Posted on May 23, 2016

It is tempting to focus on the things we can control instead of on the things that matter.

I see this pattern all over my life– At home when I’d rather knock out that weekend project than play make believe with my little ones. And at the office, when working with a client on a technology project that will significantly change their business.

We set out on technology projects because we are after something that matters to our business: better reach, increased revenue, insight, efficiency or an enhanced customer experience. The project itself seems relatively easy to control. We can see the solution being built and view the status each week. Yet, while projects are a critical part of change, they’re only one part of getting to what matters.

Forrester Research interviewed companies who implemented CRM technology who believed their CRM "failed" to make the kind of impact they desired. Astonishingly, 88% said they chose a good technology and implemented it well, but the program ultimately failed. (For clarity, the term “program” means the overall effort toward transforming part of a business of which the CRM project is part). In nearly 9 of every 10 situations, the project succeeded- meaning, the technology worked exactly as planned; yet the program results fell short.

“Program thinking…acknowledges that meaningful change requires tending thoughtfully to the needs of people at every level”

Project thinking focuses on building the technology first in hopes a good project will create the desired results for those that use the solution. In contrast, program thinking focuses on the bigger picture. It acknowledges that meaningful change requires tending thoughtfully to the needs of people at every level and using this understanding to guide the project itself.


Program Thinking in Action

I’ve talked recently with a manufacturer who is seeking to connect their marketing, field sales, independent rep groups, and independent dealers so they can track each customer’s buying journey all the way through a distributed value chain. They had planned a project involving marketing automation, CRM, mobile, ERP, and a rep group portal that was a substantial advance over their technology today. When the team was stuck on solving a tricky hand-off to the rep groups, the VP of Sales insisted on focusing on what mattered. “If we can’t make this link, we’ve failed to close the loop and we shouldn’t do this project.” Solving that hand-off required more than new technology. It was hard to control, but it mattered.

Planning and working for real change, and not simply a successful project launch, is often buried in a bunch of business jargon. Phrases like change management, organizational alignment and business outcomes are commonly used, but not well understood. The good news is that underneath the jargon, there is one starting point that makes real change possible: a clear and shared sense of why the project is important. With a shared understanding of the specific and measurable outcomes, along with leading and lagging indicators, achieving program success is no longer a shot in the dark; it is a measurable, manageable, realistic outcome.

For example, let’s say we are a manufacturer who has a a pricing schema that is so complex, generating a quote for a sales person takes up to five days to complete. This slow response time is costing our company valuable business and selling time, so we’ve budgeted for a technology project to transform the quoting process.

In this scenario, here is a potential “why”:

As an inside sales rep, I want to deliver pricing faster so I can turn around quotes in under 24 hours and win more business. The leading measure is 95% of quotes issued within 24 hours of the quote request. The lagging indicator is a 3% increase in quote to order conversions. We can measure the leading indicator after 30 days and the lagging indicator after 3-6 months. Our indicators tell us we better do more things than just deploy a new quoting tool or we won’t reach our goal.

Organizing around the why and not simply around the project significantly increases the chance of having lasting, transformational change. It is stunning how different our results are when the why is clearly understood and communicated first, as opposed to starting with “we need a <insert useful technology platform here>,” and justifying the technology as you move forward.

Try out this handy little “Solution Profile” as an organizing tool. It’s built with CRM in mind but works for organizing around the “why” for any sort of program. And maybe you’ll find this helpful to make life a little less messy too!

portrait of Jon Berbaum
Jon Berbaum

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