People & Process First, Then IT
We live in exciting times of information technology (IT) innovation that will continue to transform businesses over the next decade. Among the pioneers of IT adoption, we can anticipate that some will not achieve the expected results despite significant investments. Why is that expectation a reality? What makes the difference between real business success and mediocrity when implementing new systems?
In the current environment of IT innovation, it is quite easy to get caught up in sales presentations that focus on convincing IT and business leaders about the benefits of new software products. When leaders approach the exploration of IT from a system first mentality, then there is a greater likelihood that implementations will not achieve the expected business results. Recognizing this early in the implementation process and shifting gears toward a People & Process First approach, means the difference between failure and success. Let me share a personal account illustrating how to put People & Process First as part of system implementation projects.
As the 2017 goal setting process was underway, I was asked to lead a Marketing Expenses system upgrade project. The old system was implemented nearly a decade ago and was no longer supported by the software company. The Finance function took the lead in the implementation and design of the old system, which met the basic marketing expense budgeting control and accounting accrual requirements. Therefore, the IT function concluded that we only needed to engage the finance team to upgrade the old system to the newest version. The assumption was that the finance team could explain the needs of the business, test the system, and voila–system upgraded and all of us can move to bigger and better things. The expectation was that this upgrade approach could be implemented within approximately 3 months. No doubt, following this approach was the path of least resistance because these assumptions were held by many groups within the company.
System project leaders should first focus on understanding the needs of people and opportunities to improve processes before delving into the implementation of new systems or system upgrades
Regardless, I stopped myself to ask if this approach meets the needs of our customer: the marketing team. As the business leader of a project to implement a system that would be used by other groups in marketing and finance, I informally requested people to tell me their honest opinions on the current system. It is amazing what people share when they feel they are being heard and their opinions matter! Rather quickly, I realized that the old system was not meeting the demands of the business. The various teams had to maintain numerous Excel spreadsheets to answer business questions, in addition to the planning and execution of marketing programs. Yes, Microsoft Excel was the innovation of the 1990’s.But we needed to take the next step toward 21st century innovation. It became very evident that a system upgrade approach would not lead to value creation and satisfied customers.
Consequently, we needed to convince IT and other business leaders that the implementation approach and budget for the Marketing Expense system project was not sufficient to meet the marketing team’s needs. It became very clear that the only way that leaders would change their preconceptions was if a Marketing Director would co-lead the project along with me. They needed to hear what I was learning from the rank and file marketing teams from someone in their function who could represent them and invest in the success of the project. It took 3 months for marketing Vice Presidents to designate a marketing Director to co-lead this project, and the assignment was not considered glamorous. However, as we explored the possibilities for the marketing team, dismissed preconceptions, and simply focused on people as well as process effectiveness and efficiency, we realized that we could potentially transform how we execute marketing programs and analyze marketing investments.
We requested funding for consulting resources to reassess the tasks assigned to our marketing teams, our current processes, and benchmark our current approach and use of technology against other marketing organizations. We utilized marketing and finance teams to help us map our current processes as a first step before engaging consultants. The commitment of marketing teams was incredible. They felt that this was their opportunity to have their voices heard and make a difference. After we completed our work with the consulting group, it became evident that we had not best utilized everyone’s strengths when assigning roles. We also learned that other marketing organizations had developed Marketing Operations teams that led marketing execution and marketing investment analysis. This approach enabled marketing professionals to focus on what they do best: creative marketing strategies and tactics.
As we listened to the Marketing team, it became clear that while the Marketing System was critical, equally important was the organizational and process transformation that would enable executional excellence. After we understood our customers better, we defined the output and value that should emerge from a new process and system. We designed the framework for a new Marketing Operations group that drives optimized Marketing investment choices and execution while leveraging a new Marketing system focused on analytics for improved decisions. Of course, under this scenario, the system implementation would not be a simple upgrade that replicates the old system within a 3-month period. Therefore, we needed to secure the funding for people, process, and system transformation. A clear vision of value drivers and return on investment helped us to obtain leadership support and start work on the design of a 21st century approach to the implementation of a Marketing Operations team, process, and system to ensure effective and efficient execution along with higher levels of business analytics to drive investment decisions.
In conclusion, system project leaders should first focus on understanding the needs of people and opportunities to improve processes before delving into the implementation of new systems or system upgrades. The needs of the business change and we should not assume that what worked years ago is still sufficient. Otherwise, we can miss opportunities to innovate the way people and processes leverage latest technology. Also, a cross-functional approach where team members focus on value drivers and ultimate customers is essential for successful system implementations. A continuous improvement mindset will help businesses to stay current and leverage new technologies while keeping a People & Process first approach to system implementations.