Garnering productivity improvements from new technology without falling foul of the risks
The fact that 68% of technology projects fail to meet their goals shows that in-house IT staff can’t indiscriminately choose a solution and be sure that it will be successful when implemented.
The pressure to get these things right is substantial. Consider the market’s current Wunderkind technology – Artificial Intelligence (AI), a growing suite of tools which promise productivity improvements of 40% according to Accenture. Only 15% of Enterprises claim to use AI in their organizations today but 31% are aiming to implement, in some form, over the next 12 months.
The challenge for savvy CIOs and CTOs then, is to search for technologies that advance the mission and vision of their company, which offer the commercial benefits of new technologies like AI and, importantly, to avoid the natural pitfalls that cause those failures.
5 Pitfalls To Avoid When Choosing Tech For Your Business
1 – Fools rush in where angles fear to tread
There is a reason for maxims such as ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. According to project management.com, the top 10 reasons for the failure of IT projects all relate (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the source) to the core competencies required of projects staff being ignored, overlooked or delivered in a negligent fashion.
First among these equals are the two aspects of complex projects that experienced staff will recognize – obtaining solid requirements and ensuring that an agreed scope does not ‘creep.’ These problems are so pernicious and hard to manage because they occur as a direct consequence of well-intended project teams rushing to complete their work. Often, staff is prepared to accept the sort of flexibility that the real world demands, seeking to accommodate the wishes of someone more senior and turning a blind eye to the change management processes that these things require. Waters are further muddied by the shift in delivery methodologies from standard waterfall to Agile and the difficulty in finding project staff with experience in those areas.
Recommendation: To overcome the desire to get to market quickly, invest in quality, strong Business Analyst (BA) and Project Management skills – applied rigorously before setting out.
2 – Failing to seek validation from customers
A majority of the businesses take into consideration communication, marketing, product development and consider relevant insights before they begin, to ensure that what they’re building delivers against the needs of their target audience. These customer insights are crucial in deciding which technology will prove useful for end users in the long term.
Unfortunately, even now, all too often, technology platforms and their capabilities form the core of many projects.
Worse still, as technology enthusiasts, senior IT management, who thrive in their positions precisely because they can imagine the benefits a new technology can provide users, are sometimes the force behind this sort of capability-led approach. Design thinking seeks to invert that thinking process and associate human needs with whatever technology solutions can provide them.
Seeking validation from customers using Design Thinking will help you understand real needs, and choose project deliverables based around a customer experience which will delight.
A great example is the simple prepaid plan, invented by Metro Mobile in 1989. Now a de-facto standard around the world, from a technology point of view, it is almost identical to postpaid alternatives. By designing a payment methodology, however, which allowed customers to pay for the service before they used it – addressing a need that even users didn’t know they felt – has allowed Subscriber Computing, the USA based company which invented it, access to literally billions of customers around the world.
Design Thinking is necessarily human-centric. Far from being new, it’s an approach which has been around for years and which is now being taken increasingly seriously. Only by beginning with real users and deeply understanding both their stated and unstated desires, can innovative new creations – like the new iPad or Dyson product – be intuited.
Recommendation: Think hard about your audience. Talk to them directly and feed their requirements into the project – before – the product requirements are defined.
3 – Stakeholder management is not an afterthought
If you have 2 people in a room for half an hour, you’ve got some politics in your organization. If you have several hundred, or thousands, surrounding what you’re trying to build, you need to devote at least some of your project resource to the difficult task of stakeholder management.
Communicating what you do, to senior staff (and if you’re delivering internally, to end users) is often the most critical part. In the absence of positive information, many projects run into problems caused by a lack of trust. At best, this can slow down the project, requiring more presentations and updates to fill an information void, often at the worst time possible (for example, when more funding is required.) At worst, the tide of support can turn against a good project, causing it to be stopped.
Recommendation: Communicate, communicate, and communicate – warts and all. Keep messaging focused on end user and commercial benefits. Be honest with the people on your stakeholder management map about slippages, problems, and risks. They’re reasonable people too and they’ve been involved in projects too and will appreciate a dose of reality.
4 – Make every penny count and then add softer benefits
Behind every successful project is a business case which shows a benefit, measured in dollars and cents and which generates a higher financial return than the alternatives on the good idea list. (If your project doesn’t, then you should perhaps be working on a different priority!)
Projects need to get smart enough when it comes to investing in tech and weigh the cost associated with each solution against those benefits. However, alongside these hard number improvements, projects should also generate ‘softer’, more difficult to quantify benefits which, in many cases, will be just as important. Famously, Amazon’s internal catchphrase is ‘Day One’ – because the company still treats itself as a startup operating very early in its journey. They business case entirely around these soft benefits, focusing on Customer Experience as a way to build brand reputation and market share – which will pay off in the long term.
Recommendation: CIOs and CTOs can support their projects by articulating both sides of the coin, to the board and in team updates, highlighting the importance of softer benefits and a longer-term view. Commercial acumen and a preparedness to consider the impact of softer variables are increasingly important, since we all now operate in a world where well-heeled competitors like Amazon compete.
5 – It’s not all about the project – change management of what surrounds your intention
As Forbes points out, even the best ideas, based on real customer needs, supported by well-considered business cases and projects which have effectively managed their stakeholders can fail, if change management is not considered.
Cultural adoption of ideas, by internal staff and external customers often lags technology iterations and without it, even the best project will fail to meets its success measures.
It’s crucial these days, to view technology from a broader perspective, considering the domain surrounding your direct intent – the real world in to which your results will be delivered – and align the results with what’s in it for the customer and staff who deliver it.
Recommendation: Use the ADKAR model. It will help you establish the variables to influence, and ensure your project succeeds. Ensure Awareness of the need for change, establish Desire from staff to support, provide them the Knowledge they need to do that successfully, give them the Ability to change and finally, reinforce these things when the change is delivered.
Summing up – the rate of change increases the importance of getting it right
These days there are a great many new technologies competing for delivery. Artificial Intelligence, the Internet Of Things, Big Data and many other capabilities compete to get to the top of the delivery schedule.
Any experiences CTO worth his or her salt will be able to ‘smell’ a project in trouble from a single meeting. An awareness of the potential pitfalls to avoid, when such a concern arises will help you identify the deficiency and address the problem.
Ralf is an I.T expert and a technology blogger, he writes about mobile phones and the latest technology news. He currently works at Whatphone.com.au as a content manager and his writings can be seen on various technology blogs. He also loves taking pictures when free. You can follow him on Twitter @IamRalf12.