Worst Case Study: When Everything Went Wrong - Heller Consulting

Worst Case Study: When Everything Went Wrong

worst case study train wreck

When things go awry in complex technology projects, organizations can find themselves trapped between two difficult options. They can continue pushing forward with the initiative, potentially wasting resources on a project that is beyond hope of success, or they can abandon the initiative, undo existing work, and hope for funding to try again in the future. Both options carry risk of damaging support for the project and morale of the organization. If the issues in the project impact the organization’s constituency, their reputation could also take a hit. (Read more about the costs of struggling projects here >>) It can be extremely stressful to figure out the best path forward when mired in issues and trying to carry out business-as-usual at the same time. Unfortunately, technology has not (yet) given us the ability to stop time while we get our operational houses in order, but it can help to reach out to an objective third party for help.

Worst Case Study

We were recently contacted by an organization that realized they were in this exact situation. They had attempted to implement Salesforce as their new CRM system and several months past their launch date, the system was a mess and staff members were struggling to carry out every day tasks. Small errors and issues had compounded into large problems that resulted in bad mailing lists, incorrect financial reporting and constant user frustration.

Almost every system conversion has some data loss because some legacy data is too inconsistent to migrate cleanly to the new one. However, those instances should always be known and documented during the conversion process, with clear options offered for manual entry or archiving. If data discrepancy errors begin to arise after launch that were not accounted for during conversion, it can undermine trust very quickly. Users naturally begin to ask, “If this is wrong, what else is wrong that I haven’t encountered yet?” In this case, as issues surfaced, people became unable to move forward without fear of communicating incorrect information to their leadership and their supporters.

They reached out to us for help assessing their situation and determining the best path to a sustainable solution. Our interview and data analysis process revealed the challenging state they were in and several of the complications they were facing:

  • They had never gotten full benefit from their legacy system because it didn’t fit their organization’s needs very well. With the new system imploding, they now had low confidence any system would serve them well.
  • Over years of struggling with a not-quite-right system, the team had cobbled together inconsistent business processes with many undocumented work-arounds and shortcuts.
  • Some key tasks were overlooked during the project design phase and as a result they had to maintain data in both systems until Salesforce could be further configured.
  • The data from the legacy system was not migrated effectively to the new system, resulting in errors and inconsistencies.
  • Because Salesforce was new to them, staff members understandably struggled to distinguish whether issues were a matter of system limitations or training needs.
  • Individuals and teams were desperately trying to solve the issues, but there was no central oversight or guidance to make sure efforts were aligned.
  • Without confidence in the base data, they were not certain of the accuracy of the reports and dashboards produced. Because they were using both systems, it became harder as time went on to determine which was the source of truth.

Clearly, this was a difficult situation and there would be no easy answers. Starting with the information from the preliminary interviews, Heller worked with the team over several days to evaluate their technology issues, business processes, readiness to accept change, and the organization’s perception of the project. At the conclusion, we provided recommendations for how they could address their current state. Each of these basic recommendations included specific steps to address the challenges above.

  • To minimize further data discrepancies, we recommended that they revert to using their legacy system until Salesforce could be re-launched in a cleaner, fully configured state. Though we tried to identify ways to avoid this drastic step, in the end, it seemed that this would get them to their desired end-state faster than trying to patch the holes and leaks.
  • We also recommended that they take a step back as a team and realign their goals. They needed to develop a clear roadmap toward specific goals to be successful with representatives from all stake holding departments at the table.
  • We documented the data and configuration issues affecting the Salesforce implementation and outlined the options for addressing each. Salesforce is an amazing system designed for customization through an extensive ecosystem of Apps for different functions. This allows organizations to establish a tool that really fits their needs, but it requires a level of familiarity to make good choices. It is critical to ensure that someone within each organization becomes a subject matter expert and receives training to understand how to evaluate, test and implement options over time.

While reverting to their old system was not ideal, the detailed list of issues and options gave them a framework for re-thinking their needs and goals.

It’s understandable how things can go sideways when resources are scarce, tensions are high, and the technology is creating more problems than its solving. For our client, a series of very human decisions and an underestimation of what it would take to replace a legacy system compounded into a significant problem. But the organization called in some backup, took a step back, and refocused on the goal of implementing a more efficient system that better serves their constituents. If you are in the midst of a project that feels unsteady, don’t hesitate to take a little bit of time to pause, re-evaluate and seek outside help if needed.


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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.

Learn more about the services we offer here, or contact us to learn how effective change management strategies can support your project’s success.