The role of social networks in IT systems implementations

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —October 21, 2006
Filed in Anecdotes, Communication

I had coffee with my friend Trevor Moore yesterday and we got talking about a system implementation he’s involved in. It’s a large project affecting more than 500 people in the organisation. Trevor shared with me a sketch he uses to illustrate what is likely to happen to staff performance as the system is developed, tested and made available.


From October people are taken away from their jobs to be involved in testing and training. Performance gradually declines. The system is implemented in December at which point performance drops off dramatically as everyone comes to grips with the new ways of working. If things go well performance will steadily increase and exceed the levels prior to the system implementation. If things go badly … we don’t even want to think about that

As Trevor was describing this scenario it occurred to me that the level of connectivity among the staff affected by the system might be a major factor in their ability to cope with the new system. If the staff are sufficiently connected in useful ways they will have relationships to turn to when things go wrong, when they need to untangle a mess, ask a favour and therefore by able to more rapidly enhance their practice of using the new system. Connectivity and conversations will provide resilience.

So for our example, now’s the time for the system implementers to understand how well the protagonists are connected. Social network analysis is a useful tool. The next step is to stimulate new connections and this can be done by moving away from a training mindset and moving to a learning mindset. What often happens on large IT systems implementations is that everyone who will use the system is trained, which usually involves getting people into a classroom and teaching them how to use the system. And that’s it! You are now trained to use the system. A learning approach, on the other hand, start with some teaching, then provides some practical experiences followed by an opportunity for groups of people to reflect and learn from their experience and the experiences of their colleagues. How you group people for these reflections would be a good way to create new social networks. This learning approach would unfold over a longer time and provide a more sustainable approach to learning and using the system while reducing the risk of the system falling over in the first months of operation.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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