Organizations purchase software not to implement new software, but to achieve business outcomes, such as improving customer experience, increasing operational efficiency, remediating risk, and reducing operational costs. As project design begins, however, these business outcomes become buried beneath lengthy lists of technical requirements and project deliverables, and become increasingly distant. As the project continues, this gap widens. During implementation, project managers and leadership shift their focus again from business outcomes to standard project status KPIs and reporting. Once the software goes live, attention and resources are moved to other projects, and original business outcomes are a distant memory.
When this software inevitably fails to produce the expected outcomes, it’s the software that’s held responsible, rather than the outcome-limiting approach. In consequence, an organization will then purchase new software to achieve the business outcomes it didn’t before, and the cycle persists.
In our experience with some of the world’s largest IT organizations, we’ve observed that new technology alone doesn’t produce outcomes, people do. Software is easy to blame when business outcomes aren’t realized because it’s the only inanimate object in a solution, but it’s the approach that’s the problem. Organizations can escape this cycle (and project failure) to achieve real business outcomes by following these four steps:
1. Identify business outcomes upfront to control project scope
Project leaders must communicate a project’s intended business outcomes to all team members (and anyone else who touches the project), and design for these outcomes only. No matter how many requirements a solution fulfills, it cannot be considered unless it drives toward achieving the identified business outcomes. Weekly project management or design sessions should begin by reminding all project team members about the desired business outcomes driving the investment in the project to keep everyone focused on the same targets.
*If external service provider help is required, it’s critical they, too, understand these desired business outcomes and are contractually committed to achieve them. In the event they’re unwilling to commit, it’s important to identify whether they don’t yet have enough information or if they lack the necessary leadership and skills.
2. Track project progress against business outcomes in order to achieve them
You must hold project managers responsible for reporting beyond a project’s deliverables and financials, focusing instead on tracking progress toward achieving business outcomes and identifying any risks or challenges in the way. In our experience, outcomes are rarely at risk because of technology challenges, and are more often hampered by cultural or organizational challenges inhibiting adoption. In order to identify and address risks toward achieving business outcomes, it’s critical that CIOs ask project managers about these more subjective risks specifically and consistently.
3. Build momentum among end users to drive adoption
You must drive the perception of project value to end users in advance of a software go-live. By investing in a strong communication strategy and encouraging stakeholders to market individual benefits to different user audiences clearly and consistently, you can effectively impact user engagement and adoption. In our experience, end users that feel a sense of ownership in a change, and feel prepared and enabled around it, are more likely to support and adopt the change. To drive this kind of engagement, it’s critical to communicate clearly and consistently around what’s changing, why it’s changing, when it’s changing, and how the change will impact users on an individual level. It’s also important to address any apprehensions or resistance among end users by articulating the value, benefits, and impacts of changes to individual user groups. If end users don’t know how new software will impact their job proficiency or perceived value to the organization, they will likely be reluctant to use it. It’s critical to assure end users that executives expect bumps in the road during the adjustment period, and to communicate where they can go to find helpful resources and training (both before and after go-live).
4. Stay connected to the project after go-live to continuously deliver value
You must devote attention and resources to an IT project after go-live. Once a solution is operational, it’s critical that the IT project team focuses on managing, enhancing, and optimizing the software to maximize its value. With more capabilities in the software to be leveraged and a properly enabled end user base to take advantage of them, there’s a valuable opportunity to gain feedback around the software in-use, refine the solution on a rapid-iteration cycle, and further enhance its ability to deliver the intended business outcomes.
What strategies do you have in place to deliver your business outcomes?
In our experience, IT organizations that shift their focus from successfully completing a software rollout to continually tracking progress to specific business outcomes are better able to achieve them. They’re also less likely to need to purchase new software.