Guest Contribution by Matt Burns, Founder & Chief Innovation Officer, BentoHR
According to reports, a quarter (25%) of technology projects fail & nearly 50% need massive changes prior to completion.
Why do so many technology projects fail? The same report indicates half (54%) can be attributed to poor management, which when you think of it, makes sense.
Technology projects are hard. You have end-users with various levels of technical acumen, time & alignment. It’s one of the many reasons we’ve witnessed the proliferation of change management theory & professionals. Change is hard.
I’ve led and supported multiple HR technology projects. In 2016, while leading the HR function at JYSK, we implemented 5 disparate SaaS solutions in 12 months & in doing so, were awarded ‘The Most Innovative Use of HR Technology in Canada’. The following year we’d go on to win Canada’s Best HR Department – Retail & Hospitality, largely on the strength of our technology strategy. Truly humbling honors.
Since that journey ended, I’ve been asked countless times: ‘How did we do it?’ The truth is that it wouldn’t have been possible without an amazing team of HR leaders, support from our Board & Senior Executive team & a great deal of passion, persistence & stubbornness.
Though there were definitely lessons that are worth sharing. Some were introduced proactively as we foresaw challenges. Others we learned through trial & error.
Either way, the following are the lessons you can use in your own HR technology journeys.
The Importance of Stakeholder Alignment
In the simplest of terms, I view every technology project in 4 phases: concept, pilot, implementation, and sustainment. Each requires a unique approach to stakeholder engagement:
- At the concept phase, you’re a marketing & selling an idea – conveying a sense of urgency around the opportunity & your proposed solution.
- In the pilot phase, your stakeholders have bought into your concept. Now they want to see if it translates in practical terms.
- At the implementation phase, they believe in your concept & its practical application, though wonder can you bring it to life at scale?
- At the sustainment phase, the bulk of the visible activity has concluded. However, you are still working through opportunities that have arisen in your broad-scale implementation. This is a critical juncture where ‘the masses’ now end-users; adoption is far from assured.
These four (4) phases may occur in several weeks, though more likely over several months. Circumstances change in organizations; priorities shift & externalities can throw even the best-planned project off-course.
Solution: Create robust & recurring feedback loops. Be it a Steering Committee, Employee Council, or User Feedback Surveys, involve end-users at every phase of your project. Collect their feedback, review it, take action & communicate at every part of your implementation. There hasn’t been a single project I’ve led where upon reflection, I believe we communicated too much.
Engagement & alignment is essential to sustaining momentum.
The Importance of Project Pilots
Every technology project I’ve ever led had a pilot phase. And I always choose the most challenging stakeholders.
But won’t that increase the likelihood of failure?! Exactly.
If you stack the proverbial deck & select pilot stakeholders you know will succeed, it’s not representative of reality. Great talent will often succeed despite the imperfections of a pilot. That won’t be the case for the majority of your end-users. So, if you only choose your best people to pilot your technology, when the time comes to roll out beyond your initial pilot cohort, errors will emerge & you won’t be resourced to adequately address them. They’ll blame poor implementation (you).
Solution: This may sound counter-intuitive, but you actually want to ‘break’ things in the pilot phase, when there is patience for & acceptance of errors. So choose to pilot with users you know will struggle with adoption. Like it or not, technology projects can become political fodder in organizations. A pilot phase provides you with needed air-cover to make mistakes, provided you socialize this with & gain alignment from the relevant project sponsors upfront. Take advantage of this; you don’t get to be ‘new’ forever.
Secondly, in the pilot phase, you have a project team dedicated to a smaller scope & scale of implementation. Opportunities will be caught & resolved much earlier. You have the resources to support the most-challenged stakeholders; the individuals who need the greatest support. This often isn’t possible with a systems-wide implementation, when communication & training is scaled (generic) & resources are stretched.
The Importance of Mindshare
As mentioned earlier, circumstances change in organizations; priorities shift & externalities can throw even the best-planned project off-course.
When a technology project loses the organization’s attention & focus, it can quickly wither & die; starved by the lack of momentum necessary to sustain it. In most organizations, the stated priorities of senior leadership determine the mandate. We align resources to the items in the same manner.
Running a technology implementation project can feel like you’re building the plane while you’re flying it. That’s because stakeholders can only dedicate so much time to new initiatives when the core business still demands the majority of their attention. To address this, some organizations set up Project Management Offices (PMOs); essentially project air-traffic controllers tasked with ensuring that there aren’t too many initiatives occurring in the organization at once. They also ensure that projects don’t collide with known, recurring activities. Though even in organizations where this added layer of project planning is present, there’s perpetual jockeying for the time to implement new initiatives. In essence, they’re all competing for mindshare.
Solution: Negotiating an appropriate timeline for your technology is critical to ensure it receives adequate attention from stakeholders. This must occur at the most senior levels of the organization, as commitments made at middle management layers are conditional at best. In the concept phase of your project, ensure senior leadership is aware & aligned with the project timing and timelines. They must be clear on what time you need to be effective & how they will need to support it.
The aforementioned tactics are three that I thought were worth sharing? What do you think? Have I got it right, or have I missed the mark?
Matt Burns is a passionate, innovative, and accomplished Global HR Executive, Advisor, Consultant, Speaker & Podcast Host who sits at the intersection of technology, analytics & culture. As Co-Founder & Chief Innovation Officer at BentoHR, he helps organizations undertake self-funded digital HR transformations – integrating strategy, culture, technology, analytics & processes to drive tangible business results in as little as 3-6 months.