Organizational Change Management for Lab Informatics Project Success

Change Manager Organization Chart

What do you call success? When it comes to a laboratory informatics implementation, the answer often depends on your perspective. A vendor may define success as getting the product into the production environment. A project manager might define success as an on-time, in scope, and on-budget delivery. And though both are common criteria for defining project success, on their own they are insufficient.

From the lab manager’s perspective, the success criteria is having a fully operational system with a trained staff that enables the lab to operate more efficiently.  This must form part of the solution. It’s the combination of the success criteria from all three perspectives that makes for a successful project.

Every year, companies pour millions of dollars into laboratory informatics projects that fail to realize the full potential of the lab informatics system. These failures occur because the project has forgotten to address the organizational changes that must occur in order for the lab informatics system to be fully utilized. In addition to the introduction of new technology, a lab informatics project will also include changes to business processes and roles performed within the lab.  These organizational changes must also be addressed in order for the project to realize its full potential.

It’s critical that focus is placed on the organizational changes that the informatics system will bring. Best practices dictate that a change manager be assigned to the project to address the organizational changes.  A good change manager will ensure your project gets to go live smoothly, with maximum user adoption and efficiency gains. This blog will explore how this one role can greatly reduce the risk of failure. But before we dive into that, let’s first evaluate how a laboratory informatics project might result in a failure status.

How Does a Successful Project Fail?

Let’s first look at what can cause an otherwise successful laboratory informatics project to fail. Having worked with many clients, we have seen just about everything. Nonetheless, it is often surprising to see how frequently we are asked to come into a company, post go live, where the system is not working correctly and the end users simply refuse to use, or struggle to use the implemented LIMS or ELN. This often comes as a complete shock to the management. From their perspective, everything went right. But looking deeper, it quickly becomes clear that the project failed.  The root cause of the failure comes down to insufficient end user involvement and some areas where this might occur are below.

  • Longer Process – End users report that the new LIMS or ELN is now taking them two hours to do a job that used to take thirty minutes.
  • User Interface – Clunky, non-intuitive, and hard to use. Filling out the form online or searching for information is much harder than writing the same information on a sheet of paper or looking it up in a notebook.
  • Lack of Understanding – No Training or improper training leads to users that do not use the system to its fullest potential.

In these cases, the post mortems reveal that no one properly took the needs of the end users into account. The focus was on delivering a product within a budget by a given date, and the actual jobs of the users got overlooked. In some cases, users were not trained. In other cases, users were not consulted to understand their pain points, nor shadowed to ensure that new workflows would be intuitive. The number one reason that projects fail is lack of end user involvement throughout the implementation process.

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The Change Manager Role

When a laboratory informatics project fails, it can waste millions of dollars and have a significant impact on morale. While lack of end user involvement is one of the major reasons for failure, there are many other possibilities as well. The way to best avoid these failures is to have a seasoned change manager as a member of your project. It is the job of the change manager to:

  • Guide – a project from beginning to end. This involves the creation and execution of a change management strategy that will engage users and managers early and ensure resources stay with the project post go live to provide system support.
  • Communicate – with end users through continuous and ongoing engagement. The goal is to share the benefits of the new system and communicate the progress toward achieving those benefits.
  • Manage Perceptions and Expectations – Identify areas of resistance. Listen to users and create plans to mitigate resistance. Influence users toward a shared goal and faster adoption.
  • Ensure System Adoption – Coordinate with business analyst to define training programs and ensure all functions and features are implemented as specified.

If the job description for the change manager doesn’t state the clear benefits for having this role on your laboratory informatics project, then consider the following:

  • The change manager will allow your organization to effectively deliver on the projects, allowing for a larger return on investment.
  • There are often multiple changes occurring simultaneously; change management allows the organization to handle the volume of change and not overwhelm any one group.
  • The change process will greatly reduce the number of gaps in a finished product and thus reduce the amount of rework that is needed.
  • More and more companies are restructuring their corporate goals, putting people first; change management is aligned with this idea and demonstrates a commitment by the management to make sure all voices are heard.
  • Change management can be used to harmonize business processes and establish better and more efficient approaches to solving workflow inconsistencies.

As you can see, employing a change manager can have numerous benefits to your organization beyond the simple job description.

Where to Look for a Change Manager

Without a strong Project Management Organization (PMO) in place, many project teams may not even be aware of their own change manager within the organization. Before initiating your project kickoff, it is a good idea to identify your change manager. For many medium size or small companies, a change manager may not be available. In this case, you will need to look outside your corporation for some assistance. However, even in larger companies, it might make sense to use an external resource.

Let’s review where a change manager can be resourced and examine some of the pros and cons of each.

  • Internally – Many larger organizations may have a change manager under the Project Management Organization. This person should be intimately familiar with the change management strategies already in place at your company. The internal change manager should have a good knowledge of the various groups affected by the change as well as the management structure for the project. Laboratory informatics projects do require an additional set of expertise to properly gather user feedback and ensure that the product is meeting expectations. If such a person exists at your organization, then this internal change manager may be the best solution.
  • Software vendor –Most software vendors do not offer change management resources. Often, vendors will offer a project manager as a replacement and it is important to understand that these are two different roles. The objectives and job description of the project manager are very different from those of the change manager and attempting to have the project manager, even if they are quite strong as a PM, do both is not a good idea.
  • Independent vendor – Consultancy organizations that focus on Laboratory Informatics-specific implementations can offer a change manager that is likely to increase a project’s success beyond that of an internal change manager. This comes from their deep understanding of the product being implemented.

LIMS/ELN based change managers have experience from other LIMS/ELN projects to know the common trouble areas for a given product; an internal change manager would not be aware. As a result, a laboratory informatics focused change manager will know what questions to ask, even if the users themselves do not know. This results in high user adoption rates and a better end product.

Why You Should Use a Change Manger

Whatever your role, your definition of success must include full adoption of the system. The best way to guarantee that your project achieves full adoption is to intentionally address organizational change management by including a change management role on your project team. The change manager will ensure that there is a constant line of communication to the end users, will seek to discover areas of resistance and eliminate them early on, and will work to manage expectations of the project from start to finish.

Understanding the importance of your change manager and knowing where to find one, makes a big difference in the success or failure of your project. Have you used change managers in the past? Are you ready to put a change manager on your next project?

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