3 Major Reasons Technology Projects Fail
Have you ever purchased a kitchen gadget or a piece of exercise equipment that promised to make your life amazing and then used it one-to-six times before abandoning it? I know I’m not the only one who has multiple garlic presses in a drawer and have watched more than I’d like to admit of the infomercial for that twisty board thing that is supposed to tone your entire body. Luckily, those sorts of purchases don’t really result in huge cost overruns or months of lost productivity. However, when we go to work, we tend to bring the same brains that buy gadgets and sometimes use them in large technology projects, but to disastrous results. In our experience, here are the 3 biggest reasons technology projects fall apart:
Implementing a new CRM system is not the same as buying a new internet-enabled big screen TV, though we sometimes treat it the same way. With the TV, you do some research, purchase it, take it out of the box, curse a bit while you try to get it mounted on the wall and then turn it on and fumble your way through the unfamiliar menus and options for a couple days. TVs are changing fairly quickly in today’s technology landscape, but the overall way in which we utilize television isn’t changing that dramatically. We use TVs to consume video content or play video games and that’s about it.
Too often, even if we feel like we’re scaling the process for getting new CRM solutions with extensive requirements spreadsheets and 30-page RFPs, we can end up applying the same approach to planning for a technology project that we use when buying a fairly standard home entertainment item. The problem is that people get focused on system requirements before thinking about strategic requirements. We don’t have to think that hard about how we plan to use a TV three years from now, but it’s critically important when finding the system that will need to support your work well into the future. Nevertheless, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the system will tell us how we should work.
That’s backwards. No matter how hard it is, it’s critical that planning phases for a systems project include clearly and thoughtfully defining what you want to accomplish outside the system in order to determine how you need your system to support you. Otherwise, it’s like buying a TV and then realizing you really need a toaster.
Four words, repeated regularly as a mantra, can prevent a lot of headaches during a technology project:
No system is perfect.
No system is perfect.
No system is perfect.
We hear those words and think “I know, I know. There are always compromises.” And yet, it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to get excited about the promise of technology and see electric cars being sent into space and then wonder why the gifts that came in online today can’t be in my offline system on time to prevent that person from being mailed a solicitation tomorrow. It’s frustrating to see magical demos of beautifully automated workflows and then look around your office and say “why doesn’t our system look like that?” Because advertisements can be perfect, but real life never is.
The good news is that the key to dealing with this challenge is simply not to fight it. The projects we’ve seen struggle the most are cases in which the organization was promised more than the solution could deliver and everyone got so stuck in that fact that things couldn’t move forward. Conversely, the most successful projects have been those where the team goes in knowing there will need to be priorities, workarounds and trade-offs. Those teams end up with clear heads that allow them to focus on features that are most important and identify the most creative and collaborative solutions to address the gaps.
Studies by change research organization Prosci have shown that a majority of projects fail due to the human element of a project. Too often, the people involved in or impacted by a project are not adequately prepared for, don’t understand, or are resistant to the changes that will occur as a result of the project. Usually large CRM projects are pursued because an organization hopes to make a significant change in their ability to fundraise or achieve their mission. That always requires that people change the way they work on a day-to-day basis. This freaks us all out.
If I buy the twisty board thing hoping for dramatic change in my physique and then abandon it when I realize that means I actually have to use the dang thing every day to achieve that transformation, that is change resistance. But in that example, while I’m resistant to changing my behavior, I chose to make the purchase and I set the vision for myself.
At an organizational level, the decision to make a change is usually made by a small group of people and yet it impacts many. If those people are not given a clear vision for why the change is being made and what it means for them, they are going to struggle with adapting to the new way of doing things. The power of people who are not ready for or do not want to change should not be underestimated. All that prioritizing and clear-eyed solutioneering needed to address the technology gaps? Not gonna happen if morale has taken a change-resistant nosedive.
Successful projects address all three of these causes of project failure by employing professional change management techniques for guiding the transition across the organization. The steps are generally simple, though not necessarily easy and require attention and commitment. All fully worth it if you don’t want your technology project to end up in the unused gadget drawer.
Project management industry studies reveal that more than half of project resistance could be avoided using effective change management strategies. If you feel your initiative is at risk, Heller’s certified change management specialists are skilled in identifying and reducing project resistance that arises before, during and after implementations. Since each organization, and each change initiative, is unique, Heller offers a variety of change management services to ensure your organization successfully achieves your technology vision. Our services have clearly defined deliverables tailored specifically for nonprofits, and are coordinated to match your project phases. We can join your in-progress initiative to advise and realign teams that are showing signs of resistance and increasing risk.