Time for the Annual HR Technology Survey

With the web content and search developing the way it has over the last 15 years, I think we take for granted how ubiquitous information is.  We can Google just about anything and get decently reliable results every time.  At the root of all of this, somebody is creating great information and insight, and it takes time.

One of the very few surveys that is just purely robust in it’s data set and is unquestionable in it’s quality is CedarCrestone’s Annual HR Technology Survey.  This is the 17th year of the survey, and we’ve all benefitted from its insights and direction.  It helps us all know what the market is thinking about and if we’re keeping up with everyone else.

All respondents will receive an advance copy of the results in early October 2014. The first 100 respondents to complete all questions will receive a $5 Starbucks card. The 17th, 117th, and 1,017th respondents will receive a $100 Visa gift card in celebration of our 17th year. All who complete the Survey will be entered into a drawing for an in-depth Benchmark Service.

SystematicHR.com used to be one of the leading blogs in terms of how many responses this website generated versus other blogs.  In fact, at some point we were the top blog, but we slipped last year.

First:  Fill out the survey.  It’s worth doing just from the standpoint of helping out the industry.  Second, use this link!!!

Cedar Crestone HR Technology Survey: Create a Winning HR Function

All too often, I get an industry report to read and end up saying to my colleagues, “wow this is crap.”  Case in point, at the end of 2012, I got a widely read industry report that rated a halfway decent HCM provider’s payroll engine to be better than one of the major payroll outsourcers.  They stated that a vendor’s almost non-existent compensation functionality was a top pick.  Each year, I go through the CedarCrestone HR Technology Survey, and hope there is something wickedly out of sync with conventional wisdom.  Each year, Lexy proves why she is the queen bee of HR surveys and is meticulously above reproach.  I just can’t stand it.

What’s great about this particular survey is that it’s not just gathering data and spitting it back out at you.  I know we all care how many people are buying Workday versus Fusion versus Employee Central versus … this year.  I know we all are interested how many of us are still on premise with our core HCM.  That’s so not the point.  What Lexy does is far more interesting.  She takes all of this data and compares it to company profiles.  What’s the correlation of profitable companies to those people who are running Software X or Technology Y?  This makes up the part of the report I’d like to chat about.  Lexy published 7 habits, and I’m going to summarize so you’ll just have to ask CedarCrestone for the report to read the whole thing.

The attributes that defined successful companies were pretty much higher than usual revenues per employee, profits per employee, operating income and return on equity.  Pretty good measurements.  I’m not sure if CedarCrestone evaluates which is causal, but they do evaluate correlations, so in that sense, go after what you can control, which in our case is the HR side.

  • User Adoption – “If you build it, they will come.”  What a load of crap – wasn’t that some baseball movie Kevin Costner was in?  I don’t remember, but it certainly does not apply to HR technology.  Instead, we have to implement ridiculous change management strategies just to get our managers and employees engaged with us.  If not, we only hear from them when their payrolls are wrong, or to complain about the vacation policy.  The reality is that organizations who successfully implemented solutions, had good change management programs resulting in high user adoption also ended up being among the more successful companies.
  • Buying Habits and Governance – Governance always seems to play into things.  I’ve found that the few organizations that are great at governance tend to be awesome places to work, make good decisions, and have high employee engagement.  So I’m stretching Lexy’s observations here, but basically when I reflect on her finding that successful companies have more technology and spend less per employee, I almost immediately translate that into good governance.  How do you get to better utilization of what you have, and only buying what you need after all?
  • Technology Decisions – There was also a couple of themes that I translated into low maintenance overhead, but also the ability to use industry best practices.  It kills me when I walk into a client that is so highly customized they really don’t know what they are doing anymore other than accepting new requests and implementing full time.  Most of these organizations don’t even know why or what the business case is – they just do it.  Successful companies are correlated to low customization, which is also correlated to SaaS purchases.
  • Data – One would automatically think that successful companies are good with data.  It seems obvious.  The survey actually points out a couple of great tactical elements to get you there.  The first one was integrated talent management with your core HCM product.  Companies that were there tended to have a significant advantage than others.  The second was the utilization of mature business intelligence models, along with the deployment of that data into manager’s hands where agile business decisions can be made.

At the end of the day, HR just wants to be heard.  Interestingly enough, there are elements of shoring up our own house as well as focusing on outcomes here.  If we make bad decisions and have crappy governance, well that’s problem number 1.  But if we also have crappy user adoption and poor data, we’ve also lost the game.

Note – nowhere in this did we correlate functionality to success!

HR Social Media – A sytematicHR Case Study

I should probably congratulate the readership of this blog. For CedarCrestone’s annual technology survey, we created one of the largest populations of viable, usable submissions out of any social media outlet that the survey used. (Note that this post was written a few years ago and never published.  I was never going to publish this, but I decided to use this to promote Lexy’s upcoming webinar on the 2012 HR Technology Survey on November 6.) Viable and usable meaning that the submissions were from actual companies rather than consultants or other bloggers not in a position to answer the survey, and also sufficiently complete that the response had enough content to be included in the results tabulation.

I think that is pretty cool, and I think there are very good reasons this happens to be a good outlet. I ran a reader survey a couple years ago trying to figure out who you all are. To my surprise, there are relatively few bloggers and consultants among you. Instead, I found that the great majority of my readers are actual HR practitioners, and that over half of those practitioners were at a director level or above in their organizations. I will have to guess that most of my readers found me through doing a web search and linking here, rather than coming in through another blog. I say that since I don’t participate in the blogosphere, and therefore I don’t get links from other blogs that would give me much larger amounts of inbound traffic – bloggers don’t link to other blogs that don’t li back, and I’ve long had a policy that I don’t link to every HR blog in the world. ((I once had a list of blogs based on an automatic calculation of the sites I referenced the most, not sure if that is still active.))

There are 2 thoughts that I would like to point out. The first is a blogger issue and the second a reader issue. Regarding the regarding my own habits, I’ve already pointed out that I don’t really participate in the blogosphere at all any more. Overall, is means that my google page rank decreases as bloggers reading and commenting on each others posts makes up a huge amount of the active participation out there. I’ve never really cared what other bloggers think about what I write, this blog is not written for them. But part of the social media equation is that participation counts. If my early idea that you can calculate and quantify talent partly through observing page hits, authorship, and comment counts are ever viable, then this blog would probably rank much lower than another blog that gets fewer page hits but many more comments. There is a great value to the interactions because it multiplies the viral effect and reach of the content. If HR social media is ever to be successful, content owners have to be active participants in the environment, and I have been sorely unsuccessful on this front.

However, even if my readers are director level and up HR practitioners, and I value that population more highly than others, my readership is not a commenting, interactive group as measured by the blog. It has always killed me that I don’t have a large number of active commenters, but VPs and Directors may not be that type of group. As noted above, I don’t get many incoming links from other bloggers. What surprises me, is the number of inbound links that I never publish – those are like from corporate intranets that sit behind someone’s firewall. To be honest, I love those links and the comments associated with the link, it tells m that even though you are not commenting here, you are telling your internal HR departments about the value here. So it turns out that you guys are actually highly interactive, it’s just not visible on the public facing portion of the site. The fact that you guys got more viable and usable submissions from a single blog post about the CedarCrestone survey means a lot to me. Even though I never hear from you guys, I know you are out there, reading, asking your internal HR departments to read, and actively participating in your own way.

When it comes to HR social media, what it all comes down to is how well you collaborate with each other, and participation is key. Without it, there is no knowledge sharing and creation. While I’ve failed at collaborating with my fellow bloggers, it seems that my readership has generally succeeded in creating discussion and action outside of this forum. We have alternatively been excited and then skeptical about social media in HR, sometimes both at the same time. I actually wonder what the model for information sharing will be. If systematicHR is any indication, having thriving populations that are visibly active and commenting on the blog might be harder to accomplish. Content publishers (other bloggers in your corporate environment) will be active, but trying to reveal the hidden community that is actively reading is much more difficult.

In the past, I have advocated using the tagging system to quantify expertise by counting the comments and links. This certainly quantifies the participation from other content publishers, but does not discuss the overall value that content may bring. Over time in your internal environment, you’ll begging to have content publishers that become favorites for large populations, and being able to see hit counts in addition to comment traffic becomes critical. The problem with this is that you often need to go to two different sources. My first source is an aggregator where I can see all comments and inbound links from another site/blog. This shows me the active participation. But then I have to go to a hit counter to see the total reader traffic. There are actually websites that show both activity meters, but I have found these to be a bit inaccurate so far. The point being that metrics are problematic – like so many other reports, there are multiple sources that may need to be combined to get the measurements we really want.

Annual HR Technology Survey

There are some things that inform all of us in HR about what is going on with our industry and where things are headed.  Of all these useful tools, the annual CedarCrestone HR Technology Survey is one of the top at making us all smarter.  Therefore, if I’m going to come out of sabbatical for anything, it’s going to be to plug the survey.

Over the years, Lexy Martin and the CedarCrestone survey have provided some of the most thought provoking ideas, content and industry insight I’ve had, and I know that many others share this experience.  The thing is, while the results are always valid due to the sheer number of respondents Lexy gets over other surveys, the validity does not always carry when we look at certain cuts of the data.  Therefore, while it’s the biggest survey in HR technology, more is ALWAYS better.

This year, Lexy has told me that if 100 people fill out the survey using the systematicHR link, all of those people will get a free iPad 3.  OK, so I’m lying about the iPad 3 thing, but you will have the gratitude of one of HR’s industry giants (Lexy) and from feeble little me as well.  So click the link and take the survey.  🙂

www.cedarcrestone.com/survey/systematicHR.html

Thanks!!!

-Wes

Bill Kutik and the Direction of HR Technology

A recent Bill Kutik Radio Show featured Tom Keebler of Towers Watson.  Tom is the Global Practice Leader of the TW HR Service Delivery Practice, and each year they run an HR Technology Survey that is probably the second largest in the industry (Lexy’s from CedarCrestone is significantly larger this year).  The TW survey is sometimes hard to get a hand on since it is distributed probably only to survey participants and Towers clients.  However, Bill gave us a brief look into some of the more interesting results of the survey, and for me, most of them happened to be in the vendor space.

While it’s no surprise that PeopleSoft has the most installs for core HR, it might come as a surprise that SAP has about a 20% market share.  This seems to be reflected in my own consulting as the number of SAP related projects or the number of core HR selections that involve SAP seems to be on the upswing.  The reasons for this seem to be simple.  In the large employer space, the number of companies who own SAP ERP far outstrips Oracle in any flavor including PeopleSoft.  All this means is that most of these large organizations already own SAP HR for free.  If you think about either SAP or PeopleSoft licensing when you get to 50k or 100k employees, you could really be talking about $5M to $20M annual software maintenance, so if you’re going to get HR for free, there seems to be some benefit to implement it.  That said, the integration that exists from a data and workflow perspective within SAP is hands down the best in the industry.  SAP flows transactions between ERP components like nobody’s business in real time.  Since PeopleSoft does not have nearly the same traction in other ERP modules (like supply chain, finance or CRM) they can’t boast the same thing.  There are of course tradeoffs in functionality or usability, but SAP seems to be catching up in the space.

What comes up as more of a surprise is that trailing PeopleSoft and SAP was ADP in 3rd place.  While I don’t know what the breakdown of ADP subscriptions is for small, medium and large employers, it’s probably safe to say that most of the subscriptions occurred in the TW small to medium space – that is under 20k employees.  What this does say about ADP is that they are getting lost of traction where organizations are still finding significant value in outsourcing payroll.  My thoughts on this is that 5 years ago when we were all excited about multi-threaded HRO, organizations are pulling back and looking at the ADP and Ceridian’s of the world to do single function outsourcing.  So while ADP’s Enterprise HRMS (v5?) is gaining momentum, I’m guessing that ADP’s GlobalView partnership with SAP is also doing well.  There are not that many organizations that can do global outsourced payroll like ADP can, and so companies with a major geographic footprint only have one place to go if they want a single vendor scenario.  (Single vendor yes, but lets remember than SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand are also part of the mix)

Last up on the list of interesting points was who the up-and-comers are.  This list seems to be based on who companies are planning to select or will be implementing in the next year.  On this list were Workday and SAP.  Again, the SAP is described above, but Workday has gained such traction in such a short amount of time that you have to be interested if they can keep up with the demand.  Certainly as the first true SaaS core HRMS, they have the ability for now to roll out functionality enhancements in the way that first generation Talent Management vendors were in the early days.  Second of all, their partnership for implementation with the Jeitosa’s and Towers Watson’s of the world should give them a bit of breathing space should the volume be larger than Workday can staff for internally.

It is a bit surprising to me that core HR seems to be changing at the pace that it is.  Usually when a market reaches a point of maturity, the vendor space settles down.  However, with the increasing viability of SaaS and the changing attitudes towards HR outsourcing, we continue to see an evolution of buying habits.  Here’s to core HR and keeping it fresh.

Note:  Sorry about the badge Bill, I’m just jealous I didn’t get a banner that looked like that.

CedarCrestone’s HR Systems Survey

It’s that time of year again, for what Bill Kutik of the HR Technology Conference calls “the most thorough, highly respected and useful survey on technology usage in HR.”  Each year, I send out a link to the readers of systematicHR to fill out this thing.  The more respondents, the better the insights the entire marketplace will get.

http://www.cedarcrestone.com/survey/systematicHR.html

Last year, systematicHR readers came in just behind Oracle.  I think Oracle was able to solicit 2 more respondents than I did.  Considering I only do the one post, that’s probably not bad.  Still, I have some pride at stake here.

http://www.cedarcrestone.com/survey/systematicHR.html

Lexy of CedarCrestone wrote me a brief note about the survey:

I think this year’s survey is going to address the trend in HRMS software acquisition patterns better than we ever have by looking at choices around licensing vs. subscription, architecture, and process handling. In addition, we have refined our metrics collection specifically on headcounts so that we can better evaluate the links between size of HR or IT staff and the existence of HR technologies for benchmarking. And, we have more questions around social networking.

I think a lot about our survey vs. others. It is the longest running than any otherand, as a result it can actually be used as a barometer of HR technology adoption across core systems, service delivery, talent and workforce management, business intelligence and social networking.

You can find out more about the survey and go on to filling it out by clicking the link above.

Do yourself a favor and do the survey.  Do the market a survey and complete the survey.  Do me a favor, and use the link above.

5 Year Post

Can you believe it’s been five years?  I recently read my first post and actually thought it was an ok analysis of HRO vendors at the time.  Pretty funny to me how much things have changed, but also how much I’ve learned both through work and the blog.  I spent 2009 writing much less than I should have, but seem to have entered 2010 quite rejuvenated.  I’m pleased to say that I’m once again written out a few months as I used to do, and that my readership is growing once again after being a slacker for a year.  At any rate, I’m not sure how many others in the HR arena have made it this far, or who have written as much content, so it’s a milestone that I’m reasonably pleased with.

I don’t do a blogroll, there are far too many.  I do have a links list that references those whose posts I write about most frequently.  However, if I were ever to do an abridged blogroll, the below is it.  I know I forgot people, and I apologize.

I still pay attention to many of the people who inspired me when I started five years ago:

But also a whole new set of people who I follow on the blogs or twitter who have entered my scope (in the years after I started systematicHR) as content owners (although some of these have been content owners in a more traditional – non-blog sense for a long time):

I had originally said that I would stop writing at 4 years, but then 4 years came and went, and even though I was producing less, I just could not stop.  So I decided I’d get to 1000 posts and decide what to do, but I’m now confident I’ll keep writing after that milestone as well.  So long as there is content to write about, and as long as I feel that I’m doing it well, I’ll keep going.

So here’s to five years, and to my readers, and to all the people who inspire me.  Thank you.

-Dubs

Leading Practices versus Best Practices

Lexy Martin tweeted a link a few months back around using the term “leading practices” and banishing the term “best practices” from our vocabularies.  I’ve been trying to use the words leading practices for about 4 years now, although I admit I comply irregularly.  I first learned it from a consulting partner whose name I no longer remember.  However, this reminder is served up in an issue of the IHRIM.Link and is currently attributed to Yvette Cameron from Saba.  ((No formal attribution and footnote as I don’t actually have the article.))

In trying to identify the fundamental differences and nuances between a best and leading practice, I decided to look up “Best Practice” on Wikipedia:

Best Practice:  A best practice is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive, or reward that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. when applied to a particular condition or circumstance. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.  ((Wikipedia on December 24, 2009))

Unfortunately, there is no entry for “Leading Practice” on Wikipedia, so I’ll have to make up my own:

Leading Practice:  a leading practice is a practice that is more efficient and effective for delivering a particular outcome, based upon the constraints of the organization it is being applied to.  Leading practices are leading only in a particular point in time, and are acknowledged to be continuously developing.  A leading practice will generally only be leading for period of time, after which other practices may become leading.

I think the core differences between leading and best practices is that there is no assumption that a leading practice is actually the best and can be applied to all organizations and situations.  There is no presumption of fit, only the presumption that a leading practice holds some advantage in a large number or even majority of possible situations.  The second major difference is that there is no assumption of permanence.  “Best” is rather eternal, where leading really insinuates constant development and change over time.

I think in general we would agree that any of today’s best practices will not be tomorrow’s best practices.  So let’s take the cue from Lexy, Yvette and many other’s and call them what they are:  leading practices.

Great Individual Contributors <> Great Leaders

I hate taking things from the sports world because other than the occasional job, riding my bike more than I should and watching the Boston Celtics in the post-season, I really don’t follow sports. Fact is, I usually don’t even realize it’s Superbowl Sunday until the game is half over. But being a pseudo Celtics fan, it’s even worse that I’m about to attribute something to Pat Riley.

I’m not entirely sure, so I won’t footnote this one, but I think it was in his book that he compares the great basketball players and correlates it to coaching ability. The basic idea is that great basketball players don’t always make for the best coaches. The basic idea behind this is that the guys who were not naturals at the game had to go through the process of learning and growing into their sport to become good or great. The guys who are already great don’t understand the growing process and don’t understand why players just “don’t get it.” Take Phil Jackson (of the hated LA Lakers – loved him with the Bulls though) for example. He understood the process he had to take players through because he went through it himself.

Lexy presents us with a similar concept in an entirely different genre:

Last year I took a class from a world renowned quilter for a week. It’s my gift to myself each year to spend a week learning something new at the Empty Spool seminars. By the way, if you’ve never gone, it’s a wonderful way for quilters to learn! This year though, the teacher, wasn’t my kind of teacher. For me, not very affirming. I digress here a bit, but I’ve noticed that sometimes great artists are really not great teachers — some are great at promoting themselves and their work rather than encouraging and teaching students. I think I’ve had a few bosses like that as well. ((Martin, Alexia, December 22, 2009. “Giving yourself permission not to finish frees up energy – another quilting/work intersection.” Retrived from http://lexymartin.blogspot.com on December 25, 2009.))

As Lexy did, I’m going to relate this to work somehow. We’ve all had or been exposed to bosses and management that were not worth their weight in pennies. ((a penny weighs about 2.5 grams, and a 150 lb person would be worth about $272, or 27,215 pennies.)) Organizations are all too often willing to promote great individual contributors without seeing if they are management or leadership worthy. I have had a couple such experiences in my life where leadership capabilities were just about at a level zero, but these people had “drive” and ambition. Unfortunately, what went along with that were turnover rates off the charts.

In the first, all the drive and ambition was about all there was. This guy could sell, but was arrogant and a micro-manager down to 2-3 levels of staff below him. He drove the entire region crazy, but he delivered results (not difficult in 2003 by the way – anybody and everybody could sell anything coming off of the budget crunch in 2001). The second was a bit different. Genuinely one of the smarter guys I have met in my life, but also full of ambition, he had all sorts of people who simply could not work with him, and either transferred out, literally quit their jobs, or became incredibly disengaged.

I think it’s one of the major mistakes of succession planning that we look at performance and the operational or sales capabilities of leaders before looking at leadership. Driving operational performance is not the same as driving organizational performance, and success is a function of both. It’s another reason that HR needs to be involved in leadership development and planning. Without us, corporate execs promote based on the wrong information.

UFO’s: Unfinished Objects

I’m not sure who first coined the term “shelfware.”  Most of our IT departments have all sorts of stuff we have purchased that we intend to implement but just haven’t done so yet.  Or we have implementations that we have abandoned, or we have technology and strategy roadmaps that are mid way through because we ran out of funding, or got stopped by a temporary glitch we didn’t have the mental will to push through.  All in all, we have too much in the way of “shelfware” whether it’s actual software or just projects sitting around.  And we don’t finish enough of them.

As a consultant, I’m always glad for the role I have.  To be completely honest, I’m a strategist (whatever that means).  I’m not good at the detailed stuff – testing and QA always drove me crazy, and I’m a really bad coder – because I like shortcuts and don’t like to figure out where I missed a semicolon.  In one sense, I’m really glad I don’t usually have to stick around for the implementation of what I come up with.  It’s nice to hand off to people at application vendors or system integrators to run an implementation because they are much better at that stuff than I am.  At the same time, it’s incredible to me the amount of strategy projects that get held up or never get going after I leave.

In most cases, organization’s are just not staffed well enough to handle additional project loads.  The realities of day to day operations cause them to lose focus, and these organizations also seem to have issues with using external consultants to do implementation work.  Granted it’s the most costly way to go, but it’s also the easiest way to maintain your focus on the plan.  Internal PMO organizations don’t usually like to play around with HR stuff, and that’s a shame.

Lexy Martin had a post a while back about unfinishable objects.

I’ve noticed, however, that in my studio I have a few UFOs — a quilter’s term for “unfinished objects.” I like to think of myself as not a quitter — as someone who finishes what I start. The UFO from that class, I’ve decided will never be finished as originally planned at that class. And, oh my…it feels good to recognize that. I declare it totally unfinishable! Of course, I will go through some doubts: 1. Is it unfinishable because my techniques are not up to it? 2. Is it unfinishable because I didn’t like the teacher and she did not help me to excel? 3. Is it unfinishable because…. You know what, I don’t need to know the reason. What I do know is that by declaring that one effort unfinishable,I feel ever so much more creative! Plus, it frees up one of my favorite fabrics that I want to use in another quilt project that is to be a gift for dear friends.  ((Martin, Alexia, December 22, 2009.  “Giving yourself permission not to finish frees up energy – another quilting/work intersection.”  Retrived from http://lexymartin.blogspot.com on December 25, 2009.))

The first is what I already mentioned above.  Sometimes I need to plan better for an organization that is just not willing to approve an ongoing project with an external implementor.  Organizations that really want to implement SAP on their own after deciding it’s the best fit for them…. Well… perhaps it’s my fault that I only told them 9 times and not 10 times that it’s really unwise to try to do it inhouse.  That’s a bit tongue in check, but the reality is that perhaps it’s my fault that even with the best intentions, internal project teams fail to get funding that they need and just can’t handle the workload themselves.  That comes to Lexy’s second point.  Consultants often don’t provide a backup plan.  We put so much time into preparing a business case that justifies the first option that when an organization can’t implement an ERP or global service delivery model (or whatever), that we didn’t tell them what’s next.  Maybe just putting their 15 different payrolls on ADP was the right way to go, and they would have gotten funding for it.  Not to avoid any mea culpa’s that should be coming my way, but consultants don’t always have the organizational knowledge to know how well you’ll be able to navigate through the approval and funding processes, we’re almost always guided by your judgment and the judgment of the executive sponsors.  If you say you can do it, we kind of believe you.

That brings us to the last point.  Sometimes, instead of blindly plugging along in the current state, or leaving a project on the shelf and pretending you’ll get to it eventually, you just need to get back to square one and start over.  Usually, it’s not really square one, most consultants will have brought a number of good models for you to go after, and it’s just a re-evaluation of the new best fit with the new funding realities in mind.  The point is, not to let anything sit there and fester while you do nothing.  There was a good reason to tackle a project to begin with, and that reason is still there, whether it be service delivery, technology, process or anything else.  Declare it a loss, and reevaluate the project so you can get going again.

UFO’s: Unfinished Objects

http://lexymartin.blogspot.com/2009/12/giving-yourself-permission-not-to.html

I’m not sure who first coined the term “shelfware.” Most of our IT departments have all sorts of stuff we have purchased that we intend to implement but just haven’t done so yet. Or we have implementations that we have abandoned, or we have technology and strategy roadmaps that are mid way through because we ran out of funding, or got stopped by a temporary glitch we didn’t have the mental will to push through. All in all, we have too much in the way of “shelfware” whether it’s actual software or just projects sitting around. And we don’t finish enough of them.

As a consultant, I’m always glad for the role I have. To be completely honest, I’m a strategist (whatever that means). I’m not good at the detailed stuff – testing and QA always drove me crazy, and I’m a really bad coder – because I like shortcuts and don’t like to figure out where I missed a semicolon. In one sense, I’m really glad I don’t usually have to stick around for the implementation of what I come up with. It’s nice to hand off to people at application vendors or system integrators to run an implementation because they are much better at that stuff than I am. At the same time, it’s incredible to me the amount of strategy projects that get held up or never get going after I leave.

In most cases, organization’s are just not staffed well enough to handle additional project loads. The realities of day to day operations cause them to lose focus, and these organizations also seem to have issues with using external consultants to do implementation work. Granted it’s the most costly way to go, but it’s also the easiest way to maintain your focus on the plan. Internal PMO organizations don’t usually like to play around with HR stuff, and that’s a shame.

Lexy Martin had a post a while back about unfinishable objects.

I’ve noticed, however, that in my studio I have a few UFOs — a quilter’s term for “unfinished objects.” I like to think of myself as not a quitter — as someone who finishes what I start. The UFO from that class, I’ve decided will never be finished as originally planned at that class. And, oh my…it feels good to recognize that. I declare it totally unfinishable! Of course, I will go through some doubts: 1. Is it unfinishable because my techniques are not up to it? 2. Is it unfinishable because I didn’t like the teacher and she did not help me to excel? 3. Is it unfinishable because…. You know what, I don’t need to know the reason. What I do know is that by declaring that one effort unfinishable,I feel ever so much more creative! Plus, it frees up one of my favorite fabrics that I want to use in another quilt project that is to be a gift for dear friends. ((Martin, Alexia, December 22, 2009. “Giving yourself permission not to finish frees up energy – another quilting/work intersection.” Retrived from http://lexymartin.blogspot.com on December 25, 2009.))

The first is what I already mentioned above. Sometimes I need to plan better for an organization that is just not willing to approve an ongoing project with an external implementor. Organizations that really want to implement SAP on their own after deciding it’s the best fit for them…. Well… perhaps it’s my fault that I only told them 9 times and not 10 times that it’s really unwise to try to do it inhouse. That’s a bit tongue in check, but the reality is that perhaps it’s my fault that even with the best intentions, internal project teams fail to get funding that they need and just can’t handle the workload themselves. That comes to Lexy’s second point. Consultants often don’t provide a backup plan. We put so much time into preparing a business case that justifies the first option that when an organization can’t implement an ERP or global service delivery model (or whatever), that we didn’t tell them what’s next. Maybe just putting their 15 different payrolls on ADP was the right way to go, and they would have gotten funding for it. Not to avoid any mea culpa’s that should be coming my way, but consultants don’t always have the organizational knowledge to know how well you’ll be able to navigate through the approval and funding processes, we’re almost always guided by your judgment and the judgment of the executive sponsors. If you say you can do it, we kind of believe you.

That brings us to the last point. Sometimes, instead of blindly plugging along in the current state, or leaving a project on the shelf and pretending you’ll get to it eventually, you just need to get back to square one and start over. Usually, it’s not really square one, most consultants will have brought a number of good models for you to go after, and it’s just a re-evaluation of the new best fit with the new funding realities in mind. The point is, not to let anything sit there and fester while you do nothing. There was a good reason to tackle a project to begin with, and that reason is still there, whether it be service delivery, technology, process or anything else. Declare it a loss, and reevaluate the project so you can get going again.