in mind that old-timers are the key users who have vital

information about company processes and systems, with their participation being

critical to the system’s success.


Once again, the key to success lies in keeping communication channels open

during the entire implementation process. "Encouraging feedback and sharing

success stories of various divisions that have been positively impacted by the

change helps," advises Paul Ranjan, head for security research at Bangalore

Labs. "Transparency in operations and the availability of information

across the organization helps dispel insecurity," agrees Ballal.

Back to school

Opus’ Ballal further points out that an adequate amount of time must be

spent on training and making users familiar with the application at an earlier

stage. "Normally, due to tight schedules, user training is the first item

that is sacrificed on any project plan." Smaller organizations find it easy

to bring a team together, conduct a training session and then offer

post-installation support. But in case of bigger companies migrating to larger

systems like ERP and CRM, there’s a need to address the needs of different

departments separately.

"In large companies, department heads should be trained on the new

system first. They can then handle their teams independently and use technical

help when required. The training must be conducted before the new system is

rolled out and during work hours. This also sends out the signal that the

management is committed to the project," says Anup Kumar, V-P (technology)

at India Life Pension Services. Another aspect is that the time required by each

user to adapt to the new system is bound to be different. It depends not only on

the grasping power of individuals but also their tech and functional competence.


The new user champions

The best way to convince a functional professional about the utility of any

technical application is by showing him another professional who uses it well!

It is a good idea to create a team of techno-functional employees who are

closely involved in the planning, development and deployment of the system.

These can later be projected as ‘champion users’ to help new users get over

their inhibitions.

"Run a pilot project and do an exhaustive test of the system or product

so that you can get user buy-in smoothly," says Sunil PR, head for IT

infrastucture at Wipro Technologies. "In-house facilitators having tools

and skills to deal with change contribute significantly to the success of the

new process or system–they influence users to look at the good side of the new

system and slowly move on to understand the other operations they would require

to work on," says Kumar. On the one hand, you have resistance to switch to

the new systems and on the other, you have users with unrealistic expectations.

"People need to be told that the new system will provide hassle-free

transactions and faster service and that IT infrastructure is a utility model

and not a cost centre," says Dr NJ Rajaram, R&D head of Aptech’s

training and education division. It is not just users, but the management too,

which has often has unrealistic notions about the project. If the management

expresses disappointment, it is bound to trickle down to other users.


Driving Mr Moneybags

It often happens that the CEO and other core team members are far too tied

up with key business issues to take an interest in the deployment of IT systems

in the organization. In a lot of cases, therefore, this indifference continues

and alarm bells ring only when it is time to quantify the returns from the


"Though this is not really a management problem, the involvement of the

top management is a must to influence smooth transition of the entire process.

If there is a visible and demonstrable commitment from senior management, the

success of the project is almost always guaranteed. Someone on top has to

sponsor and drive the project," says Saadia Lobo, director of knowledge

services at SAP India.

Ensuring no delays in providing infrastructure like LAN or WAN and bandwidth

also boosts user confidence. The management also needs to be actively involved

in the formation of the ‘user champions’ group. Including employees who

understand the company’s business processes and appreciate the best practices

the product offers in this team is critical.

Manjiri Kalghatgi in New Delhi Inputs

from Lakshmi Simha/CNS in Bangalore