It is widely known that many large-scale change management projects involving new information technology (IT) fail for reasons unrelated to technical feasibility and reliability.1 It is also well known that good technology “implementation” and “change management” techniques can substantially increase the chances of success.2 Why, then, do so many organizations fail at IT-enabled transformation? What can line executives and IT specialists do to increase the odds of success?
In fact, there is a lengthy list of good techniques and methods for successful IT-enabled change projects. While we have nothing new to add to this list, we explain why the techniques and methods are not always used, and we challenge common notions about who should use them. In our experience, both IT specialists and line managers frequently have and hold onto failure-promoting beliefs about their roles in change. Success requires different beliefs and team-work in applying the best practices of change.
We view IT-enabled transformation as a business process that crosses several functional lines. Because there are handoffs in the process, some things get done twice, while others fall through the cracks. Even if each function performs its role exactly as prescribed, the outcome may not meet customer expectations for timeliness or quality. And when the different functions do not even agree about who is supposed to do each task, only luck — or magic — can produce good results.
When we examined what many people think about who should do what in IT-enabled change, we found that they seem to believe in magic. The joint efforts of all parties playing their scripted roles do not add up to successful change. Sometimes these people still get good results — by accident — which means that they’re less likely to change their behavior the next time when things don’t go as planned.
In manufacturing, production experts have learned how to achieve better results and just-in-time flexibility by broadening people’s work roles. One strategy combines separate production tasks into the work of a team. Another involves cross-training workers on upstream and downstream jobs. That way, production workers can correct errors introduced by workers upstream and prevent errors that might affect workers farther down the line.
In IT-enabled change, however, the emphasis seems to be on people staying within prescribed roles. Line executives, IS specialists, and other groups are each assigned a role (e.g.,