Applying CRM to IT Projects

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If we want to create employee fans who will then “sell” to end customers, then we need to make actually turn those employees into fans! And that’s not so easy when it comes to IT.

It’s a fact (at least in my mind) that IT projects with good project management get better results than projects with poor or no project management. Can we say the same for CRM? In other words, if IT projects employ CRM techniques, will there be a better outcome? I say YES!

We need to recognize that most IT projects support many types of “customers” ranging from the external customer to internal users, and not the least of which is the company itself. Further, if we believe that CRM is a business strategy where the customer — not a particular technology, business unit, department or function — is the focal point, then we must embed CRM strategies into our project plans. My experience repeatedly demonstrates that applying CRM principles to projects yields far superior results. To this end, I offer two sets of activities that IT organizations can use to orchestrate their project efforts.

(1) Voice of the Customer – This activity applies an end-user “lens” to the IT project process and provides end-users a constant voice in design decisions made by the IT project team. This IT role is chartered to advocate on behalf of end-users, and act as a sounding board for the technical team. Tasks include advising the technical team on user experience issues, representing the end-user during design, and application testing.

(2) Business Communication – This activity creates a single point of contact (SPOC) for the end-users and a SPOC to orchestrate customer coordination with the technical team. The activity interacts with internal business customers, keeping them in the loop relative to the progress of the project, involving them in designs reviews, providing their feedback to the technical team.

What do you think? Are these best practices that should become de facto standard activities in CRM-focused project management?

2 COMMENTS

  1. Liz

    What? IT projects run for the benefit of end-users (customers)! Are you mad?. And a business analyst as the end-user representative on IT projects! Heresy. I can see that you won’t have many IT friends for much longer.

    Seriously, these should be daily business in all IT projects. IT is an important enabler for all businesses, but it only works when it is developed collaboratively with end-users. That may mean using a formal project management methodology like PRINCE2 on complex strategic projects, all the way to using iterative RAD/JAD prototyping on fast-moving tactical projects. No IT project should be run without extensive involvement of users throughout each of the analysis, design, development and implementation phases.

    In a previous life I was a systems analyst (UK Government accredited in SSADM) and an IT project manager (involved in prototyping the first version of PRINCE). I am still heavily involved in IT on most consulting and interim assignments today. It helps enormously that I was an IT professional in the past. But I am an exception. Let’s look at a couple of caricatures to see why. See if you recognise them in your organisation:

    The Bluff Businessman doesn’t know anything about enterprise IT. Nor is he really interested. He thinks IT never delivers what he wants, but that it should be able to solve all his problems. If his 12 year old son can knock up a school blog over a weekend, why can’t IT solve all his simple business problems. And what is with all this change request malarky. He told IT what he wanted ages ago. It’s not his fault that he is too busy running the business to attend progress meetings. Or that markets, customers and competitors are changing continuously. It is hard enough selling widgets without having to battle with the new-age weirdoes he meets in the coridoor outside IT. They don’t even speak plain English to him.

    The Clever Coder isn’t actually interested in business at all. He is interested in computation, particularly in Java programming. He even has his own mini-computer at home in the basement, salvaged when a friend’s business was closed. That way he can keep contact with his first real love, Fortran 77. And businessmen are just so unreasonable. They don’t know what they really want, but they want it yesterday. That is until tomorrow comes, when what they want will have changed anyway. Whatever. As long as it keeps him busy with creating the next monument to his programming genius, he isn’t that bothered. They are not the ones paying his paycheck after all. They are a necessary distraction. Part of the programmer’s cat and mouse game.

    Well, do you recognise them? There are elements of both of them in all the organisations I have worked with over the past 25 years.

    What is required is someone who can bring them both together. A Hybrid Manager who understands what the business wants to do and what is possible within its IT/IS landscape. Who can build bridges between the business and its overbearing demands and IT with its overcomplex environment. And who can represent both parties during each phase of enterprise IT projects. But they need more power to influence than business analysts typically have. IT is a strategic issue for business after all. Sadly, these people are few and far between. They have been for the 20 years I have been a consultant and interim manager. And a hybrid manager.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Spot on, Graham! I’ve seen versions of this concept over the years with monnikers such as “IT Ambassador”, “Business Account Manager”, “Strategic Relationship Architect.” It makes me wonder why we’re STILL talking about this all these years later — and I’ve been talking about it for at least 15 years.

    I think part of the issue is, as you say, “…these people are few and far between.” However I also think that the role hasn’t become organic to how business operates: stovepipes/silos continue to exist and it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t cut these kind of hybrid roles in tight economic times. After all, if the role is neither fish nor fowl, then neither the fisherman nor the hunter wants to pay to keep it.

    Which is why I think that perhaps aligning the role to a funded initiative might not be a more pragmatic approach — at least for organizations that are still wrestling with hybrid concepts.

    Now I don’t mean to tee up an “either/or” scenario, but perhaps a little of both. I can see no reason for projects not to fund the CRM roles discussed above. Perhaps seeing that work a couple of times might enable the Bluff Businessman and Clever Coder to actually see the value of having activities (and not necessarily individual people) dedicated to applying their “Captain Marvel decoder rings” to technology and business relationships.

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