Topic 2: Rationale for Implementation Stages

“Many implementation efforts fail because someone underestimated the scope or importance of preparation.  Indeed, the organizational hills are full of managers who believe that an innovation’s technical superiority and strategic importance will guarantee acceptance.”
 —Leonard-Barton & Kraus, Harvard Business Review, 1985

Why are Implementation Stages Important?

In Module 3: Implementation Teams, we learned about three methods to support the use of programs in real-world settings in order to achieve positive outcomes for recipients: Letting it happen, Helping it happen, and Making it happen (Greenhalgh, Robert, MacFarlane, Bate & Kyriakidou, 2004; Fixsen, Blase, Duda, Naoom, & Vandyke, 2010).  The role of an Implementation Team is to “Make it happen!” 

In order to make it happen, that team must navigate the complexity involved in new ways of doing things.  Change is a process (not an event).  Implementation occurs in stages and someone must plan and negotiate the journey through these stages to engage and support practitioners and administrators and effectively launch the work.  Implementation Team members ensure that those doing the work have the skills and support structures to feel competent and confident in using the innovation as intended.  Stage-based work helps to successfully navigate the journey.

Starting with an awareness that implementation occurs in stages allows for intentional planning for the change process.  When we pay attention to the stages of implementation we can:

  • Match our activities to that stage and increase the likelihood of moving successfully through the stage and on to the next stage
  • Prepare for the activities and challenges that we will face in the next stage
  • Reduce wasted time and resources
  • Increase the likelihood of sustained and improved use of educational practices

We are more likely to have people willingly join in the change journey if we match our activities to the stage of implementation we are in and if we take into account the stage of engagement of key individuals as well.  When we behave as though we are in one stage (e.g., Full Implementation) and are really in another (e.g., Initial Implementation) we can create tension, feelings of incompetence, fear and frustration.  Signs of so-called “resistance” may actually be a signal that we need to reassess our activities to see if they truly match the current stage of implementation for a given organization (e.g. site, local, community, or state entities).