Beware! 5 Signs That Your Good (IT) Idea is Turning Bad


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The start of a new IT project is fun. People are excited. Anything is possible. The sky’s the limit. People get inspired – or sometimes seduced – by the potential for how great things will be once they have the capabilities that a new system can provide.

Many IT projects look good on paper. And that is exactly where they should stay.

Unfortunately, what looks like a good idea can often be a bad reality.

Many IT projects – especially enterprise implementations such as ERP, CRM or collaboration tools – go off the rails at some point. Typically, it is not the technology that is the problem, but rather with getting the organization to accept, and actually use, the system.

Recognize the signs that you are in getting into trouble. Then stop!

When I ask clients how they will know when their project is in trouble, they often get very quiet and look at me like I am a total buzz-kill. Why would I even ask such a thing? The project is on-schedule and on-budget. What could possibly go wrong?

One challenge is understanding when projects fail and how to recognize when you’re heading in that direction.

In the simplest terms, IT systems fail when the system is not used and it is not delivering meaningful, measurable business value.

Here are five signs that even if your system is delivered on-time and on-budget that it will – ultimately — be deemed a failure.

1. Your business case assumes 100% user adoption

Quick, sustained, effective user adoption is on the critical path to IT success. The thing is, it is often assumed, but rarelyachieved.

Do you currently have 100% effective use of your existing systems? No? What level do you have? How do you know? Why will this change just because you change systems?

If you only get 50% effective adoption, does your business case still make sense? What about 25%? 75%? Try weighting your business case / ROI forecast against different levels of adoption and see if the numbers still make sense.

2. You have not assigned formal accountability for achieving ROI goals

As I’m sure you do too, I read all the time about the important role that leadership plays in IT projects. Many times the discussion is centered on how having leadership commitment as critical to success. But I don’t often read about exactly what this looks like or how to know if you really have it.

If you want to maximize user adoption and IT success, you need to assign formal authority and accountability for ensuring user adoption at the most senior executive levels. This has to be measured and sustained over the life of the system, and the executive needs to have meaningful incentives for hitting user adoption and IT ROI targets.

3. You don’t know when or how you will measure success

I asked one senior executive who was overseeing a major organizational transformation program at what point do they go back and measure their actual results against those forecasted in the business case. He replied, “Well, we don’t do that. We’re not really good at it.”

Many organizations only look at the business case for funding approval, but they never go back to see if they accomplished their goals. If you want to make sure you are achieving IT success, you need to define in advance how, when and who will measure actual results.

If you don’t have this in your plan, you are heading for trouble.

4. Your critical path stops at go-live

Many IT project plans talk about the critical path to go-live. This is great from a system delivery perspective, but awful from a value creation perspective.

System go-live, the period at which you have completed the vast majority of the IT project, is also the point where you have realized the majority of your costs, yet not realized any value from your investment. If this is where you have stopped your critical path, all you have done is mapped out the critical path to maximizing your sunk costs.

Map your critical path out way past go-live until you have achieved your ROI / business value goals as stated in the business case. This may be several years into the future. Ask yourself: what activities do you need to do to drive and sustain effective, value-creating user adoption? How will you monitor your results to see if you are on track? Who will do this? What actions will you take if actual results fall short of expectations?

If you don’t have this defined, your good idea is quickly turning bad.

5. You haven’t enabled user success

Many organizations assume that if they provide system training and have a help desk that users can, and will, adopt the system. In reality, there are often many barriers that prevent users from using the system (even if they want to).

Also, many training efforts are focused on helping existing users learn the new system, but do little to help new users quickly get up to speed on business systems and processes. Users are often left to fend for themselves or seek help from their coworkers, who often do not have the latest and most accurate information. This is a recipe for disaster – especially if your organization is simultaneously adding lots of new employees (turnover or rapid growth).

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jason Whitehead
Jason Whitehead is CEO of Tri Tuns, LLC, an organizational effectiveness consultancy specializing in driving and sustaining effective user adoption of IT systems. He works at the intersection of technology, process, culture and people to help clients actually achieved measurable business benefits from their technology investments.


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