The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.

B. F. Skinner

“But what technology do you offer?” It’s a question I frequently hear from potential clients. Skookum is language and platform agnostic - meaning we can do just about anything. We’re not resellers of “Old IT” platforms, we don’t get kickbacks, and we don’t do “off the shelf,” one-size-fails all. I don’t say this to brag (although Skookum is a pretty wondrous and magical place). What I’m saying is that the old way of doing things is wrong. From the way we think about how technology enables people to the way we make decisions surrounding the choosing of technology. We must start by accepting the fact that how we put technology to work these days is pretty much unlimited. The differentiator, now, is people.

“But, what do you mean by ‘people’?” It means communicating effectively with your internal stakeholders. It means focusing your projects around people that will actually use it. It means finding a partner that will do the same.

When we engage with a client, we focus on the execution level of their business: the employees. Many of the companies we speak with are still on multi-year ERP implementations. They’ve fallen victim to lofty promises from big box vendors and the hottest “new” products. These vendors come in and say “Our product can do this AND that! We’ve helped ACME Widgets save $4 million!”

Well that’s great, although your company doesn’t sell widgets. And that $4 million doesn’t include the integration costs. Or the multiple change orders. Or worse yet, the general disdain your employees have toward the new system.

In fact, in the 2014 ERP Report published by Panorama Consulting, 66% of ERP systems deliver LESS THAN HALF of the anticipated benefits to the business and its users.

The better way to approach these projects is to challenge yourself, your business leaders, and your partners to actually look at—wait for it—the business. And by business, I mean the people within the business. This means turning your approach upside down and making the technology to fit the business need, not making the business conform to whatever technology someone is pushing.

Start by talking to employees that use the technology investments on a daily basis. What do they use it for? How could it improve? What is the biggest pain of their day-to-day? These types of questions uncover true inefficiencies, or opportunities, within the business and help uncover the most impactful problems to solve. It uncovers trends that “big data” alone* never can and that big-box solutions ignore by definition.

* Disclaimer: data is a great enabler when used in conjunction with execution level context.

I know, all of this sounds great, but it’s pretty pie in the sky. The other 1,000 lb gorilla in the room is effective communication (also filed under > ”People”).

Communication

Without communication, technical expertise is about as effective as eating soup with a fork. Or decaf coffee. Or something else that doesn’t make sense.

Communication within large-scale projects should achieve three main goals:

  1. Alleviate any ambiguity on the expected outcome(s) caused by committees of decision makers
  2. Give a comprehensive vision to the various project owners
  3. Set expectations to both internal and external stakeholders.

Let’s start with the first goal, comprehensive vision, and work chronologically.

The 2014 ERP Report uncovered another staggering statistic: “over half (51%) of ERP implementations experience some operational disruption”. OPERATIONAL DISRUPTION. That’s like a government shutdown over a bill that can’t be passed. Technical issues can cause short-term disruptions but “it is the process and organizational issues that pose the most risk.”

These process and organizational issues are people driven and stem from ineffective communication. I’ll take it a step further and say that these communication issues are largely correlated with the decision-by-committee approach that is rampant in the enterprise world. In this model, there are multiple “stakeholders” contributing to the decision. These stakeholders all have a myriad of their own motivations, most of which are “personal” motivations and more often than not, go unspoken (a direct violation of goals 1 and 2 above). This leads to diluting the initial intention of creating a better experience for your customers and/or employees while enhancing your bottom-line.

The fewer decision makers, the better. Thus, it is of paramount importance that this decision maker(s) MUST be well-informed, especially when the decision involves a large-scale project that affects many of their employees/customers and can give all involved parties a comprehensive vision to share.

Finally, communicating expectations are a key part of successful projects. Success can only be measured by the metrics we use to define “success”. Too often, these expectations are not communicated effectively which leads to unreasonable metrics. Most projects often use the three benchmarks of time, budget, and feature scope. One of these must remain variable. Perhaps the best benchmark to remain variable in the business environment is feature scope. The majority of enterprise projects tend to start with a firm budget and a hard deadline. Thus, it is a reasonable outcome that the feature scope might have to be compromised to meet those first two higher-priority criteria. It is the responsibility of your partners to relay these expectations adequately upfront. Believe it or not, many partners knowingly don’t set realistic expectations to avoid having difficult conversations. This ultimately leads to hitting their clients with an endless supply of change orders to remedy the gap in expectations, which destroys one of the remaining benchmarks: budget. Trust me, that realization stings a lot more after the fact.

What this all boils down to is reminding you of what you already know. Place people at the center of your projects and communicate effectively with those people. “Communication is key” is a cliché for a reason. Active interpersonal communication can save time, money, and headaches. It’s time to take back enterprise projects for the people. This is just one of the things we help enterprises with here at Skookum. So if you’re feeling lost, or want to sound off on anything I’ve said, send me an email, jharris@skookum.com, tweet us @skookum or give us a call, 704-930-7444.