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Is the Tail Wagging Your Dog?

October 17, 2010

From an article I wrote for the Santa Clarita Valley Business Journal (print).  SCBJ post here:

Technology should follow – not lead. However, too often companies decide on the technology path they are going to follow, and then and only then do they focus on how it can help them meet their strategic objectives – and that is backwards.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve en-tered a discussion about a new system or a previous implementation, and learned how the “technology” dictated the design, user experience or the process instead of putting the business objectives and strategy first. Here are some examples of how to avoid this.

Sometimes the business objectives are easy to define and are very clear from the per-spective of return on investment. “Should we invest in a new warehouse management system to manage product storage and pick-ing in our warehouse?” If you can show either an increased output through greater productivity or a head count reduction, or reduce your inventory shrinkage, then you have a pretty clear answer – but this is an objective goal with a definable result, versus a subjective outcome.

Other projects may pertain to avoiding costs or penalties related to compliance regulations or laws. “Should we invest in a new Web based human resources intranet?” If you have issues properly track-ing time and thus ensuring your employees are properly paid; communicating and obtaining employee handbook acceptance; tracking accidents; managing employee submissions such as requests for vacation, leave, etc., then you may find the potential cost, fines or even reduced employee satisfaction provides for a targeted project ROI. Again, treat these as definable and measurable objectives, not subjective goals.

Difficult projects to assess are those which are heavily subjective and are frequently tied to marketing or customer growth. An ex-tremely common question is, “Should we redesign our company’s marketing website so that our online presence is more ef-fective?” Yet even as subjective as this question may appear at first, it does have a definable path to evaluate. First, start by benchmarking the current effort. Track what benefit you’re currently seeing from your site (click counts, unique users, etc.), and then com-pare to projected results based on similar sites – your technology partners should be able to help you perform this comparison. Don’t move forward until both have clear objective expectations – and most impor-tantly, a method for measuring results.

How do you make this a global shift in your company? By defining and constantly re-evaluating the end point in everything you do. Change your approach to one that alters the premise of both your organizational planning and your management culture. Be an objective driven company. Establish the vision and the end point of what you’re trying to achieve, and continually strive to ensure each and every action moves you towards that end. Define the business rules that provide the structure for the new process you’re defining. Then repeat these objectives and business rules over and over to your employees and your management, and constantly reinforce this into your company’s culture. Trust me – you can’t over communicate a project’s strategic business objectives within your organization.

Back to technology and how it all fits. A well targeted “technology” should be the vehicle used to reach your strategic objectives. Technology can have tremendous strategic value by itself, but primarily technology is the enabler to reach your business objectives. Don’t confuse it with the “end result.”

One last thought on an objective driven approach: you’ll also find a side benefit of this approach is you will stop settling for “progress” – and instead come to expect and demand specific measurable results from not only your technology projects, but also your employees, managers, and your organization as a whole – and that’s how you deliver a successful project – on time, on budget and on spec. Make a resolution to not accept the “status quo” when you come to work tomorrow.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2010 10:17 pm

    What a great resource!

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