Creating—and many times just updating—an enterprise records and information management program represents considerable organizational change.

From the CEO to the front desk assistant, most roles spend large parts of each day interacting in some way with the organization’s records and information. Altering how they collect, process, store, and dispose of this takes more than RIM subject matter expertise—it also takes project and people smarts.

This article discusses project and change management fundamentals that should be amply applied to any RIM initiative—whether you’re launching a new program or updating an existing one.

It All Starts With Planning

You’ve assembled your RIM coalition and have your executive sponsor. Now it’s time to create a consensus on what work will be done, how it will be done, and who will do it.

People often underestimate the amount of preparation an initiative requires—especially a RIM initiative. By some estimates, over 20 percent of all project work should simply consist of planning.

Estimating project work is difficult. Meetings, emails, and collaborative chats will help start developing your project’s scope and constituent parts. But that hard work often leads to unrealized goals if your project is not clearly and abundantly memorialized in your program documents.

These documents go by various names, but what you call them isn’t as important as what they contain. Your project documents should answer the project’s six Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How). If your RIM team were replaced tomorrow, your project documents should allow your substitutes to immediately understand and seamlessly continue the work.

Here are a few key documents your program needs to carry momentum. Feel free to consolidate documents for simplicity with your individual project.

Your RIM Project Plan. The project plan is your master document, letting the world—or at least your organization—know what your RIM initiative is all about.

This plan will guide all project phases. Because of this, your plan needs to be comprehensive— it establishes the project’s benefits, costs, who will be impacted, and how to measure success. It should explain all aspects of the work, guide any questions, and critically, establish what organizational goals the project will support.

RIM is often considered the mother of all collaborative efforts. This is also true for your project plan. You can have a lead document drafter, but your entire RIM project team should be heavily involved in the creation. You’ll also want to involve your project’s key stakeholders—those who will carry out the work and those who will be impacted. This is essential for managing expectations and sustaining support once work begins.

Focus on making the project plan accessible. Plain language writing, a heavy reliance on graphics, and good document design principles are fundamental. Above all, avoid inconsistencies and unclear requirements. Think of your RIM project plan as the essential tool to convince any skeptical outsider that your initiative’s success is inevitable.

The Project Schedule. Keeping your RIM initiative on track is vital. A detailed, realistic, and well-thought-out project schedule  considers all project work and its dependencies is indispensable. A good schedule also makes changes, which are bound to occur, easier to navigate.

Your Milestone Chart. In addition to your schedule, you’ll need to define project milestones. To help sustain project momentum, build a concrete milestone early on in your work. Having a tangible result you can advertise as progress—a victory!—near the front of your RIM program implementation reminds your team and the organization that your project is worth their continued support.

Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities. Spend considerable time defining what roles will support your RIM initiative and establishing the contours of their responsibilities. This clarity will help your team develop ownership over their duties and avoid conflict when team members share overlapping and often nebulous responsibilities.

Budget: This can be a constant struggle for RIM initiatives. What RIM stakeholders want must often be reduced based on budget constraints. Being clear-eyed and detailed about your costs, and ensuring they match the ingredients you’ve expressed in your project plan will help make sure your initiative is feasible.

Change Procedures. Change is an inevitable part of any project. Including a robust set of change criteria and procedures in your project documents is necessary. Good change procedures will ensure project alterations are managed efficiently and communicated broadly.

Let’s take your project plan, for example. You’ve made it as comprehensive as possible, and once work begins, you may find some details that aren’t feasible, or priorities may change. This is okay, and should be anticipated. The best approach is to remain flexible. By developing procedures for handling inevitable changes to your project’s scope and parameters, you’ll help your RIM initiative reach its destination.

Change Management: Communicate, Communicate, and I’ll Say it Again—Communicate!

With your project documents in order, it’s time to get to work. Effective communication is the bedrock of project and change management. You must communicate relentlessly with your executive sponsor—keeping them apprised of your project’s progress, hurdles, budgetary needs, and changes. Stay in constant contact with your team. Nothing saps morale like a team member feeling like they aren’t up to speed on what’s happening. And, just as important, you must communicate required program changes to the rest of the organization, including those whose daily interactions with the organization’s records and information will be most altered by your initiative.

For all communications, keep in mind the four Ps:

Purpose: Constantly reinforce the need for change. The old ways of doing business are familiar and comfortable so go back to your “why” frequently. Remember, RIM is about more than reducing risk, it’s about improving how people interact with information.

Picture: Put effort into describing what things will look like as your program is put in place. What you describe should be relatable and understandable, not abstract. Allowing people to envision what the future will look and feel like will reduce some anxiety inherent in any change.

Plan: Reference the steps in your project plan document. Reinforce how your initiative will unfold.

Part: This is crucial. During implementation, communicate what each person’s role is in affecting the change. Remind them often what they must do to sustain the changes.

Finally, as your RIM initiative gets underway, make every effort to communicate to all parts of the organization how the new ways are an improvement over the old. Give them the narrative you want to hear— you might not like the one they come up with on their own.

Proper Project and Change Management Helps Your RIM Initiative Succeed

RIM programs can fail for any number of logistical, budgetary, or structural reasons. But sometimes, they are just rushed and lack planning. Your RIM initiative may be decades overdue, so it’s tempting to push something into place just to say now you have one—and rationalize that you can always expand or fix it later. That would be a mistake. The risk is that even if your half-developed program is implemented, it’s like a tree with shallow roots—it won’t weather the winds and storms of organizational pressure. With proper project planning and good communication, however, you can help ensure your initiative will not only be completed but grow and bear fruit for many years.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general education on information governance topics. The statements are informational only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have specific questions regarding the application of the law to your business activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.