When technology isn’t enough: 7 ways to ensure your IT project succeeds

As many as seven in 10 CRM roll-outs fail. Many big government IT projects fail, some fail spectacularly. On a more personal level, how many gadgets and apps have you bought in the last five years that failed to improve your life? Exactly. So, if you’re planning to deploy new technology into your organisations, here are seven tips to engage your staff and ensure a successful outcome.

Woman staring at a computer screen as part of IT project

As many as seven in 10 CRM roll-outs fail. Many big government IT projects fail, some fail spectacularly. On a more personal level, how many gadgets and apps have you bought in the last five years that failed to improve your life? If you want an IT project to succeed you need more than IT.

The human dimension

Here’s the thing: IT has a human dimension. Get it wrong and it can hurt you just as much as a bug or a security breach. For example:

  • A CRM system that’s so difficult to use that nobody puts in any data.
  • A customer support system with forms that take 20 minutes to complete.
  • Expenses software that works brilliantly for accountants but confuses employees.

Perception is important, as Rory Sutherland explains in his TED talk. To be effective, IT has to command users’ assent and, preferably, their enthusiasm. Technical efficiency is necessary but not sufficient.

Perception matters

Sutherland explains that engineers spent nearly £8 billion to cut the London to Paris journey time on the Eurostar. For a fraction of that budget, they could provide every traveller with free Wi-Fi. For £800m, they could have hired supermodels to give away free Chateau Petrus on every train. People would have begged Eurostar for longer journeys.

Or to take another example, NHS care.data promises efficient digitisation of patient records and, as a result, better joined up care. But it has become mired in controversy because of concerns over data privacy. You would think the NHS was proposing to sell patient data to advertisers. Except they were.

An IT project is made of people

So, if you’re planning to deploy new technology into your organisations, here are seven tips to engage your staff and ensure a successful outcome:

  1. Involve employees from the start. Form user committees, create user champions, run focus groups, do card sorting exercises.
  2. Give managers and developers direct experience of the problems the system is supposed to solve. Work shadowing, industrial anthropology, user surveys, even YouTube videos and screen grabs help.
  3. Adopt agile development. Instead of spending a year implementing a fixed specification, spend two months building a minimum viable prototype and the next ten months iteratively improving it.
  4. Encourage feedback. Online tools like Uservoice can be a great way to get feedback because they allow people to suggest and vote on new features.
  5. Let the mashups begin. Some applications have APIs that let them talk to other apps. Let employees use tools like If This Then That and Zapier to create their own meta-apps.
  6. Training, training, training. Some people learn to use new technology easily and enjoy exploring. For everyone else, you need to provide plenty of training. Online videos, links to support sites or in-person support all have a role.
  7. Best practice and doctrine. Over time, people find ways to use tools together. It’s a good idea to codify these behaviours and share them. The best way is peer-to-peer rather than top-down.

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