Companies initiate projects to move their business forward through innovation and adaptation. The return on investment is typically based upon realizing objectives that cannot be obtained with their current solutions. Technology and services are thereby sold by creating a new vision of what is possible. However, realizing it requires that the new vision be sustained throughout the project which in turn is dependent upon continuity of knowledge, understanding, institutional commitment and the ability of the project team to carry it through.
As soon as the project starts, this new vision is threatened when the project team engages with line managers, process owners and subject matter experts who are often personally vested in the existing solutions. Arguably, this happens on virtually every project. So, instead of hoping that “this time it will be different”, we must embrace this reality and adopt methods that address it.
In this article we explore ways in which realizing the new vision can be attained, thereby delighting customers and frankly having some fun in the process.
Success starts during pre-sales; when the engagement is being structured. Too often the executive directive to implement a solution with minimal customization gives way to operational constraints that are either real or perceived.
The challenge and opportunity is to do the hard work of establishing trust and credibility during the sales cycle so an objective discussion is undertaken and an achievable agreement reached.
It takes an investment of time and scarce resources to conduct a thorough diagnostic. The benefits however are significant, including:
- Understanding the customer's business
- Aligning business processes with system features and capabilities; clearly identifying functional fits and gaps
- Transitioning the customer away from legacy processes and toward a new vision
This last benefit (transitioning the customer toward a new vision) is arguably the principle and sustaining imperative throughout the project. Once the customer turns away from legacy systems and processes, it becomes much easier to adopt standard features; thereby reducing customization, risk, cost and time.
This all starts when the deal is being structured. If it is not done before the project starts then it must be addressed during the Analysis phase. As with coding defects, the later in the project this is done, the more expensive and difficult it will be; creating conflict with the executive sponsor and stakeholders. Ownership and accountability to affect this transition must be integral to the deal structure and sustained via governance.
When the term "governance" is used, what often comes to mind is project administration or possibly even stakeholder-management, however this is a limited perspective and ignores many core elements essential for success. The highest level of project governance is the Executive Steering Committee and sustaining the new vision is arguably the most important function this forum can perform.
Leveraging the Steering Committee to sustain the vision helps ensure this accountability stays squarely on the shoulders of the senior decisions makers. It is only the most senior stakeholders who can direct those within their organization to align with project objectives; freeing the project team to focus on executing instead of expending energy and time mitigating organizational resistance.
This of course, requires that the Executive Steering Committee be an effective governance body and not an administrative and relationship based forum. Excluding the Project Manager and Architects from the Steering Committee will make this forum completely ineffective and frankly, a waste of time and resources.
Sustained involvement of the architect involved during the pre-sales process provides continuity of knowledge and preserves that trusted relationship. It also sustains the integrity of original expectations, understanding and commitments.
The pre-sales architect does not replace or displace the delivery architect but rather must be involved at key junctures. The following diagrams illustrate the proposed type and level of involvement
The high demand and short supply of architects makes continuity and sustained engagement both difficult and expensive. However, it is an essential ingredient for sustaining the new vision.
The delivery architecture is the driving force that leads the entire project team to optimize business processes that align with the stated vision and project objectives. It is impossible to overstate how critical it is for the delivery architect and the pre-sales architect to collaborate throughout the project.
We have, I think, established that a mutually and sustained understanding of the solution (vision) is paramount. There is little, if any, benefit to establishing a new vision with Customer executives during the sales cycle only to turn around and “automate the cow-path” (implement the same functionality with new technology) once the project starts.
Implementing following practices will enable the delivery team to leverage the pre-sales momentum and avoid starting from scratch.
- Conduct a formal handover workshop from the pre-sales team to delivery leads (Project Manager(s), Architects, Development Leads, Test Leads, Data Lead)
- Conduct a project kickoff meeting with the full project team (including sub-contractors) wherein project parameters, directives, guiding principles and expectations are communicated and reinforced
- Repeat the kickoff meeting process with the Customer
- Conduct design workshops that include work-stream leads as mandatory attendees thereby ensuring the new vision and supporting details are complete and well understood
- Expose deviations from the original vision at the Executive Steering Committee and solicit customer executive engagement to course correct as required.
A good Consultant will consult, not just implement. The customer wants and expects guidance and advice on how to best leverage software capabilities and features. Consulting means providing this guidance. Asking the Customer "what are your requirements" is not consulting. It is simply implementing and falls far short of the Customer's expectations. At best it results in a higher than necessary scope of customizations leading to higher project cost and longer deployment cycles.
The following are but a few simple steps that will lead to an optimum Solution Architecture and a solid foundation for a successful project that achieves the original vision.
- Diagnostic and Analysis phases must be inquisitive exercises. Start the conversation by stating “explain your business processes and let me show you how that is done in our solution”
- Walk in the door with IP (project plans, pre-configured templates, test plans, infrastructure configurations, etc.) that will kick-start the project and help focus the Customer on how to optimize the solution instead of schedules, reports, activities and other important but tactical aspects of executing a project.
- Provide guidance during workshops and content that helps the customer understand how to prepare for eventually operating the system themselves (i.e., configurations, role security, reporting, error handling, etc.)
- Configure early and demonstrate often
All of these steps help to turn the Customer’s focus away from legacy processes and toward what is possible. It is easy to get distracted during the course of complex and lengthy projects. Taking these steps will help build momentum and focus toward realizing the vision that was the reason for the project in the first place.
At the end of the day, a successful business solution deployment is more about people than it is about tools, processes and technology. All dimensions are important but every action, plan, approach, tool and method needs to be oriented toward the people who will be, in essence, the project and who must embrace the result.
A relentless focus toward establishing and reinforcing a new vision then sustaining that throughout the project by persistent exposure to the new solution is not only foundational to a successful project but will help the Customer realize the full value of their investment.