The concept of inertia
Wikipedia defines inertia as ‘the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion’. Inertia may also be applied to human behavior. There is a story of a little girl who inquires about the reason the ham is cut before it is cooked. While both do it, neither her mother, nor her grandmother know the explanation, and defer to the previous generation. They finally ask the great grandmother, and obtain the reason: the pot was too small. In this case Inertia can be seen as the repetition of a behavior pattern whose motivation has been lost.
In the world of software implementation, a vendor will come across a similar pattern of behavior when a customer seeks out to change a particular information system to improve various aspects of his operations.
The customer project team will focus, during the RFI/RFQ process, on application functionality: can the system do this or that. What are occulted at that point are the processes and procedures in place. This is where the concept inertia comes in.
During the requirements gathering phase, a customer will often come to the table with a set of defined processes to which the system is supposed to comply. An unexperienced consultant, at this point, will follow the path of inertia and try to have the system fit ‘in the pot’ as best it can. In other words, he will blindly accept the requirements from his customer.
This however leads to effort lost (along with the financial implications) as the processes and procedures may have been put in place due to limitations of the old system and are actually irrelevant with the new system (it is, after all, a bigger pot).
Change management for best results
Change management then must begin at the onset of the project, during the first working sessions with the customer. It is the consultant’s responsibility to keep a critical eye in his early discussions to sieve through what is a ‘motivated’ requirement, from an ‘inertial’ requirement and to gently orient the customer to see the project as more than the implementation of a software package, but also as an opportunity to enhance his operations to higher efficiency standards.
It is a path of greater resistance and one of more discussions but also one where change management actually means something: changing for the better. As consultants, this should be an ever present responsibility and goal in our interactions with customers. Implementing a new software solution is after all, a change, and that brings opportunities which need to be managed.
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