System Implementation Consulting offers a lot of very exciting and challenging project work. The complexities of the implementations never fail to reveal new ways a project can become derailed, and with each, comes its own set of lessons learned that can be pocketed for future engagements. A project I once worked on offered a few such lessons.
The project was for an enterprise software company that had just recently been created as a result of two separate companies merging into a new brand. It would involve SMEs from all areas of the business and from each business unit, multiple consultant partners, and a lot of change management as a result of the consolidation of the business. There were a lot of moving parts which always makes for a fun project.
One of our internal track leads was a particularly excellent resource. He was heavily engaged, proactive, asked a lot of questions, and was always on time with his deliverables. He was the holy grail for us consultants. The only issue was that because he was so independently knowledgeable, we inadvertently allowed him to become an information silo. Well, lo and behold, halfway through the project, our resource accepted a position at another company. We were left with a half-implemented tool, designed and built under the vision of someone who would no longer be accessible to us.
The company responded by assigning a new resource. He was smart, but he was also a new hire so he didn’t have as much knowledge of the business as our former resource. Because of this, we recruited some seasoned sales leaders to help fill in the knowledge gaps. It quickly became apparent, however, that the reps did not share the same vision that we had been working towards since kickoff. Collectively, their focus was centered less around building standardization into the tool, and more so around making sure its users could have as much flexibility in it as possible. As a result, we spent a lot of hours having discussions that had already been had, making decisions that were already finalized, and doing a rebuild of the system to support the new vision. When it was all over, we had completed a successful implementation. We delivered a product that we were proud of, but it didn’t come without a hefty change order.
“As a result, we spent a lot of hours having discussions that had already been had…”
So what lessons were there to be learned from this project?
Be Aware of the Environment
When stepping into a new company it’s easy to dive into process and solutioning immediately without taking the time to understand the playing field. It’s important to ask questions. What is the company culture? Who are the key players, and what are their attitudes towards the project? To the company? Understanding the environment provides more context that can contribute to more well-informed decision making.
When it comes to status, it’s easy to skim the surface, check the boxes, and give the “all clear”. Always be skeptical. Again, ask questions. If someone thinks the status is Green, be adamant about asking them to explain why. Forcing the discussion enables varying perspectives to emerge that can help call out potential areas of risk.
Avoid Information Silos
This is often very difficult to do. Many times, you will find yourself working closely with a resource who really knows the ins and outs of the business. Usually, it’s someone who has been with the company for a long time, juggles many responsibilities, and is heavily relied upon by the business for his or her wealth of knowledge. It’s tempting to gravitate towards these people and especially so when engaged in a large, complex project where you need to move fast. But this can be dangerous if the information is not shared. Inclusion is paramount to the project’s success. It not only offers as insurance against the siloed resource getting hit by the proverbial bus, but it also helps to ensure well thought out decision-making from a diverse, yet unified perspective.
It’s important to take a step back after each project to identify lessons like these. Consultants are relied upon to be the expert of the solution and its delivery, and a big part of that is knowing what can go wrong during implementation. Taking the opportunity to reflect and understand what causes these problems can go a long way in helping to avoid them in the future. It saves time and money, and more importantly, it makes customers happier.