Off the Critical Path

Why successful IT projects can still miss the mark.

I’m sure many of you have led or participated in a system/technology project that nailed everything in the WBS and was successfully implemented.  But have you experienced projects where the technology solution was successfully implemented, while the overall business objectives were not achieved? 

The telltale signs?  The business process performance didn’t improve…the adoption rate by employees was not what it should be…or the changes we expected to see never materialized.   Many times these and dozens of other issues are not captured because “the project” was completed, and the resources moved on.  Whose fault is it?  Not even worth the time to discuss it, because we all share the blame, and we can all influence the success of the next one.

Here are some thoughts on how to ensure the broader business objectives are met when a technology solution is defined as the project:

  1. Systems and technology are meant to support and enable business processes.  You must start your analysis at the business process level. Don’t define a project as “implement a new xyz system” until you have defined what needs to change about the business process(es) that the xyz system would support. Too many of us focus on the technology, and then back-end the process work to conform to the system.  It should be the other way around…do your homework on your process first, so you can ensure you have defined a system (and the requirements for that system) that will meet your process needs.  Sounds simple, but so often lost in the rush. 
  2. On a similar note, when you define success factors for your project, be sure to distinguish between the measurements that define a successful implementation and those that indicate you met your business objective. Implementing a new performance management system and having it operational by a certain date is a nice implementation goal.  But the business should have decided to pursue that goal because it had a broader business objective…ensuring all employees have meaningful, documented performance goals and regular feedback sessions with their manager….or creating an integrated performance and development process that linked performance goals to compensation decisions and to development training opportunities. Most business objective metrics of success will need to be tracked long after the “system installation” is deemed a success to know whether the overall business objective has been met.
  3. Don’t forget that successful change management starts at the very beginning of a project, and is not something you address when you are ready to “roll it out” to the organization.  Successful change management involves early identification of the knowledge, skills, and behaviors you need to change before, during, and after the implementation to ensure business success.  While most of your project team is focused on the system that is the bulk of the project, you have to have resources working the other pieces. Who will be impacted by the process changes, and will they be engaged and trained?  Who is leader or leaders who will need to reinforce new behaviors by managers or employees who will utilize the system, and how will they be prepared for their role?  How large is the gap in the current and future state of your process, and how much communication/education do all stakeholders need?

These are only three items, and I know you can identify more. (Feel free to share them with others in a response to this blog!) But they are a reminder that even the biggest technology projects are a subset of some overall business process that is changing, and real success comes when we address the business process need holistically. What do you think?

©2011 Steve Carter