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Is it the tool or the tradesperson?

By Critical Input Senior Consultant Henk de Vos

The shiniest new hammer on the market won’t help if what you really need is a screwdriver.

Far too often businesses get sold on the wonders of the latest and greatest software solution, only to find that it doesn’t deliver what they expected or needed.

And little wonder when, no matter how impressive the system is, not enough thought has gone into considering the real problem and its causes before rushing out to invest in what we call a “shiny rock” solution.

Why then do so many system optimisation or transformation projects fail to deliver the expected benefits?

It all looked so promising

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You researched the market, shortlisted the best solution providers, rated their presentations/demonstrations and validated their claims with their nominated reference sites. It was the best thing since sliced bread (and shiny new hammers). So, you finalised the business case for what appeared to be the best system (software solution) for your company.

But six to 12 months later the system has not delivered the expected outcomes. The Business case benefits are simply NOT being delivered. In fact, the new processes and systems are performing worse than the original processes and systems.

You did everything you could to validate the new system, but it’s failed to deliver the expected benefits. It’s not a lemon. It works. It’s just not delivering what you need – the aforementioned screwdriver.

Why did it all go so wrong?

Most of the time new system projects fail because companies have been sold on the perceived benefits that the new system appears to offer. The salesperson didn’t lie, the company simply saw a glittering product with plenty of whiz-bang features – just not the ones that they needed to solve the underlying problem that prompted them to upgrade their system in the first place.

What they failed to understand was the complexity of the processes, systems, data structures and system interfaces that were already in place. Most importantly, they didn’t understand or consider the actual process/systems (knowledge) controlled by people.

This knowledge isn’t documented or understood by senior management. It’s the combined intellectual property held by the broader team that makes the current systems work.  

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So, who’s to blame?

There’s an old saying that “a bad tradesperson blames their tools”, and this is often exactly what happens when system upgrade projects fail to deliver what was needed.

The project steering group blames the new software, blames the consultants, blames the implementation team, blames the functional team and eventually it blames the project management team. In reality, the blame lies with the person/s who believed that the shiny new tool would fix all their existing problems instead of looking at their root cause. 

What’s the solution? Hint: It’s not a shiny rock

First, it’s vital to understand the “as is” system and its shortcomings thoroughly by looking at how the existing processes and systems work. Equally important is to know who makes it work. 

The second step is to employ additional resources to conduct the “as is” review rather than relying on the in-house team.

This is for two reasons. One, it provides an independent review not clouded by the preconceptions of a person, team, department or process and, two, the in-house personnel have day jobs and they will have to sacrifice the performance of that job – or the systems project!

Once you have a very clear understanding of the existing processes and systems, you can prepare the gap analysis. This will be what you have to consider, address and rectify before you can implement the new system.

Make sure you establish the stage gates aligned to the identified gaps, to ensure that the gaps have been incorporated into the project.

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Don’t fall at the final hurdle

Be prepared to delay the go-live if these gaps haven’t been addressed and review the whole project if they can’t be addressed.

Ensure that you have enough resources to manage the business’s day-to-day functions, as well as the project.

Communication is key to the success of any project, so make sure that you continually update everyone in the company about the benefits, impact on the “as is” and their future roles. Taking the whole team on the journey is a major factor in ensuring its success.

Above all, make sure that everyone is suitably trained and confident on how to use the new system.

The CRITICAL Input team has many years of experience gained across multiple optimisation and transformation projects and is ready to help deliver successful projects, leaving your team to get on with doing what they do best.