Implementation Fatigue

May 11, 2010

The main danger that a company faces in implementing a new system of any sort is not budget overruns or schedule delays, or even a poor end product. Rather, it is that the intended users of the system do not actually become users. Though there are many causes of this disconnect, one theme that runs strong in modern corporations is implementation fatigue.

Imagine this scenario: a gung-ho college intern suggests a company use Twitter instead of email for everyday communication between field employees, the corporate office, and key customers. Incredibly, upper management buys in, and all the employees, some of which are nearing retirement, are taught to use it, with varying degrees of resistance. Two months later, upper management cans the entire system and instructs all employees to return to using email. Meanwhile, the engineering department, in coordination with the marketing department, finishes a year-long project to modify an existing CRM product for use company-wide. How does the first (the Twitter debacle) impact the second (new CRM)?

People aren’t, as a general rule, resistant to change–provided the change is well planned. But a well-planned change can be negatively impacted by a change immediately prior to it. Furthermore, the amount of time spent in transition is more important than magnitude of the change.

Here are some things to think about when planning change:

  • An earlier change always negatively impacts a future change
  • The negative impact of a failed earlier change is exponentially worse than a successful earlier change
  • Two sequential changes of size x are harder than one change of size 2x.
  • Reducing the amount of time spent in transition dramatically increases the likelihood of success

All the above require a well-thought-out plan of which changes you will make to what and when. The more willy-nilly your implementation is, the less likely it is to be accepted and used, regardless of how good the change is technically.

A quote from Eric Evans, a software systems designer:

The thing [our clients] bring to the table is this extensive knowledge of their domain. The thing that we bring to the table is the clarity that we think with. I don’t think our primary thing we bring to the table is our technical competence, although we need that. We need to be good enough to know how to do the implementation. But the thing that we bring that’s really critical to the process is we think sharply. We are able to abstract and we are able to define things crisply. —Eric Evans

I agree with Eric–to be effective in your position, you must have clarity in your thinking. However, you also must “think sharply” about planning the implementation. Define the plan crisply. Plan for who you will introduce to which features when. Identify what can be to done reduce the amount of transition time. Wait until the time is right. Then move in and get it done.


One Response to “Implementation Fatigue”

  1. […] to find this out is to get it in front of as many eyes as possible as soon as possible. Don’t overdo it,  but don’t plan for so long that your […]

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