Don't panic! Dealing with user queries

The first few weeks of project go live can feel chaotic and out of control. This happens even if you have planned your change really well. A well-known writer on change, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, has even developed Kanter’s Law about this, which states:

Everything looks like a failure in the middle

Shortly after go live, you may find yourself facing the following issues:

  • Limitless queries from increasingly irritable users
  • Unforeseen consequences and problems with the change
  • Rumours, speculation and false information flying about
  • Managers and staff pushing to halt the change
  • Leaders feeling uncertain and out of control

If you find yourself in this position – don’t panic! As Kanter goes on to say:

Stop the effort too soon and, by definition, it is a failure. Stay with it through its hurdles, make appropriate adjustments, and you could be on the way to success.

How to manage the panic

You can focus on three main areas in the first few weeks of go live, to quell panic and support people through the discomfort:

  1. Dealing with user queries
  2. Managing the performance dip
  3. Supporting your leaders

In this blog, we will look at dealing with user queries.

Dealing with user queries

You need a robust system in place to deal with all the queries from users about different aspects of the change. If you do not have a system, queries can easily become unmanageable and overwhelming. Questions go unanswered and feedback unacknowledged. Also, you run the risk that misleading and contradictory information is given out by well-meaning but ill-informed supporters.

To avoid this, arrange to collect and manage queries through one central point. This has the following benefits:

  • You won’t miss any questions or feedback
  • Queries can be sent to the correct people for answers
  • Answers can be fed back to users in a managed way
  • You will quickly gain an oversight of key themes and issues coming from users

I arranged this system, using change champions, during a difficult implementation where there were lots of different queries. I have shown this system in the diagram below:

User query cascade

The role of the Change Champions

Change champions were responsible for gathering all queries from their colleagues. They’d had plenty of training and practice on the changes that were being implemented. Therefore they were often able to help their colleagues who were struggling. If they could not answer the queries, they sent them to the change manager.

The change manager collated all queries and feedback from the champions. It was usual for more than one champion to raise the same issues. Therefore, the change manager kept a list of queries, so champions could see what issues had been raised and reassure colleagues that their issues were being dealt with.

Getting queries answered

The change manager organised a twice-weekly meeting with the specialists who could help to find answers. These included Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), IT specialists, Team Managers and the Project Manager.

This team discussed the best answer to give to the queries. Often, there was more than one way of solving an issue, depending on the point of view of the specialist. In these cases, the final answer was agreed on by looking at which option would realise the most project benefits.

The change manager kept a record of who was answering which issues. She met with the Change Champions regularly to update them on progress, and share any answers which were complete. The Champions then fed these back to their colleagues.

The change manager also issues weekly updates of issues and answers to the project sponsor and department heads. Therefore they were kept up to date on what was happening, and could make any operational or project adjustments as needed.

Information is Power

By running this system, the change manager ensured a transparent way of capturing and dealing with user queries. This meant that:

  • users felt confident that their queries and suggestions were being listened to and dealt with;
  • project specialists were clear which queries they were investigating;
  • change champions were able to update colleagues with consistent and correct messages;
  • the project sponsor and department heads were kept informed of what was happening.

This clarity and consistency gave all stakeholders confidence that the change was manageable. This was especially important just after go live when everything was ‘looking like a failure’. It provided a framework in which everyone could operate whilst the initial issues were dealt with, people became used to new ways of working and the change began to embed.

Want to know more?

I have taken this blog post from my book The Shape of Change. The book contains lots more practical ideas to help make change successful.

You can buy The Shape of Change directly from RoutledgeAdd the code FLR40 at the checkout for a 20% discount. This makes it cheaper than buying from Amazon!