The 7 Deadly Mistakes of Selecting Business Systems: Part 1

Updated: July 29, 2010

Deadly Mistake #1: Wrong People Involved

One of the three major factors, if not the main one, in any successful staffing software system is involving the right people with the right knowledge and skills. The other two factors are implementing around the right processes and having the right technology.

Whether the selection process was successful or not will not be judged immediately after selecting the system or immediately after going live but rather a year or more following that. Throughout that entire period it is critical to have the right people with the right authority, knowledge and skills. Several of the most critical roles are profiled below.

Executive Sponsor: The first thing required is senior executive, preferably CEO, sponsorship of the selection process and project. This visibility heightens both the likelihood of approval of the project and the involvement of the necessary people in the organization. The sponsor's assistance will be vital to clear the inevitable internal roadblocks that organizations often raise in response to change. They are also critical for moving the project through any tough patches where confidence within the organization may wane. If an executive sponsor with clout is not available then, for the sake of your sanity and career, give the project a miss.

Project Manager: Ideally the project manager will manage both the selection and implementation process. This ensures maximum ownership of the outcome. The success of this role is not so much determined by what the project manager knows but by what the people they bring together know. Obviously the right person will have a combination of good organization, business and people skills. Technology skills should be considered a bonus.

Selection Team Member: Often selection teams pass over the actual workers or do not reflect the broad areas involved. This is a red flag as often a system will be selected that meets the requirements of the organization the managers think they run as opposed to the "real" one. It is critical that people who actually do the work be involved. This ensures reality and provides an opportunity for the people who will carry most of the double load of an implementation to "buy-in". By getting people involved now you reduce the risk of "snipers" during the implementation - "snipers" find it a lot harder to operate up close.

System Owner: This is probably the most underrated role in terms of importance. The System Owner is the person who has the responsibility for the ongoing smooth and effective operation of the system. This person needs to have a good knowledge of the business and the system and above all be passionate about its objectives. They will keep users and management confidence by addressing issues in a timely fashion, monitoring the system use to ensure practices are in line with defined processes and that people have the right training. They will work with management to gain further improvements from second phase work and will liaise with the vendor to ensure that escalated problems are resolved in a timely manner and that they obtain the full benefit from subsequent changes in technology. A competent system owner is worth every cent they are paid!

Deadly Mistake #2: Unclear Problems

When faced with a problem there is a human tendency to jump into solving it before spending the necessary time to clearly define the problem. The IT industry has often taken advantage of this by touting, or at the very least implying, that technology is a general panacea for business problems. More time is thus spent looking at software solutions than at the business problems. It's no surprise then that organizations seduced by "solutions looking for problems" end up disappointed with the return on their "investment".

In fact most core business problems that technology can impact are process or people related, not technology related. As such all areas need careful examination otherwise the defined solution will be incomplete at best. Being able to diagnose the core problems has more to do with the ability to ask questions than give quick answers.

Process Problems
When seeking to uncover and diagnose problems in this area be aware of the interplay of process, practice and functionality. Process is to do with how things "should" be done, practice describes how they "are" done and functionality describes "what" can be done using the system. Ideally all three should completely overlap. Where they don't, then the one out of alignment should be focused on. A system may be viewed as inadequate, not because the functionality is not there, but because practices have broken down over time to the extent that they don't align with processes. Rather than functionality being addressed users may need training to realign their practices with system processes.

The trick with aligning the three is judging the required tolerances for alignment. Because something is not aligned does not mean it should be aligned. The impact of the non-alignment needs to be established and the cost of alignment needs to be calculated before that decision is made.

People Problems
Issues that manifest themselves as system issues are often caused by underlying people related problems. These could be related to having the right people or people having the right knowledge or skills. One site we saw recently spent a considerable sum on a new system for half the benefit they could have enjoyed. This was because an accountant, who was the project manager, was not comfortable with change and thus spent much effort in getting the new system to work exactly, problems and all, like his old system.

Change Management
The area of change management is one that often does not receive the attention it deserves. Change management needs to commence during the selection phase not the implementation stage. At a strategic level people need to be clear on what the objectives of the proposed new system are, in other words how it will improve their life by eliminating current problems or opening up opportunities, how the project goals align with their goals etc… Not knowing is like setting out on a journey with no particular place to go. If you like driving then fine, but if you actually want to get somewhere then it's essential to know where that somewhere is. Major pain points in your organization in terms of achieving its business objectives and goals are a good place to start getting people's attention and obtaining their commitment.

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