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.