BlackLine Blog

March 18, 2024

Navigating Change Management in Finance Transformation Projects

Digital Transformation
5 Minute Read

Danny Wheeler

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Embracing automation has become a strategic imperative for organizations seeking operational efficiency and improved reliability for their finance and accounting (F&A) processes. However, digital finance transformation journeys come with challenges that can fundamentally shape the ultimate outcome. 

Danny Wheeler, AR Solutions Strategy Manager at BlackLine, talked to the National Association of Credit Management (NACM) on a recent podcast about change management when introducing new automation tools. Give it a listen and then read on to learn more!

A successful implementation doesn't just mean being smart with technology. It's about managing change throughout your organization, ensuring everyone on the team is on board, and making the most of software that tackles the real, everyday pain points for F&A.

You need all the pieces to fit, and to do this companies must take a considered and strategic approach.

Clear Objectives & Goals

Anchoring your automation initiative with clear, measurable objectives will be paramount to its success. Objectives that are too vague, challenging, or difficult to measure will hinder your project before it even begins.

Clear objectives and goals, on the other hand, will help you steer the ship, and right it when things go wrong. You should think of your objectives as your island. If your project scope starts to creep or become too complex, it can feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water. When this happens, your objectives are where you want to return. You should be able to come back to them throughout the project, to make sure that what you are doing is aligned with and in support of these initial goals. This will help you to circumvent scope drift and focus on tackling the challenges that matter most to your business and its people.

Additionally, during this first step, you should already be thinking about the success story you want to tell at the end of the project. Think about the objectives you’ve set – do you know how you will show that you’ve met these? What benefits will these help to deliver, for people and the organisation? If you can’t answer these questions, you may need to revisit your objectives to make them clearer and more specific.

Establish Metrics That Align with Automation Goals

This brings us to metrics and measurement. Whatever your goals for implementing new technology, demonstrating a good ROI, and building a business case for any future improvements, your definition of success must be etched in metrics. This is an area that sometimes (mistakenly) gets left to the end of a project. However, I would encourage you to view this as something that goes hand-in-hand with objective setting.

If you don’t think about measurement until the end, you’ll only measure what you can – not what would have been best for showcasing success. Establishing the right metrics at the beginning of the project gives you the opportunity to look at these at every stage, adjust your approach accordingly, and continue on your transformation journey.

Key Stakeholder Engagement

Planning is a priority at the beginning of any project – but change is a team effort. Get the right people involved and do it right away.

Rather than viewing your automation initiative solely through a technology or organisational lens, think about transformation as a people-centric process. Who will be impacted by this project and at what stage? Who needs to be informed? Who is a decision maker? Who can help you shape this? Who, ultimately, will its success depend on?

Involving key stakeholders from the beginning is important for setting expectations and avoiding challenges further down the line. If you introduce a stakeholder group too late, you might end up with objectives that move or change over time, or with technology that is not widely accepted by those who need to use it. Those brought into the project in the early stages are considerably less likely to challenge things down the line. Particularly if they have played a part in setting objectives or goals.

Depending on the size of your organisation, the number of people who need to be informed and involved will vary. But there are three groups you should not forget:

  • A senior leader: someone who will help champion the project for you.

  • Your IT department: this team is crucial for any digital F&A initiative. The worst thing you can do is spring a project on them at the end of the line once a solution has been purchased, with an outcome and delivery date that does not work for their time and resources.

  • End users: never forget the people who will be using the software you’re introducing and remember that people can sometimes feel threatened by change. Communicating how this will benefit them and hearing their concerns are both fundamental to managing change.


Change Champions

Every team needs its heroes. As part of your ongoing stakeholder engagement, try to identify and support "change champions" within your company.

Your most engaged and passionate colleagues often make the best champions. They're the ones who know the current processes and pain points and see the benefits of what you’re trying to do. They may see that the next step in their own career is getting confident using the latest technology. These people can help you communicate how responsibilities and procedures are changing and why. They can help others adapt to the changes and make the integration process smoother.

Testing Before Showtime, Not After

Before your transformation project goes live, remember: test, test, and test again. Do not wait for issues to reveal themselves after launch. Instead, ensure rigorous testing has been carried out well in advance of the go-live date.  

This is a crucial part of the process to ensure that the technology performs as expected and that any potential roadblocks are dealt with proactively and head on. What’s more, it will build confidence in the system's readiness and sets the stage for communicating success back to the business.

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) – testing of the technology with real-life users and scenarios – is invaluable at this stage. It will identify any unforeseen issues before the official launch, giving the team a chance to address them.

Balancing Perfection & Progress

While it’s critical to test and make sure you’re set up for a successful launch, it’s also important to understand that there is room to refine and improve things at a later stage.

A common mistake during an integration project is to expect perfection right away and become stuck in a holding pattern when it doesn’t materialise. If 95% of your project and processes are working as expected, that may be enough. Prioritising measurable and impactful progress over a ‘perfect scenario’ will help you to reap benefits sooner. In turn, these benefits will likely help you to make a case for any additional investment that might be needed to achieve that last 5%.

Often, it’s better to take a step-by-step approach to transformation, gradually scaling and bringing people on the journey with you. Trying to do everything at once only heightens the risk of overpromising and underdelivering. 

Sharing the Success

Once everything is up and running, it's time to share the good news. If earlier steps were followed, accurate metrics in line with initial objectives will demonstrate the automation’s positive impact. What’s more, you should have a range of stakeholders and change champions who are ready and willing to talk about the benefits they’ve seen along the way.

Ultimately, a successful automation journey opens exciting possibilities for F&A teams. While the technicalities are important, the real key to success is understanding that people are at the heart of it all. Ensuring successful implementation of technology and ushering in positive change requires F&A leaders to bring together employees, processes, and technology. By following these steps, you should be set up for success and in a position to demonstrate ROI for the next steps in your transformation journey.

Continue Learning About Change Management

Get your copy of this digital finance transformation playbook to learn how to:

  • Proactively tackle the key obstacles

  • Put your change model into play

  • Measure process performance and continuously improve

Digital Finance Transformation Playbook

Get your copy

About the Author


Danny Wheeler