Tech projects: more than just software and hardware

There is an old saying about picking the low-hanging fruit first. The same is true when it comes to selecting technology projects.

Many firms have already completed the easy projects, only to find that it’s time to move up. And they may also find it more difficult to both select new technology projects and implement them.

It requires far more than an investment in hardware and software in order to get a substantial return. Many projects today, such as integrated financial reporting, document management, workflow initiatives and customer relationship management, require cultural changes within the organization itself.

When taking on these bigger technology projects, you need to determine whether your firm is committed to success and if there is a consensus among the partners. These higher-level projects require more than just a wink and a nod.

A good example would be to compare networking versus the harder task of going paperless. Networking usually has been a fairly easy task, and could even be outsourced if the firm wanted to expedite the process.

However, taking your office paperless is an entirely different kind of pursuit. Its success is not determined by the technology as much as it is by the culture and the firm’s approach and management of the project.

The following characteristics pertain to projects that partners consider successful and low risk:

– Results in an increase in revenues;

– Receivables and work in process decrease;

– Costs are reduced;

– Future costs are avoided;

– Reduction in time;

– Quality and service are improved;

– Implementation time is less than three months;

– The investment in dollars and time is minimal; and,

– Existing personnel are trained, experienced, and can devote the time to complete the project.

Having been a partner in a regional firm for over 20 years, I know how partners think and the above criteria are real. You had better be willing to address them if you expect success.

Moreover, success requires partner education, a plan to overcome obstacles (partners are great at identifying the obstacles), a budget to manage the investment, the assignment of responsibilities, due dates, policies and procedures – and don’t forget training.

These are all much more difficult to deal with than the selection of hardware and software. Most firms make the mistake of focusing on selecting the hardware and software, starting the project and then trying to deal with the more important issues. That, however, is not a formula for success.

In order to avoid potential problems and to ensure success, bear in mind the following Top 10 list of items that firms should first accomplish.

– Define the project objective(s) and ensure that they align with the vision and strategic plan of the firm. (If you don’t have a strategic plan, get one, because not having one costs more.)

– Identify a champion who has the authority and responsibility to ensure success.

– Create a team or task force of end users to plan and carry the project to completion.

– Develop a budget and time line with reasonable expectations. Simply saying, “We will be paperless within one year” is not enough, and has a high potential for failure – or at least perceived failure.

– Document existing systems (workflow and costs) and identify measurable areas of savings through the elimination of redundancy and improved utilization of available technology. This may require a visit to a firm that has already implemented a system. Peer success is a powerful motivator, as well as a confidence builder.

– Develop the policies and procedures associated with the project. The process is as important as the final documents.

– Train all personnel to the policies and procedures. This requires an ongoing training program for new hires, as well as updates and improvements.

– Continually review and improve the process.

– Recognize the champion and the task force members.

– Control the project by making certain that everyone complies with the policies and procedures.

The final item includes all partners, and it requires leadership, discipline and a high probability of terminations.

As Jim Collins writes in the popular business book “Good to Great,” “You have to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats.”

Good projects are SMART projects. The key aspects of a SMART project are:

S – Specific goals;

M – Measurable goals;

A – Achievable goals;

R – Realistic goals; and,

T – Time-restricted goals.

Projects that are not restricted to a short time frame tend to morph back to the current system. Projects in which people are forced to jump into the deep end and swim tend to be more successful and have a greater positive impact.

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