Change Management and the Sherpa Journey

What do Sherpas, innovation, and multimillion dollar software projects have in common?  Read on.

ARTICLE | Dec 7, 2017
by Robert Baron, Process & Project Coordinator, Coconino County, AZ
Coconino County Arizona

Sherpa’s are Tibetan people living in the Himalayas who often serve as porters on mountain climbing expeditions.  Their image is someone to assist with a difficult uphill journey.  Coconino County, Arizona adapted the Sherpa name as a brand as they undertake a multimillion dollar and multi-year effort to replace their ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.

Coconino County prides itself in being a leader in innovation.  The County has an active Lean Government Committee, and the IDEAS (Improve, Develop, Eliminate, Adapt, Succeed) program offers prizes to employees that submit ideas to help the County implement efficiencies. Additionally, the Lean Academy pays the tuition cost for employees who earn a Lean Six Sigma Green belt.  Continuing this innovative spirit, the County is adopting a formal Change Management program as they implement new ERP software.

ERP systems are the financial backbone of any organization.  ERP systems assist staff to best coordinate the financial, budgeting, procurement, human resources, payroll, and other function across multiple departments.  Coconino County’s legacy ERP system was 25 years old and still employed the “green screen” technology.  Over the next three years, it is being replaced with a modern web based system, nicknamed “shERPa”. 

One of the biggest hurdles to a successful software deployment is not the software or hardware, but user acceptance.  User’s resistance to change is real and very powerful.  People cling to the adage that what is known is better than the unknown. 

Fear of learning a new system, added responsibilities, or job loss make many users hesitant to embrace change.  Given that Coconino County’s old ERP system has been in use for over two decades, much effort is being put into place to make a smooth transition. 

In cooperation with BerryDunn, Coconino County is enacting a Change Management program to manage the human aspect of change.  Change management involves including people throughout the entire process.  Buy-in is key. 

The program is currently in process and consists of the following items.

Engage Stakeholders from the Beginning

Always remember, people may not readily accept processes they didn’t help create.  Much effort was put into finding the user’s needs for the new ERP software before a purchasing decision was made.  Many meetings were held to understand what the current system does and doesn’t do well.  Those meetings uncovered many “shadow systems”, such as Excel spreadsheets, that filled in the gaps with the legacy software.  That feedback formed the basic requirements for the new software.

Appoint an Organization Change Manager

Change management can’t be taken lightly and a point person is required.  The duties for this person include; invite a diverse membership group to assist with change management, identify pockets of resistance to change, create and implement a plan to mitigate this risk, and spearhead project communication with the stakeholders.

Share Decision Making between IT and other Departments

While software implementations can be viewed as an IT project, this focus is too narrow.  IT is a stakeholder, but decisions must also include all departments affected by the change.  Be sure to include all stakeholders in the decision-making process.  If not, those users may resist the change.

Build a Business Case for the Project

One method to encourage others to accept the change is to build a case for why change is necessary.  Identify deficiencies with the current process and highlight how the new one will make everyone’s job easier.  For example, most the “shadow systems” identified early on will be eliminated with the new software.  Building a case for a positive future state goes a long way toward buy-in now.

Garner Support from Executive Leadership

Change must always be supported from the top leadership.  It is important to always keep leadership well informed of all progress and setbacks.  A positive cost benefit analysis goes a long way to garnering support from upper management.

Coconino County is in the midst of their transition to a new ERP system.  It is a multi-year and multi-million-dollar effort, nicknamed “shERPa”.  By embracing Change Management from the outset of the project, the odds of a successful transition are greatly increased.


You may also be interested in