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The More Things Change...

January 3, 2000
by Pat McClellan

Remember how businesses ran back in the good old days of yore (when was "yore" anyway)? People got organized, made a plan and stuck to it. They knew what they wanted to communicate to their audience and they didn't muck it up with a bunch of marketing language. Damn right! And they didn't make changes at the last minute either.

Okay... you had me up 'til that last one. Now I just can't stop laughing. That wasn't the days of yore. It was the days of Fantasy Island.

Any good business manager knows that the number one task of management is -- and always has been -- managing change. Changing markets, changing personnel, changing consumer tastes, changing government regulations, changing economic pressures, changing technology. You name it... it'll change. And to survive, you have to change with it.

These same concepts apply to project management as well. I'm currently working on a CD-ROM project that we've been planning and developing for the last six months. Last week, we finally finished the script and got executive approval (on Tuesday). On Thursday, only two days later, the same executive made the decision to break one of the key product suites up into three separate applications. As I write this, I'm waiting to hear the full implications so that I'll know whether to cancel our 3-day bluescreen video shoot next week. And how do I feel about this change? I'm laughing.

Much as I'd like to think that the CD-ROM I'm producing is the most important thing to my client, the fact is that it's not. I'm sure that their product strategy has nothing to do with my production schedule -- nor should it.

So how do you handle it when the client or boss comes to you with a list of new features and content changes? What's your reaction to a cut in the budget or an ever-advancing deadline? The answers to these questions are far more important to your business success than any Lingo you might know.

Remember why you were hired. From your boss or client's perspective, you were hired to solve a problem; to provide a solution. That task remains the same in the face of the change. Your success will be judged on your ability to manage the project through the change -- not on the elegance of the code or the extent to which it conforms to the original spec. Therefore, look at changes as opportunities to prove your value and build your relationship with the client or your boss. Let's look at the process of capitalizing on that opportunity.

Step One: Control your reaction until you've had time to think about it. The only welcome response is "OK, we can deal with that. Let me figure out how that will affect the project."

Step Two: Step back from the project. Get your head out of the script you were editing or the code you were crunching. You need a little perspective. Luckily, the more you do this, the easier this step becomes.

Step Three: Figure out the implications. Content, budget and schedule are always intertwined -- and your boss or client will understand this (or needs to.) Any change to one will affect the others. It's up to you as the developer or project producer to think through exactly how changes will impact the production. Sometimes, it could be as simple as editing a text member or swapping in a new graphic, in which case you'll be the hero when you tell them that the change is insignificant. More often, the change will require adjusting the production schedule, re-doing some of the work already completed, recreating media assets, or even revising the structure of the program or the creative approach.

Step Four: Offer a plan. After you've explained all of the implications of the change, your client's head will be swimming. This is the time. The opportunity. Step up with a plan to make it all happen. Maybe that means hiring more people to help. Maybe that mean replacing a video clip with a voice-over audio clip. Maybe it means replacing static text with a dynamic link to the web. Whatever the case, if you come up with the best solution, you're the hero. Of course, be prepared to have some or all of your plan rejected. There may be constraints or objectives you were unaware of. Still, the initiative of offering the plan is of key importance.

Step Five: Attitude. Changes usually make the production more challenging. But that's why you got into this business, right? Your boss/client will appreciate and reward your positive attitude and good morale throughout the process. (And that means good morale whether they choose to use your plan or not.) Don't underestimate the value of good spirit and a smile.

There you go: Pat's Five-step plan to Managing Change. Don't bother memorizing it... it'll probably change. It's more important to remember that you get hired to solve problems. Just do your job with a positive attitude and you'll succeed -- and you'll probably turn out some great projects in the process.

Patrick McClellan is Director Online's co-founder. Pat is Vice President, Managing Director for Jack Morton Worldwide, a global experiential marketing company. He is responsible for the San Francisco office, which helps major technology clients to develop marketing communications programs to reach enterprise and consumer audiences.

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