Reviving a Failed Implementation

How do you revive a failed implementation (assuming that you want to)? Whether it’s a new system, Lean, sustainability, makes almost no difference. If the failure was not caused by issues with technology (which can be fixed for a re-implementation), the real issues are the damaged morale and the strained relationships.

Morale – when a team has been part of a failure, they lose confidence in their ability to deliver. Therefore, telling them to “hitch up your britches and get back on the horse” probably won’t work. The participants need time to process the failure. Each person processes failures differently; some require more time than others. They need to learn why the implementation failed, so that they have a reasonable chance of success the next time. Also, it really helps when the leadership views failures as a “learning experience” for the organization, instead of doing the “heads will roll” routine. The team needs to re-establish their sense of confidence in their abilities.

In my experience, one typical reason for poor or failed implementations is lack of education and training investment in the people who have to make the new “system” work. This is NOT the fault of the team. Since education and training typically show a soft ROI, management often minimizes that investment to save money on the implementation– the first time through. Wise companies learn this lesson and invest appropriately so the desired change will succeed.

Relationships – relationships are the glue that keeps an organization functioning. They are based on trust, on being able to count on another person to keep their word, to do what they said they would do and have it work the way they said it would. When those relationships get strained, performance suffers. And when an implementation fails, relationships almost invariably suffer. In many organizations, the finger pointing starts and, sometimes, the long knives come out, further fraying and sometimes severing already strained relationships.

Until the finger pointing stops, the long knives are put away, and trust is somewhat re-established, trying to re-implement the failed process will be an exercise in futility. Even worse, any setbacks during the second attempt will exacerbate the already existing wounds, probably dooming any subsequent attempts at implementation.

Have you been in an organization when an implementation failed? Does this fit your experience?

Gary Langenwalter

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