Project management and EQ

The Orbis Cascade Alliance has now completed all scheduled migrations to its shared management and discovery services, using Ex Libris' Alma and Primo. 37 institutions migrated during the 2013-2015 migration project. There were two later new member projects: Whitworth University in 2016 and Clackamas Community College, which went live on Alma and Primo on June 16 - yes, two days ago. I was the Alliance-side lead/project manager for the final 33 migrations. All 39 member institutions are using the shared Alma (with the Network Zone) and Primo services in production and there are no more migrations scheduled. 

It was this multi-year, critical-for-the-organization project that I had in mind as I watched Amy McKee's ProjectManagement.com presentation (PMI registered users content) from earlier this month on projects and emotional intelligence. And, I must admit that it was in some ways painful to watch - what could I have done better in managing systems implementation work spread across four years?

McKee begins by citing low success rates for initiatives requiring significant change management (in the 25% range, long-term) and the tendency to leave out emotional intelligence from change planning processes. She provides three tips, which I will elaborate on thinking about the Alliance implementations:

1. Quit telling yourself and others that change is hard

The Alliance and its vendor, Ex Libris, did well against this recommendation relative to the others. The January 2013 in-person kickoff meeting in Portland, led by Ex Libris managers, was designed to communicate project information and a sense of confidence and, despite the later challenges, I believe that this gathering was a success. In my weekly written communication to the membership on the Alliance Announce listserv (from July 2013 to March 2015), I likewise tried to communicate that the project scope was being managed effectively and to frankly address significant problems and then describe what was being done to address them. 

If anything, change was depicted by the Alliance's leadership (and teams) as achievable:  Willingness to be the first consortium globally to implement Alma/Primo; implementing shared discovery for the first time as a group; simultaneously looking at ways to improve its shared work through the Collaborative Workforce program; and, working in a software development partnership with Ex Libris. However, I don't believe that the need to be emotionally intelligent in execution was factored into the development of project goals any more than EQ was included in the dense change management plan slide that McKee reviewed in the session. 

2. Offer more options

Here, the results were not as good in my view. One of the ways that I think about this is how staff work with Alma and Primo following the migration projects and the attributes of the two services:

Alma
Management service (staff are primary users)
Monthly updates on a multi-tenant environment (no flexibility on update dates)

Primo
Discovery service (public are primary users)
Quarterly updates on a single-tenant environment (some flexibility on update dates)

McKee emphasizes the importance of offering impacted users more options - "people always make the best choice available to them." Looking back, thinking specifically of the Alma service, I should have reached out in a more positive, less defensive way to staff who expressed concerns (publicly or directly to me) about service use, describing options available to them - including having a voice in the project. Given the number of parallel efforts being tackled in the 2013 to 2015 project, the easier course was to chalk it up to resistance to change. 

McKee asserts in the session that "people don’t like change that they don’t control." Here, the attributes of Alma summarized above, plus the hard cutovers from the previously-used management systems to Alma, cut down the choices available to support change management - but did not eliminate them. 

3. Be kind

This is a tough one, but again, I don't think my project performance was good. But it goes back to point 2 and the need to offer as many options as possible to users (for Alma, library staff members) adjusting to the new service. Empathy is important and communication is important. If you believe 20/50/30 and you're communicating with a professional who's struggling with a new service, s/he will understand where you're coming from and the results won't be good. 

What could have been different? My take on this:

-Including EQ needs in the planning for change and the definition of goals related to the Shared ILS initiative
-More clearly defining and publicizing communication channels and expectations related to the projects up front - the channels should support multiple methods and contact options for communication; communication needs to be civil (my point, not McKee's)
-As project manager, reaching out to better define options for users struggling with aspects of the project and services, including offering deeper involvement with the project and different ways to perform work in the service 

But, in summary, this was a poignant session for me, just hours after the final migration over a four year period, and I feel like a got a great deal out of it.


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