Making a Case for Continuous Change


Making a Case for Continuous Change

It takes good communication to keep an ongoing upgrade process on track.
Chris Cozart, director of manufacturing systems for Builders FirstSource in Denver, Colorado, believes everyone’s input is needed to build employee buy-in throughout the company and to successfully implement change. 

“Technology is going to be the way to increase efficiencies,” Chris Cozart predicts. “A hammer isn’t going to get any faster.”

Realizing the efficiencies technology can provide—and the productivity increases and bottom-line benefits that follow—depends on the constant evolution of technology. Staying on top of software upgrades and advancements in hardware has several advantages, not the least of which is allowing employees to work efficiently: they’re not waiting for bug fixes or badly-needed upgrades. They might even grumble less at altered processes when the changes are incremental.

As director of manufacturing systems, Cozart spends a lot of time thinking about ways to make this vision a reality at the many Builders FirstSource locations. For him, high-tech success comes down to putting sufficient time and effort into a critical, low-tech process: communication.

“IT people have a tendency to lose focus of who their customers are,” Cozart said. The users—the consumers of the hardware and software the IT department deploys—have insight that’s vital to successful change. “If you just have that communication,” Cozart explained, “you will be able to understand what’s working and what’s not working.”

Cozart says positive change starts with creating the right team, a task in which IT managers play a critical role. “Those stuck in the middle (but in a good way!),” he said, are perfectly positioned to hear from both executives and end users, and to bring IT staff “the wisdom of both.” A good leader assembles a team that can productively work together to carry out a number of crucial tasks:

  • Determine what you need. It’s a group effort. Operational leadership can tell you where the company is headed. IT staff can tell you how to get there, whether that’s fixing current issues, building the infrastructure for future upgrades, or ensuring program integration. End users, through process repetition and exposure, can tell you whether there are alternative ways to achieve operational goals others haven’t considered. Everyone’s input is needed to build employee buy-in throughout the company and to successfully implement change.
  • Determine what you don’t need. Not every new piece of technology or new version of a software program is worth the potential disruption. Cozart gives the example of a new version of truss design software that fixes an issue with California hip trusses. If you design those all the time, upgrade as soon as you can. If your market doesn’t use California hips, don’t rush to get the latest thing—wait for the next upgrade. Either way, keep your software vendor in the loop. “Let them know whether that version is something you need,” Cozart urged. If it’s not meeting your needs, let them know what will and rely on the group you put together for that information. Your group should validate every change you make as well as plan future changes; they are the ones who can help ensure you’re consistently getting a reasonable return in operational gains for the investment you make in IT development and deployment effort.
  • Create change. “Changes need to happen to accommodate internal growth,” argued Cozart, and he says it’s critical that end users carry that message. When a change cycle gets out of control, Cozart observed, it “isn’t what’s happening at the top.” Executives might have a great plan, but giving users the chance to validate the direction of any IT project is still critical, Cozart said. “Users need to stay engaged from the beginning,” said Cozart. When that happens, users are more accepting of the end result “because they’ve had a part—they’ve had a voice—in the process.” Ideally, Cozart said, “everybody’s involved, and everybody’s satisfied with the outcome.”

The near future, Cozart anticipates, will see the component manufacturing industry working to “minimize mouse clicks, minimize foot traffic, go paperless, and use technology out on the shop floor.” All of those initiatives will depend on “educating the folks that are already there,” Cozart said, and making sure they have a positive mindset when it comes to changes in the technology they’re using.

The key to fostering that attitude, Cozart said, is communication. “Make sure they understand why you’re changing,” and make sure “they” includes everyone—executives, managers, IT staff and end users. That might mean explaining the benefits of standardization—Cozart emphasizes that routine upgrades to keep users on a single version of software can improve the IT department’s ability to support users and provide documentation and training. It might mean reminding users that coordinated updates can improve system compatibility, making global collaboration easier.

Don’t over-do it.

“What I see the IT people pursuing is trying to stay on [the most] updated version. A lot of times, it’s not as necessary as the software vendor or the IT people think it is.”


Don’t leave anyone out.

“What are the leaders of our company asking of users? Are users doing something different— something managers don’t know about—that’s working better?”


Don’t chase the perfect version—it doesn’t exist.

“Once we got it deployed, it didn’t really do anything that we needed it to do. It was just a new version.”


Don’t do what you can, do what’s right.

“If it doesn’t do what the users need it to do, it doesn’t matter how fast it is.”

Whatever it takes, Cozart said, “make sure everyone stays involved with the process and understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” There will be challenges. “The first one is difficult,” Cozart admitted. The first upgrade cycle, the first improvement project, the first meeting of your change management group—all of them have their potential pitfalls. However, a rocky start isn’t the end. “It becomes a rinse-and-repeat,” Cozart said, “you set a kind of cadence.” That cadence gives users consistent and realistic expectations, minimizes the effort needed for each upgrade process, and gives users the sense of ownership that makes them your company’s best champions of change.

About the Author: Dale Erlandson joined SBCA staff in fall of 2015 as the assistant editor of SBC Magazine. She has written for a variety of publications over the last decade and thrives on the challenge of learning something new and passing that knowledge along through the written word.