User resistance to IT projects: 8 ways to get users on your side

When it comes to IT initiatives, user resistance to the idea can make or break even the best ideas. These tips should be helpful in winning over users.

When a new IT initiative is announced, it is typical that there's user resistance to the project. It should not be viewed as a problem, but rather as a challenge, which can be dealt with support and encouragement from the company. The bigger picture needs to be put before users so that the new process is beneficial not only for the company, but also in making them (users) more efficient. Here are some ways in which you can convince users about new IT projects.

Sunil Mehta
Sunil Mehta
1) Ensure user participation in the planning process itself:User's opinions need to be taken into consideration from the very beginning of the planning stage; such involvement will reduce user resistance towards the project. This participation can never be a one-way process. The new project cannot be forced by the authorities or the IT department, but needs involvement of both these entities.

2) Pilot testing and training groups: Pilot testing and a training group are actually essentials before implementing any new IT project. These are needed to foresee any problems or trouble areas that might emerge. Use of the training group is a critical aspect when it comes to reducing resistance from users towards the project.

3) Project sponsor: A project sponsor is a very good idea to ensure lesser resistance from users. Personally, I feel that the head(s) of each concerned department(s) should be sponsors and mediators for the project. In the past, we at JWT have seen successes come our way using such processes, where we have had sponsors at the CEO level.

4) Steering committee: At JWT, we had implemented an ERP where the CEO was the sponsor, and set up an executive committee under him. The CIO, CFO, certain user department heads, and vendor representatives (from their director level) were part of this steering committee. The committee used to monitor these projects very often. We had set up a timetable; say the steering committee for example, would meet at least once a month to review the entire project's working and adaptation. This was the case unless you wanted to escalate something earlier (which was also an open option). The idea of a steering committee works well. Users were made champions by this initiative, and were given credit for driving the project. This is very useful in reducing user resistance since they begin to view the new process not as change, but as an improvement.

5) Empower the user: The user becomes a champion for the project and the company gives them support. In this case, it's made clear that we (company) are only helping you (users) implement the project, and you are the driver. We will only overview the project—you will run the project, be the owner of this project, and in the end you will also get the credit as well as a trophy. Once you personalise it, users feel elated that they get the credit, resulting in lesser user resistance.

6) Incentives: Reward oriented performance reviews in terms of usage (and in terms of the project), help users to regard the process as a positive competition, thereby reducing resistance from users.

7) User community representatives: Among the user community, you also choose a leader. This is an effective way to reduce user resistance. In large IT projects, we at JWT train these representatives to head the project, as well as make them project leaders. Once they are trained, other users provide less resistance, as well as gain confidence in the project.

8) Vendor support: Vendor support is the most crucial part in overcoming user resistance. You should have the vendor on your side. Though they will always be on your side, you need top level support, especially in large projects. In our projects, we've always had the CEOs from vendor communities reviewing our projects. Support from that level becomes essential to establish that it isn't just a revamp, but an improvement beneficial to the employer as well as the employee. These were unique projects happening for the first time in a very large context globally. A commitment from the vendor is a must have if you want lesser resistance from users.

New process implementation should always be seen a positive challenge. The users should be made aware of the project, and its benefits to them should be made clear. They should be made to realise that they are not losing their jobs, but gaining more skills. Once you give them this assurance, they will be convinced about performing better and that their role will be of a level above their current status. Therefore the user feels elated that the company is ensuring his growth. You have to make users feel important, that they are also growing along with the company. The fact that they are involved in such important projects means that the company values them. When you make them comfortable and assure them from the initiation of the project, you will never get resistance from a user. Then they will take care of convincing the rest of your user community.


About the author: Sunil Mehta is the senior vice president and area systems director (Central Asia) of advertising giant JWT.


(As told to Sharon D'Souza.)

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