Tag Archives: Process Improvement

Digital Project Planning: Beware The “Magic Wand” Syndrome

The “Technology Challenged” Often Think The Technology Itself Can Make Up For Poor Project PlanningDigital Magic Wand - you still need proper project planning

There is a fairly prevalent situation that occurs in which technology savvy team members are asked to transform a half-baked idea/concept into some digital solution.  Unfortunately the non-technology folks are under the false impression that the technology itself (like a magic wand) will correct poor planning, faulty assumptions/bad logic etc.  This can cause strife and lead to friction among team members.

How do you combat this problem?   There are a few simple things you can do that help minimize (not prevent) this from occurring:

  • Require that a “project sponsor” be assigned to the business side of the project.

It is key that the project has one main sponsor who is the lead and has overall responsibility for project success.  If one is not evident, ask that one be appointed before moving forward.  The sponsor is vital because you will need a “go to” person for various circumstances and without one lead you are subjected to group decision-making which is ill-advised.

  • Start the project planning process with a “concepts discussion” meeting with project sponsor.

Prior to the formal requirements gathering, it is beneficial to get an “elevator pitch” from the sponsor that basically answers the question “what are we trying to do here?”. It is surprising how often the sponsor cannot clearly put into words the concepts of what they are looking to accomplish.  If the sponsor can’t do this – the project is doomed from the start.  Send them back to think it through and schedule another meeting when their thoughts have matured.

  • Ask the project sponsor many questions up front (in writing if possible).

This may sound quite obvious, but it is surprising how often this does not happen.  It is a crucial error to “get started” on a project without complete understanding of the requirements/framework.  Make sure the sponsor understands that pre-planning is necessary and the project will not start until sufficient background information is obtained.What you are seeking is a commitment on the part of the project sponsor to provide adequate background prior to starting the project.  Just like you wouldn’t ask a builder to start work on your dream house without plans – same applies here.

Here are a few starter questions:

Who is going to be using this digital tool?  How will they access/find it? What do you expect them to accomplish by using it?  (If dynamic, who is going to be responsible for maintaining the data that feeds it?

  • Don’t fall into the trap of estimating timelines too early.

Eager project sponsors will try to solicit a time commitment for the project, well before the requirements gathering is in full swing.  If asked for a completion date before the requirements are complete, there is a very simple answer to the inevitable question “When will it be done?” The proper response “I cannot tell you when until we know “what” it is and “how” we will build it.

While you cannot immunize your team from getting involved in misdirected projects, proper due-diligence on the font end can help minimize the number of times you have to re-group and restart the project.

Proper project planning prevents poor performance!


Customer Journey Mapping – An Eye-Opening Experience

Customer Journey MappingI was working recently on a major overhaul of an internal process that is very involved, both from a support standpoint as well as a customer interaction level.  While the impetus of this project is a major re-platforming of this process, of course it requires an extensive review of each of the myriad steps in the process.  Of course we want to streamline the process/procedures as much as possible, no sense improving the technology on a bad process to start with.

One of the tools we employed was customer journey mapping.  I was first exposed to this at the Oracle Open World conference last October.  Here is a link to a blog post on the topic.  In a nutshell, you create a chart of every single step in the process that involves a customer touch.  You then rate each step as positive, neutral, or negative for both the employee handling the customer interaction, and of course more importantly the experience the customer is having.  We were doing this on a white board, and we were using smiley faces for good experiences, and conversely we used unhappy faces.

It was very telling when we were looking at the white board, with the seemingly endless number of steps, and the multitude of unhappy faces on both the company and the customer side.  Nobody in the conference room had any idea of the number of steps involved in this process, and the negative experiences both sides must endure countless times each day.

The net result?  We are re-thinking every step in the entire process, with a strong preference toward improving customer experience.  Some of the very elementary takeaways (they seem so simple to execute):

  1. Challenge the necessity of every step in the process – especially the “double negatives” where it is a bad experience on both ends of the interaction.
  2. Question whether the customer must be “held hostage” while you execute internal procedures and activities.  There is no harm in letting the customer off the hook, with the promise that you will resolve the issue and follow up with them with either an e-mail or phone call confirming the issue was resolved.
  3. Wherever you have necessary steps that have the “unhappy faces” tied to them, strive for ways to improve the interaction for the employee or customer.  Involve the team members in brainstorming sessions to develop improvements.

These are just the initial steps, which will be followed up with the actual implementation, and measurement of success (likely surveys).  That will then be followed with a re-calibration process.

A final thought:  Don’t try to be “perfect” out of the gate.  While it is wise to achieve many improvements, too many changes all at once may be too much to swallow, both for your employees as well as customers.  It is likely more prudent to “chunk” your improvement initiative and commit to an ongoing process of continual improvements.  If it is too radical you run the risk of confusing and alienating all involved.  That results in a big unhappy face!