01 May Beyond listicles: The almighty human element in technology projects
by Ryan Northington
At Simplus, we are always putting little nuggets of wisdom together to help our customers in the form of “Top 3 or 5 or 7 fill-in-the-blank ways to lead to Salesforce success” blogs. These listicles are really valuable, and there is certainly a time and place for them. In fact here are some of our more popular listicle posts:
- 7 best practices to a successful CPQ project
- 3 ways digital transformation makes manufacturers customer-centric
- 4 ways Simplus helps customers simplify their Salesforce journey
However, after all the tips and tricks, best practices, frameworks, etc. are shared, running a business is a big human experiment. How do we bring a group of people together to convince other groups of people to buy our service or product? IT or technology projects are no different. It’s all about people.
We are always looking for a silver bullet with our technology, a sure-fire solution that will solve everything at once. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that if we don’t focus on humans first, then all technology projects—silver bullets or not—will fail.
So how do you do that? Focusing on the people and the human side of a project comes down to three key steps: define the outcome, drive alignment, and say no to supposed exceptions.
Define the outcome
Before anything else can move forward with your project, the desired outcomes have to be defined. This is where you determine what is most important to your organization and people by answering why? Why spend a million-plus dollars on this implementation? Why embark on this multi-phased, multi-year transformation project?
The answer will be different for different companies, but it’s always going to be a high-level business outcome. Maybe it’s profit, growth, customer experience, efficiency. These are all macro, C-Suite ways of defining what’s most important. Once you’ve defined this for the project, then it’s easier to find the specific KPIs you’ll want to measure the project based on.
For example: is growth the most important? Then your KPIs for this project will all be topline revenue growth related. Or is customer experience most important? Then NPS and new user acquisition metrics are KPIs you should be using.
If you start a project but haven’t defined the outcome and decided on KPIs, the project will likely make no sense and lose support. Your team must understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and what the project is trying to achieve. Whether it’s the C-Suite, business leaders, of everyday users, people will respond to a clear direction, build off the associated KPIs, and set the project up for optimal success.
Lead with the strategy—not user stories, not technical requirements—and the rest will follow.
It’s easy to make technology do what you need it to do. It’s not so easy to get all departments on board with the technology. To do this, you need to drive alignment across departments.
Technology projects are major targets for failure when the affected departments are not all singing the same song. It doesn’t matter what the technology can do if there’s no alignment. If defining the outcome answers “why,” then driving alignment is part of answering “what.” What departments will experience change and what do they need to do to prepare?
For example, CPQ technology projects are notorious for alignment issues. A CPQ project, at the bare minimum, has repercussions for sales, finance, and legal. Sales typically accepts and works with the CPQ projects more easily, while other back-office functions like legal and finance often hesitate. Finance and legal care about efficiency above all, and even if a CPQ project promises these department long-term improvements to efficiency, the initial, short-term inefficiency (due to changes, adoption, learning curve, etc.) will often lead these departments to “no” and sometimes blocking the project entirely. The value of the CPQ project is less obvious to finance and legal, and that’s completely understandable.
But if you’re driving alignment, you’re helping each department see the value, understand the long-term outcomes, and get on board. Part of driving this alignment is securing strong executive sponsorship, ideally with the head of each affected department. Once you’ve established the C-Suite alignment, you’ll also need to trickle down and drive alignment to business leaders and SMEs (e.g. head of finance, general counsel, VP of sales, etc.).
You’ve defined the outcome and associated KPIs. You’re driving alignment. The human element of your project is coming together. But these same humans can also be the biggest barrier to successful project takeoff and true transformation. Unfortunately, when a big technology project is introduced, it’s not uncommon for some individuals to see themselves as the exception. “We don’t need this.” “Don’t include me in this project.” “I do it differently.” “I need a more particular solution.” “I have my own way.” This is the resistance phase.
If your project is being haunted by this, you need to say no. Say no to any individual that thinks the technology has to handle the core business scenarios (identified during the outcome defining) and a hundred-plus fringe cases just for them. This is false
Your technology project isn’t just introducing a new tool or process. It’s likely a major cultural shift affecting each individual. To champion this culture shift and fight against the resistors, you’ll have to say no to those hindering the project’s progress and promote those in the business that champion the change and the correct way of doing things. Because you’re not just changing up processes quietly. You’re altering the entire business culture of your organization. In the business world, that’s loud.
Change management is a great solution to ease the transition (and say no a little more nicely). Consultants and practitioners of change management are focused entirely on handling the people side of change, encouraging true and eager adoption, and easing any pain points. This can include templates, classes, demo sessions, instructions, and more. Anything to minimize the pain. We’ve found a significant increase in project success when our clients utilize change management throughout the project—even during build—and not just at the project end.
Technology is secondary to this great big business exercise in handling humans. In every project or engagement, the goal is to improve the productivity of people, not tools. The human element of your business comes first. By defining the desired outcomes from the start, driving alignment continuously, and saying no when necessary, you can ensure your technology projects are also people projects.
Ryan is President of the North America business unit at Simplus. He has extensive knowledge and experience in delivering Salesforce Managed Services. His goal is to build and operate new high growth practices focused on either a new services line or a new technology capability.