Switching to a new project management system can be a source of uncertainty and anxiety. Help your team switch to a new PM software by following the tips in this article.
After months of deliberation, you’ve finally decided to adopt a new project management software. You’ve signed all the agreements, made the payments, and can’t wait to realize all those promised productivity gains.
But before you can do that, you need to help your employees switch to the new software.
Change is never easy, especially when it’s as big as a new project management software. People who are used to the familiarity and workflows of the older tool will naturally hesitate to jump aboard.
Your job is to address their fears and chart a clear path to adoption.
I’ll show you how in this article.
What Derails New Technology Adoption?
What exactly causes new tech initiatives to fail?
A 2013 study by MIT Sloan and Capgemini Consulting sought to find answers to this question.
After surveying 1,559 managers in a range of industries, the study found two core reasons for the failure of any new tech adoption:
- “Lack of urgency” in implementation, especially from senior executives
- “Poor communication” about strategic benefits of new tools
The study also found that in cases where company CEOs have shared their vision for the new technology, 93% of employees jumped aboard.
Another study published in the Human Resource Management journal surveyed the implementation of new software in two companies. This study found that software adoption is most successful when:
- The change strategy is participatory, i.e. it involves all stakeholders in a gradual rollout of the new tool
- There is extensive user training and support to facilitate the change
Further, using the above two strategies can alter how the employees see the company’s culture. A participatory approach to change makes them feel included in the business’ decision-making.
If you’re adopting new project management software (or any other software), your approach should keep these things in mind. You should have clear buy-in from senior leadership, clear communication, and extensive training.
In the sections to follow, I’ll share strategies to address these concerns.
Understand Your Employees’ Reservations
Every technology adoption exercise should start by asking this question:
“Why are my employees resistant to this change?”
Your employees will have any number of reasons for their aversion to change. Some will be scared of the potential productivity loss. Others will be worried about changing their workflows.
Your goal should be to dig into the heart of their reservations and address them, one by one.
To do this, you have to first understand the role project management software plays in an agency.
PM software isn’t a creativity tool. Although it is crucial for running the agency, it exists at the periphery of the actual work done by your employees. A designer will log into the PM software every morning, but the bulk of his/her work will happen in Photoshop or Illustrator.
Thus, any agency employee will have three core reservations about switching to a new PM software:
- How difficult is the software to use? How much training/support is available - free and paid?
- How will it impact their existing workflows? Does it integrate with their core creativity tools?
- How much additional work will the new software create for them? What sort of admin/data-entry tasks will they need to perform?
The last question is particularly important. Creative professionals don’t like to waste their time on admin work. They want PM software that lets them login, understand their tasks, track time, and get out of the way. A new project management software that creates additional work for them, or breaks their current workflows won’t win much favor.
That’s for creative resources. What about the rest of your agency employees, especially account managers?
In this case, you’ll find four common reservations:
- Is the software accessible on mobile devices? Can you use it via the web?
- Does the software integrate with your existing communication tools?
- Does the software help you automate repetitive tasks such as check-ins?
- Is the software easy to use?
Communication and mobile access are particularly important, given how integral they are to a project manager’s workflow.
To win over employees, you’ll have to address each of these reservations. You’ll have to show them that instead of disruption, they’ll see productivity gains and a more enjoyable work experience.
Get Organizational Buy-in
In 2012, Coca-Cola wanted to adopt a new social collaboration software across the organization. Although the company understood the business benefits, not all employees agreed. Many saw “social collaboration” as just another buzzword. Resistance was high and adoption rates low.
To solve the problem, Coca-Cola turned to its senior leaders and managers. It asked its leaders to personally use the software at least once a week. If employees saw their bosses using the tool, they were more likely to get on board.
As Anthony Newstead, the Coca-Cola executive leading the implementation told Information Week:
"With executive engagement, you don't have to mandate activity."
Any successful technology initiative must start at the top. The troops on the ground must feel that the senior leadership is sufficiently invested in the software. A lack of commitment from executives can cause employees to feel that the new tool is “optional”.
In the case of project management software, start by getting all your VP and C-level executives onboard. Ask them to draw out their reservations about the new software and recommendations to address them. A disagreement between senior leadership can derail the implementation, so make sure that everyone is fully invested in the new software.
Once you’ve got buy-in from senior leadership, it’s time to show clear commitment. Here are a few things that can help:
Show commitment publicly
The rollout for a new software shouldn’t be secretive. Your employees should know your plans to switch to the new PM tool well in advance. As you go through the software selection and implementation process, inform your employees about:
- Your plans to shift to a new tool, and why
- The criteria you used to select the new tool (highlight the benefits to the employees)
- The implementation schedule
- The key senior leadership involved in the implementation
Keeping them in the loop will not only make the entire process more transparent, it will also show that you’re committed to the change.
And of course, using the software yourself can’t hurt. If people know that the agency founder is using it, they’ll be more likely to follow suit.
Appoint an implementation manager
“The implementation manager”, Dorothy Leonard-Barton and William Kraus write in Harvard Business Review, “has to integrate the perspectives and the needs of both developers and users. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to think of implementation as an internal marketing, not selling, job.”
Essentially, the implementation manager acts as the interface between the software vendor and end users. He champions the software across the organization, recruits influencers, and collects feedback from end users.
Most importantly, he shifts the ownership of the software from the vendor to senior leadership to end users.
Ideally, this person should be a senior leader or be sponsored by one. The more “formal” backing he has, the more employees will take the implementation seriously.
Recruit internal influencers
Every agency will have some people who:
- Have considerable influence among their colleagues, or
- Are more enthusiastic about the new PM software than others
Recruiting these internal influencers to champion the new software can make implementation much smoother.
“You want people who are able to work horizontally across the organization and who have good communication and networking skills”, says Didier Bonnet, coauthor of Leading Digital. They can often get reluctant people to get onboard by the sheer strength of their expertise, charisma, and status within the organization.
Fix Implementation Issues
The biggest hurdle to any new software implementation is that age-old question: “What’s in it for me?”
People don’t want to switch to new tools, especially if they were happy (or habituated) to the old ones.They often don’t see the benefit - to them and to the organization.
To make the change easier, you have to evangelize the software, taking care to address each of the reservations you discovered earlier.
“The best argument for a new technology is ‘that it will make your life better’”, says Michael Mankins, a partner in Bain & Company’s San Francisco office. You must demonstrate the new service offers “economic and rational benefits for the organization and the individual”, he adds.
There are several approaches to this problem as I’ll share below.
Highlight your vision
Given that project management software affects every aspect of the agency, it’s not enough to state its benefits. You also have to tie them together in an overarching vision - for the company and for your employees.
Share with your employees:
- What the new software will help you accomplish (that the old one wasn’t able to)
- How it ties into your long-term goals for the business and the organization as a whole
For instance, your goal might be to build a more operationally optimized agency. For this, you need project management software that prioritizes automation and gives you better insight into your finances.
If you can highlight this vision in your implementation process, you’ll find it easier to make the switch.
Make it personal
Your employees obviously care about their teams and the agency as a whole. But more than anything, they care about themselves - their careers, their productivity, and their happiness.
To sell the software to your people, you have to highlight how it will benefit them personally - now, and in the future.
Suppose you’re switching from Excel to a comprehensive agency management software like Workamajig. To sell this change, you can talk about:
- How Excel is outdated and using Workamajig will prepare them for the future (good for their careers).
- How automation can limit the amount of manual tasks and let them focus on more meaningful work (good for happiness).
- How conversation tracking can reduce frustrating back-and-forth emails (good for productivity).
Keep in mind what I said earlier: implementation is a marketing job. Your positioning should align with your employees’ personal motivations. Don’t just talk about how the software will save the agency money. Rather, talk about how it will help them do better work, collaborate easily, and save more time.
Assure them of support
One of the biggest anxieties people have when switching to a new software is that they won’t get enough support. This is particularly true for older employees who aren’t always quick to make the transition to a new technology. They fear that minus extensive support, they’ll be left behind.
Assuage their fears by sharing the new software’s support and training system. Tell everyone exactly what they can expect in terms of:
- Free on-site support and training
- Paid on-site support and training
You can also develop a phased implementation plan so that people have enough time to catch up.
Easy access to support and documentation can make the switch easier for employees (above: Workamajig support)
Tie features to specific pain points
Your existing project management system likely has some issues, which is exactly why you want to switch.
Connecting such issues to features in the new software can help you sell the implementation.
For example, if your people complain that they’re not able to keep track of their files, you can talk about the new software’s file sharing capabilities. If they say that the old software made it difficult to track conversations, talk about the new one’s built-in chat tool.
Your goal should be to:
- Address each pain point
- Make it personal by showing how it affects productivity currently
- Give examples of how the new software will help solve the problem
Phase out the implementation
When exactly should you implement the new software?
For agencies, this isn’t an easy question to answer. You can’t switch to a new PM software mid-project; it will just result in a disaster.
The solution is to adopt a phased implementation strategy.
This involves breaking the implementation process into multiple stages. Individual project teams adopt the new PM software as their schedule permits.
To do this:
- Map out the current schedules for all project teams and resources
- Find gaps in the schedules when they’ll have time to figure out the new software
- Plan support and training during periods of low activity
This will not only make the switch easier, it will also help teams learn from each other’s experience. You will also get a chance to iron out issues in the roll-out.
Access to your staff’s existing schedule - as in this example from Workamajig - will help you spot gaps when you can implement the new PM software.
Over to You
Switching to a new project management software can be a long, anxiety-ridden process. PM software affects every aspect of your agency’s operations. People will be worried and apprehensive about making such a big change.
Use these strategies to make the implementation process smoother. Get buy-in from leadership, figure out the source of your employees’ resistance, and focus on the benefits to win over employees.
Have you ever made a big software change at your agency? Share your experience in the comments below!