The Art of Incremental Implementation
by Jonathan Presson
In this modern age, we all must find ways to keep up with the technological momentum. The current breakneck speed of IT development has its benefits, but it also has the drawback of leaving some of our best, long-term employees behind, especially in the implementation of newer, better systems at rapid rates. Though system updates and replacements are sometimes necessary, the process can be difficult for staff if improperly implemented. There are multiple things to be considered in the implementation of a new system, but the costliest of these is the cost of training. These do not end once staff has undergone an initial training program. If a system is so complicated that current staff cannot readily transition, utilize in practice, or retrain new employees, you will likely spend more in training time and errors than if you purchased a more refined system. Nevertheless, no system can be implemented without training, and this brings us to the meat of the matter. Incremental Implementation is the systematic process of updating, overhauling, or replacing systems (both analog and digital) within a company to increase productivity by maximizing current staff’s ability to understand and utilize the new system.
The first thing to consider when implementing a system is transitional shock. Transitional shock occurs on multiple levels and is the result of poor preparation. Systemic upgrades and replacements often require data transfer, training, and practice time in order to create a smooth transition. If these items are rushed or, worse, simultaneously enacted, it will result in transitional shock which is characterized by costly errors, unexpected system failures, and employee frustration and often results in sudden turnover and loss of customers. Such losses can be difficult to fully determine, but will likely cost far more than it would to take a slower, more calculated approach. It is important to research the process, discuss it in depth with the system publishers, and even discuss the process with other companies which are already using the system. After this, planning should begin. In any plan of action, there should be clearly defined benchmarks and prerequisites for moving from one stage to another. Meeting these prerequisites should be considered above schedules as failure to meet them will likely result in failure, even if the plan is able to be implemented by its deadline. In some cases, the original system will have to be reimplemented and the process of transitioning will have to be started again from the beginning. So, our first principle is, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”
Hierarchical Pyramid of Management Illustration
Secondly, whenever implementing any new system, you should utilize the Hierarchical Pyramid of Management (see illustration) as your guide to training structures. The Hierarchical Pyramid of Management is the structure by which the vast majority of companies are clearly defined, and by which even more experimental companies are defined, whether or not they recognize this fact. These structures define individuals by duties, decision making responsibilities, and power over essential and non-essential aspects of the company. Training should always begin as close to the top of the pyramid as possible. While owners, stockholders, CEO’s, and the like may have no reason to use a new system, they should at-least have a familiarity with a system’s capabilities. This aids in company-wide cohesion and morale as well as aiding such personnel to make fully informed business decisions. If this is not possible, then training should begin with the highest-level manager who would be expected to use the system. Such members of management should have a deep familiarity with all aspects of the system including all aspects of use for those in all other areas beneath their specific position on the hierarchical pyramid. Though a warehouse manager may have no occasion to use a cash register, understanding that element of the system may well aid in understanding and communicating with individuals and management in other departments, reducing errors and increasing comradery. Likewise, while an HR Manager may never have occasion to use the medical charting element of a system, understanding the general elements of the system will aid that HR manager in understanding the needs of staff under their purview. Moreover, a manager who understands the entire system is more capable of resolving issues without the involvement of IT or publisher support. This structure of, “train for your job and for the one below you,” should be the standard used in each step of implementation. Cross training is also a wise technique, even if only implemented in select cases with particularly adept employees and managers. This aids in loss of productivity when absentees inevitably occur. The most important purpose for such top down education, however, is to ensure the continued profitability and productivity of all arms and levels of the business. Investment in the education of upper management results in more productive middle management as they will always have someone more adept to guide them. Investment in middle management bleeds down into line management, and so on. The increased education of the upper levels of the hierarchical pyramid can only serve to increase ease of training and training of those below them. So, our second principle is, “those who cannot do, cannot teach.”
In light of our two principals, we can develop a plan of implementation. The most important thing to remember is that people have to learn these systems. While the oft repeated, “10’000 hours,” statement may be a bit exaggerated, and while Kauffman’s 20 hours is likely far more accurate, that is still a significant amount of time for an employer to invest in training employees on a system that has yet to be implemented. Moreover, there is a significant difference in simply going through a training class and actually learning to implement the knowledge in a practical sense. Therefore, the Four Stages of Competence should be fully covered in each training program. Tactics for this should start with the aforementioned Hierarchical Pyramid of Management and should be implemented in a holistic process. This process begins when the highest-level management member enters into the classroom style training and ends when the lowest-level employee first utilizes the system successfully and independently.
The first stage begins by entering into theory training with the highest-level management member(s). Theory training is where the trainee(s) undergo a period of verbal explanation and visual guidance to begin to understand the general principals of the system. This begins to move the trainee from Unconscious Incompetence into Conscious Incompetence, allowing them to begin to process and develop a basic understanding of what they will be learning. After the trainee(s) display a general understanding of these processes, practical demonstration and guided operations should be implemented, allowing these individuals to begin to develop a first-hand understanding and practical knowledge of the system. This begins to move the trainee(s) from Conscious Incompetence into Conscious Competence. This is cemented by a series of unguided practical exercises. Transitioning from this stage to the next before a satisfactory display of competence will likely result in failure to smoothly implement.
The second stage follows the same pattern as the previous stage, though with the next level down on your hierarchical pyramid. However, unlike the methodology that is often put to use, the previous level of the hierarchical pyramid should be included once again and should be included in the educational side during practicals, aiding them in cementing their skills and teaching them to teach those below them. This not only aids the previous level to understand the system better, but it also aids in developing trust and comradery between management teams and increases the ability of teams to work together.
With each successive stage, the previous formula should be repeated, including the immediately prior hierarchical level in the education of the level directly beneath them on the pyramid. Upon reaching the bottom level, a soft trial is suggested. This would be implemented on a day when, either by regular practice, or by special appointment, your company is closed for business. In some industries, this is impossible. However, where possible, this is the wisest possible methodology.
When moving to final implementation, timing is crucial. If you are a tax business, implementing a brand-new system right at tax time would likely be disastrous. However, planning your implementation for the slowest period of your year will give a greater period of time for employees to integrate the system into their daily routines. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of costly errors, system failures, and other such issues from transitional shock. So, our final principal is, “timing is everything.”