Lessons learned from Millennium Bug projects could help organisations to manage future change

February 03, 2000

Organisations that handled the Millennium Bug well could use the same sort of strategies to make other wide-ranging changes happen more smoothly, according to new research published by Warwick Business School. The researchers' conclusions, based on an in-depth study of NatWest Bank Global Financial Markets' Y2K experiences, bring good news for companies and public sector organisations who spent millions checking their computer systems and eliminating the Bug.

Jimmy C. Huang, Sue Newell and Shan L. Pan identified three vital lessons from the study.

First, a standardised procedure for implementing change needs to be initiated and agreed. This improves communication and eases the task of monitoring performance across various functions. A standardised procedure also ensures that knowledge gained within the organisation is articulated and codified in the same way and it reduces the complexity generated when different approaches are used.

Second, the quality and skills of people involved in the project team should be taken into account. In addition to project management skills, team members need good interpersonal skills and at least one or two need to be senior people with a good knowledge of the organisation and broad personal networks.

Finally, communication needs to be of high quality, but also frequent, especially where people are working in different time zones. Frequent communication helps people involved in the project not only to share knowledge, but also to build personal relationships.

Mr Huang, a doctoral student at Warwick, believes the lessons learned from Y2K could be applied not only to other global IT projects but also to organisation-wide initiatives such as business process re-engineering and cultural change.

He commented, "Most reviews of work on the Millennium Bug focus on the technology, but the Y2K programme in NatWest GFM was not simply a technological issue: it also posed a social and emotional agenda.

"The project team had to overcome cultural differences as well as technological barriers. Organisations that use the lessons learnt during their Y2K projects could really start to change into 'learning organisations' where knowledge is valued and used to inform future developments."

University of Warwick

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