Technology Implementation – Lessons From the Highway

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post by Santosh Reddy, of GEP.

Being a consultant, I travel quite frequently and, weather permitting, prefer to drive to my client’s location over taking a flight. I’ve clocked well over 15,000 miles in the last 12 months. But as much as I like driving, it does get boring, and I make up for it by observing driver behavior and drawing analogies. This article is a collection of a few such lessons I learned drawing these analogies.

1. The Middle Path

Vehicles can be broadly classified into fast moving, which tend to stay close to the separator or divider, and slow moving, which stay closer to the outer edges of the road. But there are many who are just near the speed limit, trying to adhere to every driving school instruction, and stay in the middle lane. Common sense also says the middle lane is probably better off, since you can quickly navigate into the other lanes as needed. What I found, though, is that those in the middle lane tend to stay there much longer, even when the other lanes are rather empty, having become creatures of habit.

Technology implementations are no different. Every implementation starts off with a visit to the process decks. A simple enough question, “How do you want to do it in the future?”, can spark debates for hours with no meaningful output. And in many cases, I find the reason for debate prompted by folks who want to take the middle path — satisfy everyone and stick to the rule book. As difficult as it is, the middle path in the long run is the slowest lane. You can’t have a robust process supported by a strong and well-implemented system if you want to please everybody.

2. Pros and Cons

Not all drivers are decisive when changing lanes. We think, look at which lane looks better, look back to see if we can make a lane change and then think again. When presented with an option, most vehicles tend to navigate to the faster lanes to move up a few positions and fall back into middle lanes again. Driving on highways requires simple decision making to get to the destination faster while driving safe. Implementations do not share that advantage.

Push the team to list the pros and cons of each alternative they have. It is very endearing if the business stakeholders themselves ask for this; however, very often folks are set in their ways for so long, they do not always see the benefit of the other alternatives. At the same time, trying to push them might cause them to be even more stubborn. By writing out the pros and cons, the comparison is being quantified rather than being a subjective discussion, and the final alternative might be the best of the available options with a plan to mitigate the gaps (read: drawbacks and no-go points).

3. Source of Sponsorship

On a highway, if you need to pull over at a rest area and everyone in the car has a preference for a restaurant, I’ve found most folks give preference to the kids. Not only are they important, they are equivalent to the fussy users who will not eat otherwise or will take a long time and throw tantrums to finish a simple meal.

When in a decision logjam during implementation, do not think of who is directing or funding the project but rather who is going to use it. When users have a strong opinion of how things should be but management is reluctant to sign up for it, rest assured cooperation levels will start dropping. So signing up for the change might be a win-win for everyone.

4. Who is paying?

When it comes to a bunch of roadsters who are of the same age, or peers, the preference is made by the one driving or the one paying.

It is a typical scenario for anyone to try and extract the best out of any tool that is being paid for. But is it fair to convert a procurement tool to a sales order processing tool, or a procurement contract management tool into a HR, legal or sales contract management tool? In the latter case, yes, a contract is a contract, with differences limited to only the outside party and the terms discussed. So pushing for a contract tool that supports all business functions and their variations makes perfect sense. However, an integrated procurement tool being repurposed to also process sales orders or an inventory management tool being extended to create purchase orders will dilute the meaning of the tool. Short-term value will be quickly offset with the tool’s stagnation. While the tool evolves, clients cannot take advantage since there are other functions also using it that might be adversely impact the other functions using the tool.

The Simple way to avoid this? Ask whose budget it’s coming out of.

5. Current Process: The Devil’s Advocate

And there are rare instances when everyone wants to jump on the same, almost always non-standard solution that offers a significant improvement over current process. This is particularly true, and occurs more often, when clients are frustrated with their current tools or processes, and in instances, people as well. The well intentioned request, though, might turn out to be an expensive custom requirement.

Ask this: “How is it done today?” While the aim of tools is to improve conditions, they are not meant to fix broken processes. In my experience, this question alone has brought out so many inherent issues that are typically blamed on the legacy systems, yet it is just the people and their way of (not) doing things.

It also helps to chart out the issue and analyze and cost the gap. If not the business function, project management will definitely see the cost as a reason to pursue process improvement than paying for the custom development.

6. Call 911 – Internal Audit

Highway police are often a good sight for me. They are the reason the roads have the semblance of order and people follow rules. I am a big fan of the work they do. They catch wrongdoers, break up disputes and help out people with directions or any other assistance they can offer.

The same applies to companies. Early in my career, I learned the value of audit and have become an advocate for it. Audit enforces compliance, directs decisions, helps bring a different — and often ignored — perspective and helps push things along. For more details on this, read my blog on how internal audit can help.

For more interesting thinking on procurement, visit the GEP Knowledge Bank.

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First Voice

  1. Mark McCarthy:

    Now there’s a post from someone who has clearly seen many projects (as well as driven many miles). Great analogy and an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing!

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