Getting Project Failures Back on Track

In the IT world, project failures are a big deal. And you can pick your flavor. Botched ERP implementations. Vista implementations gone wild. Network and systems mania. We all know how things can go -- and usually how best to point the blame finger at others. But in procurement and operations, we don't often hear of technical project failures, at least anymore. Quite often, software is bought and it sits on the shelf (if you believe Gartne's Andy Kyte, SAP SRM is probably the most guilty party here). But rarely do Spend Management projects completely fail in today's world (however back in the B2B halcyon days, more i2, Ariba and Commerce One implementations went south than what was admitted at the time, at least in polite conversation).

But the quiet fact about anything IT related -- even procurement and supply chain systems implementations -- is that many don't go as planned. That's why strong project management is key. I recently had a chance to chat with a few members of Integrated Systems Management (ISM), a boutique consultancy that specializes in providing a project management or project/program management office (PMO) function for clients in an unleveraged model (i.e., they send in one expert project management consultant, not any army of MBAs or green beans). Even though they take a generalist approach to project management, they have had experience in the procurement and supply chain areas. And they recently shared one story about how a company was able to turn around the worldwide implementation of a software system integration project designed to manage and mitigate manufacturing processes and risk (including aspects of supplier risk).

ISM was called in after the project began to go in the wrong direction, having had a couple of false starts due to a lack of direction and lack of leadership. This was a company which brought equal parts engineering-led and shoot from the hip cultures. A fascinating combination, perhaps, but not with the project management rigor to make complex program implementation a success. In addition, the maturity level of this organization was somewhat low from an overall project management experience perspective.

What helped to get things back on track? Outside of just basic project management, leadership and organization, some of the keys for getting the global implementation back on the rails included better knowledge sharing and coordination. This included extensive use of Webex to tie distributed stakeholders and users together. And it also included appointing leaders in different regions and countries to help drive progress locally. These team members were responsible for pushing out training and key messages to build local support and usage around the world.

But the human capital element of the deployment also required attention. Because the project stretched across time zones and continents, it became critical to provide the staff with flexibility based on the new for global coordination. Traditional working hours in the office were replaced with a more flexible system, allowing employees to work from home and come in late to allow late night or early morning calls with China and India. Because it can be difficult to track and measure progress in this type of distributed, low-oversight environment, daily checkpoints were added to make sure everyone was accomplishing what they signed up for.

Of course none of these elements alone can bring project management success. But taken together, they turned around a derailed project into a successful one -- without involving an army of consultants to save the day. What's the lesson here for procurement and operations organizations? A single individual -- whether she’'s a consultant or employee -- can make all the difference in the world when it comes to complex project success (IT or otherwise). Just make sure to invest in a PMO expert as early as possible for complex projects before things head off in the wrong direction.

Jason Busch

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