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EPIC FAIL – Chapter Three



Phil_624_Fav_2015-01-10_cmykEpicFail-art_2015-10-04_1400Chapter Three in an eBook titled EPIC FAIL

By Phillip G. Perkins, ACUMEN Corporation, President and CEO


I want to start this chapter by saying that I may have left the reader with the impression that business owners and senior managers take a cavalier attitude towards information systems. Let me say now that I have boundless respect for the men and women who drive business here in the United States. Entrepreneurs and business executives grease the wheels of our economy.

But all too often information systems are not viewed as a strategic element of the business plan. Certainly business owners and managers understand that modern business requires automation and mobility. That said senior leaders need to take one additional step and accept the challenge of being the internal sponsors and champions as enterprise systems are implemented in their companies.

Executive Buy-In
After all my years of working with information systems, managing implementations and consulting with businesses I have come to realize that the most certain way to guarantee failure of a project is lack of “buy-in” from executive management. Let me share one cautionary story of a project that became an Epic Fail some years ago.

The owner and CEO of a large mid-Atlantic building materials company had impaneled a group of managers at this company to vet and recommend an enterprise resource planning system. The group included everyone from the CFO to the inventory manager. Leading the group was the daughter of the owner who held a responsible position in administration. The owner believed he was “empowering” his managers by giving them the task of finding the next generation of information system for the growing company. Initially he told the team (via his daughter) that he would abide by their recommendation so “do a great job”.

All went well until the recommendation was made. At that point the owner said he disagreed with the system selected but would abide by the decision made by the group. Contracts were signed and the project began. The owner would barge into project team meetings and scoff at the project plans and ideas advanced by his team. Behind the scenes he would tell his daughter how dissatisfied he was with the decision and the course the project was taking.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. The project ultimately was beyond saving. It was an Epic Fail. And the owner only had himself to blame. If he intended to make the decision himself he would have done well to become a member of the selection team and exert his influence then rather than serving as an impediment to progress along the critical path of the project.

Of  course for  every “Fail” of this level there are lots of success stories but here at ACUMEN we try to open a dialogue with the senior executive level managers or owners early in the process…and certainly before contracts are signed. We make them a promise that if they stay involved and really get behind the project we will serve not only as the software  implementation team but as advisors to him or her based upon our many years of observing best practices. We like to feel as if we are a part of the day to day environment at the companies we serve and we invite business owners and managers to feel a part of our team as well.
The bottom line here is that executive buy-in should be considered an imperative for a successful project. The alternative can lead to lost time and money. Epic Fail.

The Voice of the User
Let’s say for the moment that the business owner or senior executive(s) are providing the buy-in we need. He or she is functioning as the sponsor or champion and showing support for the project and team by endorsing the decision and plan. In my mind where the rubber really meets the road is at the stakeholder or user level. After all that’s where the day to day work of the company gets done.

Every management book available will point out the wisdom of listening to employees but nowhere is that practice more important than during the implementation of a complex software suite. Referring again to my 2003 book I suggested that once every few years business owners “zero base” every workstation. Let me explain what I mean.

So I have often suggested that managers actually sit down with stakeholders before the implementation begins (or perhaps even before the contract is signed) and ask the employee what tools are needed to do their jobs. This exercise works best if the stakeholder is told NOT to base answers on the tools software or otherwise) that they currently use. Thus they are zero basing their workstation.

We have found that this simple exercise allows for the stakeholders that will be very important to the success of the implementation to open up and actually advise ownership about what might go into boosting their own productivity and by default that of the company. Moreover, it illustrates that management takes the impending implementation very seriously and values the input of those on the front lines.

It seems a simple exercise, although depending upon the size of your company, it can take a good deal of time. But consider the fact that you will likely not replace your software system for another seven to ten years and I think you will see that it may be worth the effort.

Whether you go to that level of interaction or not I can assure you that failing to listen carefully to the stakeholders is a direct line to an Epic Fail.

Next chapter we’ll have a look at the physical working environment for projects and how poor planning that area can hasten your potential failed implementation.