April 27, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Story: Sensitivity around change

By Linky van der Merwe

Medical Aid Migration ProjectThis story is about a Medical Scheme Migration Project with the goal of having to migrate company staff from one medical scheme to another within six months. The project manager, Cathy Rodrigues, was working with a 3rd party admin organization in the medical industry dealing with medical schemes. They were experienced external consultants who helped to make a strong, dynamic project team to enable a smooth migration.

It was mandatory for the affected staff to migrate onto the new scheme. The fact that there was a cost difference between the two medical schemes and that the scheme they migrated onto was more expensive, complicated the migration especially due to the staff resisting the migration. The project also involved a large stakeholder audience of 1472 people.

Resistance

The project required a huge change management intervention, yet there was no change manager assigned and it became the responsibility of the project manager to facilitate the change.

Due to the sensitive nature of the project, people having to leave a medical scheme that they’ve been on for years, to go to a different and more expensive one, and medical aid being a very personal matter, a petition was started against the migration. It was mitigated by giving staff a month’s grace. During the month’s grace Exco gave staff an ultimatum: they could get quotes from other schemes, and if it was cheaper they didn’t have to migrate to the new scheme, if it was more or the equal to, it was company policy to follow through with the original plan to migrate.  A month had to be added to the project timeline to allow for this grace period.

Extensive information sharing

Much information had to be shared about the new medical scheme and group awareness sessions were arranged for this purpose. However, attendance of group awareness sessions was poor. In addition, provision was made for staff to have individual sessions with a consultant, but many were not attending the one on one sessions.  Some of the managers would not allow all call centre agents to attend one on one sessions. Or people would leave it to the last minute.

Later the project team discovered that staff actually experienced IT difficulties in booking seats for the sessions through a booking system that was setup which caused some of the appointments to be double booked.

When disgruntled staff members complained to their direct managers, they would contact the project team, which again flooded their mailboxes.  in some cases, line managers also weren’t aware of the awareness sessions and kept staff members from attending.

Migration successful

Despite all the resistance and initial setbacks caused by technology and the logistics of having to assist a large number of people personally with migrating to a new medical scheme, the project was delivered successfully. Only one month’s delay was experienced, with no scope creep because all staff members were migrated onto the new scheme.

The project team was a very diplomatic “no nonsense” team who worked well together.

Lessons Learnt

It is recommended to adopt a top down approach – engage with HR, Exco and line management before engaging with staff. Projects like this have to be handled with extreme sensitivity, people could be getting a worse deal than they had before. The petition that caught the project team by total surprise is an indication that it wasn’t addressed and handled correctly.

Change Manager is essential

On projects with a large stakeholder audience and of a sensitive nature, having a change manager onboard from the beginning, is essential. A project manager needs to focus on execution of the plan, achieving deliverables and reaching milestones. Most project managers are not equipped with the required change management skills and experience to compile a separate change intervention that could address stakeholder’s fears and concerns using words that would speak to their hearts.  A change manager would be able to focus on the human side and take care of multiple communication strategies required for awareness, information, training and acceptance.

If no budget provision was made for a change manager, the project manager should motivate and even insist on bringing a change manager on-board to ensure a smoother transition and to take care of the human factor of change on this scale. For a professional project manager it would be the right thing to do to negotiate funding with the sponsor, because your reputation is also at stake.

Stakeholder engagement

It’s very important to have project kick-off sessions with the line- and top managers of the company explaining the project scope, timeline and change plan due to the sensitive nature of the change. They could then be empowered to assist as change agents to the staff members who approached them with their objections and complaints.

The communications need to be positioned well, not as was the case of the team who flooded inboxes with impersonalised messages promoting the medical scheme which probably from the start didn’t position the scheme very well. They also didn’t have any banners or visual posters to promote the scheme.

Technology

Although technology is there to help us on projects, it can cause havoc, like the double-bookings that were experienced. Always have backup plans in place and if the worst happens, then put workarounds in place to limit the impact of the issues.

Without sufficient and formal change interventions taking care of all the communication requirements with a large audience, using email makes it very difficult to track and measure effectiveness of dealing with people’s experience of the change.

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Cathy Rodrigues started out as a Project Administrator. Then she moved to a leading international bank and transitioned into a Junior Project Manager and eventually became a Senior Professional Project Manager. Her passion for being a PM remains unchanged, with her overall objective to manage tangible, soul satisfying projects that result in a positive outcome for all end users and stakeholders.

Cathy may be contacted on Cathmvdk@gmail.com or 083-6298389