10 Change Management Keys for Effective Software Implementation

One of the most challenging processes any organization can go through is installing new software systems. A robust change management system is essential to successful implementation

By Samantha E. Velez

Overcoming organizational politics and resistance to change is a daunting challenge for any organization implementing new software systems. First, managers have to work hard at agreeing on the initiative and deciding what would be best for the organization as a whole and not only for their particular area of expertise. Once on the same page and all politics are set aside, they have to collaboratively deal with their staff.

Resistance to change is an ongoing problem at both the individual and the organizational level as it “impairs concerted efforts to improve performance.”1 Management and the project leadership team must find ways to work with this resistance, overcome it, and successfully carry out their new vision. The key to doing so is change management.

As defined by Nancy Lorenzi and Robert Riley, change management is “the process by which an organization gets to its future state, its vision.” What makes it different from traditional approaches to planning is that while they “delineate the steps on the journey,” change management, by contrast, “attempts to facilitate that journey.”1

Change management is essential to any successful software implementation process. It is required to prepare users for the introduction of the new system, to reduce resistance toward the system, and to influence user attitudes toward that system.2 Research suggests that the establishment and assurance of the following 10 tactics can help to avoid unsuccessful implementations and failed investments for the enterprise.

1) Top Management Support. The foundation of any successful organizational change revolves around the leadership team, their ability to set politics aside, and to collaborate, agree, and commit to the change process. Top management support should be included in each step of the implementation and in all organizational levels.3 When there is consistent, managerial backing at every level, the entire workforce is being driven toward the common goal of accepting and adapting to the new system. Effective leadership can sharply reduce the behavioral resistance to change, especially when dealing with new technologies.

2) Project Team. Teamwork is so important when implementing new technologies. Similarly, it is also necessary to support change management processes.3 Cross-functional teams dedicated to managing the institution of change are strongly preferred in effective software implementation.4 Project teams ensure that the implementation is not lost or forgotten about, and they continuously offer assistance with the rollout of the new system implementation.

3) Project Champion. The presence of a champion is a critical factor for success in managing change because of the strong influence they have on the change process within the organization.3 Designating someone with authority to support and motivate the new initiative is a good strategy used to remove cross-departmental political obstacles, strengthen the new implementation, and reveal how important it is among staff.

4) Systematic Planning. The presence of a clear plan for change is a great way to boost software implementation projects.3 A project vision specifies what the implementation project is meant to achieve and how it can positively affect the organization and staff.4 Additionally, assessing the readiness for change and developing a formal strategy allows for better planning and smoother implementation.

After a clear vision is established, the leadership team must analyze their organization and assess its readiness for change by analyzing the culture and behavior of the staff and overall organization.5 If the leadership team takes the time to assess their staff and determine the organization’s readiness for change, they can deal with the implementation and resistance from staff much more effectively. They can also identify the key drivers of change and tie them into all areas of the workplace, so that all staff members remain aligned to objectives.

5) Broad Participation. A company wants to engage staff within the whole life cycle of implementation in order to keep them in the loop and responsive.3 As Lorenzi and Riley note, “People who have low psychological ownership in a system and who vigorously resist its implementation can bring a ‘technically best’ system to its knees.”1

Sidney Fuchs of IBM notes that to ensure that all staff adopt a specific change, they must feel the demand for it. It is critical, therefore, to “make sure each person understands the problems you are addressing and has a feeling of ownership for the solutions you’re proposing.”5 If management can figure out how specific end users will benefit from the new system and convey that to those users, they will strengthen the project significantly. The project leadership team needs to work carefully and strategically to overcome resistance to change among staff and lead a successful implementation process by enhancing user involvement in the process.

6) Effective Communication. Before and during any software implementation, meaningful and effective communication at all levels of the organization is essential.3 This is mostly because substantial communication allows for strong teamwork, effective planning, and end user involvement.

Ample communication regarding the new implementation project helps to foster understanding of the project’s vision and thus to overcome resistance to the project.4 Good communication also heightens overall awareness of the system.2 Only with thorough and ongoing communication among and between both management and staff can the implementation project be successful. The more extensively end users understand the project, the more willing and able they will be to use the new system.

7) Feedback. A key to identifying the source of user resistance to a project is the feedback management receives from staff.3 Project team leaders, the project champion, and management should all make sure that they are providing feedback about the new system. More importantly, they must gather feedback from their staff members and identify the consensus regarding the new system.

Enforcers of the new system have to overcome change obstacles by considering all end user complaints. Perhaps they are legitimate, and the system has a glitch. In any case, system issues must be addressed immediately to avoid excessive pushback from staff. A final argument in favor of gathering and responding to feedback is that people often respond favorably to the implementation of a new technology when those in control of the process consider their input.4

8) Effective Training and Knowledge Transfer. Training is crucial to success of software implementations. All employees should know how the system works and how they personally relate to the new process.3 Training should be readily and broadly available to encourage the new system’s acceptance and use within the company. It can certainly be used as a tool to help overcome employee resistance.4

Training should be offered prior to, during, and after the implementation to ensure operational end user knowledge. Management must take training seriously to avoid the adoption of an ineffective system. There is nothing worse than a useless, unused software program after a company has spent much time and capital investing in it.

9) Incentives. Incentives help develop strong feelings toward accepting and adopting new systems. Incentives should be offered to not only engage staff and overcome resistance to change, but to retain key implementation staff as well. Revised titles, overtime pay, letters of merit, and certificates of recognition can be used as forms of incentives to foster staff involvement and commitment to the new project.4 Incentives are a great way to encourage end user involvement, increase
participation, encourage training, and strengthen the overall system.

10) Post-Implementation Activities. Following implementation, activities such as mentoring by super-users, training, help-desk support, end user documentation, newsletters about the software’s features and functions, and online help are extremely beneficial. Ongoing post-implementation change management activities can help to foster and maintain competent end users.4,6

A Culture of Change

Having a strong, well-thought-out implementation process and aligned staff is key to the success of the new product or system: “Unless these blocks are in place, technology introductions will fail to satisfy expectations and may even produce adverse results.”5 The leadership team must know their staff’s abilities and the culture of their organization. They must know how to assess their organization and get through to staff members to ensure they get the most out of their financial investment.

Change management is certainly the most difficult part of the implementation process. Yet once resistance is phased out strategically, change can be phased in, and metrics can be used to track the new installment’s progress and success. Leaders have to take the time to understand user resistance, realize where it’s coming from, and figure out a way to remove it from the implementation process. Companies spend lots of time and money when determining what and when to implement a new technological advancement. By utilizing change management techniques, they can make sure they don’t lose out. 24×7

Samantha E. Velez is a quality management data analyst for a healthcare facility on Eastern Long Island, NY. For more information, contact 24×7 editorial director John Bethune at [email protected].


1. Lorenzi N, Riley R. Managing change: an overview. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2000;7(2):116-124.

2. Kemp MJ, Low GC. ERP innovation implementation model incorporating change management. Business Process Management Journal. 2008;14(2):228-242.

3. Trieu H, Kuzic J. Change management strategies for the successful implementation of enterprise resource planning systems. IEEE, 2010 Second International Conference on Knowledge and Systems Engineering: 178-182.

4. Calvert C. (2006). A change management model for the implementation and upgrade of ERP systems. AISel, ACIS 2006 Proceedings. Available at: http://aisel.aisnet.org/acis2006. Accessed December 17, 2013.

5. Fuchs SE. (2004, March 09). Organizational change in the internet age. Available at: www.IBM.com. Accessed November 5, 2012.

6. Alballaa H, Al-Mudimigh AS. Change management strategies for effective enterprise resource planning systems: A case study of a Saudi company. International Journal of Computer Applications. (0975-8887). 2011;17(2):14-19.