Managing the Psychology of Change in Upgrades

“The best jobs we’ve had are the ones that have everyone involved up front, sitting down together at the beginning to discuss the project. Operations folks should also be engaged before the project starts. Get champions identified earlier on.”

Craig Cooper, Engineering Account Manager, and Jason Phelps, Project Manager, recently authored a in a blog post for Automation World on the psychology of change and how to best prepare when taking on a project upgrade.

Here’s a scenario—we’re contacted by a company to help them with a system upgrade. The client wants a system upgraded with Ethernet, databases, historians, etc. We provide a proposal, and upper-level engineering love it. Then, the project kicks off. But the boots-on-the-ground operations people hate it. They spend much of the project execution trying to make the new system exactly like it was before. Throughout this process, we try to coax the operations folks to see our way is better, and to show them why it’s better and how it will help them. It feels like a constant sales presentation. This results in a lot of rework, because we want to make them happy. And then as they adjust, they go back and forth on changes. Sound familiar?

Often when companies approach an upgrade project, they go straight into the technology, functional requirements, and business needs. These are all very important considerations, but an important piece of the puzzle is missing: the psychology of the change itself and how best to manage it.

To an operations team with production goals and other metrics to meet every shift, change is not exactly embraced with open arms. Change can mean adaptation (which takes time that they think they don’t have), it can be scary (even the best ideas can be poorly executed with catastrophic results, and they’ve probably seen that before), and it can seem pointless (it was working this way, why are we doing it differently now?).

Here’s how to approach your upgrade with the psychology of change in mind.

  • Include your key stakeholders before the project starts
  • Prework sets you up for success
  • Integrators need to drive the process
  • Think about training ahead of time
  • Remember what it’s really about

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