Do you remember the film The Money Pit? Tom Hanks & Shelly Long star as home renovators who start with big dreams for their new home ultimately to realise that it will suck every penny from their lives. 


Why are we talking about this? Many businesses would agree that, all too easily, an IT Project can become a Money Pit in its own right. Even the BBC has suffered from what the city calls “White Elephant Syndrome”. They paid over £100 million for an IT project called the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) that was intended to move the BBC away from using and storing video tape, sounds simple enough? Not so. After 5 years and producing “almost no results” it was branded a complete failure. 

Now as we sit smugly (before realising that the £100 million came from YOUR TV licence) reflecting on the failures of the poor BBC IT Dept. ask yourself, is this really so difficult to do? On more than just a few of the projects i have worked on, the reason we have been brought in is because the project is over-budget, behind schedule and no where near being delivered. Why? There can be any number of reasons from bad management of resources and poor planning to bad technical choices.  So if your planning to implement a CRM solution, how do you get it right? Here a four key points that you need to seriously consider: 

Choose The Right Product


One customer came to us having spent over £150,000 on a CRM solution. Once the first phase of the project was over, they were told by the product vendor that no further development could be done on the solution meaning they were stuck with what they had. And you guessed it….what they had been left with was not fit for purpose! This example clearly shows how important it is to choose the right product. 


Any product that is selected should be both flexible enough to accommodate what you want from it now but also have enough scope to grow with your business. The only product that truly fits the bill in this regard is Microsoft Dynamics CRM. I have implemented Microsoft Dynamics CRM for small businesses and major UK corporations. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is flexible, easily customised and extended with products from the huge amount of ISV’s making custom solutions to suit your needs. 

In addition, any product should provide value for money. Microsoft have clearly taken a view that providing their customers with huge value for money over making a quick buck is the way to go. This can be seen from the huge improvements and additional functionality that Microsoft are including for free as part of the update roll-ups. 

Choose The Right Partner


This is one of the most important decisions you will make and can be the difference between success and failure. A good partner with extensive experience can guide you through the decision making process and help you to avoid the pitfalls. A bad partner can not only prevent your solution from being delivered but cost you the earth! So what should you look for? 3 things… 

First, your partner must have relevant experience that you can independently measure. Ask your potential partner for a client list and ask how many would be willing to provide a reference. The right response is “you can speak to any of our customers!” When you do speak to them, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions (Deliver on time? What were they like to work with? Were their cost estimations accurate?). 

Second, your partner must be easy to get along with. Before you dismiss this as a nice-to-have, trust me, its crucial. You will be spending A LOT of time with your chosen partner and especially the project liaison. At times you will see them more than your family so if your project liaison is an idiot it will seriously impede the smooth running of your project so ask for your project liaison to be included in meetings right from the start. 

Finally, take a holistic view of partner selection. In comparing partners, so many organisations will focus on only the the technical aspects of the offering from each partner, or even worse focus solely on the price. Take into consideration all aspects of the offering that the partner provides (Experience, Approach, Cost, Company History & Ethics, Training Experience etc…) Doing this may mean you don’t select the cheapest option, but this will cost you far less by the end of the project. I’m sure there are many other things that you can think of when selecting a partner but these have shown themselves to be basic essentials.

Choose The Right Approach

Historically, the classic software delivery approach was known as the “Waterfall” approach. Waterfall basically refers to the following:

 – Perform a high level scope of the requirements

 – Review with client

 – Perform more detailed requirements gathering

 – Outline the detailed solution proposed

 – Develop the entire solution

 – Go Live!

    I realise that this is perhaps a little simplified but in short, what this means is that you gather the requirements (no matter how extensive), develop it, then deliver it.

    Sounds good yeah? It is with one problem. Generally speaking, the requirements are so extensive that the development period takes 6 month plus. This means that in between gathering the requirements and finishing the development 6-8 months at least has passed! Most organisation will have changed or adjusted their processes 2 or 3 times during that period meaning some (and at worst ALL) of your changes are no longer valid. To deal with this you may hear partners talking about using an Agile project methodology. An Agile methodology involves making small iterative changes and regularly reviewing these with the user who requested it. This means that your project can handle changes much more effectively. However, be cautious. A number of organisations i have worked with have found that while Agile helps them adapt and deliver small changes quickly, its all too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. A solution can grow organically and unless there is a tight control on the changes that focuses on the bigger project aim, you can find yourself spending the same money but  having a system that is a mish-mash of functionality from users, some of whom may no longer even be with you anymore.

    To combat this, i recommend my customers to adopt a combination of the best of both:

     – Take the time to conduct a proper and full requirements gathering exercise

     – Document clearly all changes that have been requested and prioritise these both by the business benefit and cost

     – When documenting the solutions add 30% of the development time on top to review the changes with the user. This includes allowing them to be engaged and make minor modifications 

     – With all parties, and based on the priorities divide, the requirements up into project stages. It really doesn’t matter if you have 2 or 200 stages, but these must be manageable and generally deliverable within a 2 month period.

     – Have weekly and monthly reviews of project progress

     – As each part of the solution is developed, use the time allotted earlier to engage with the users allowing them to verify what you are doing. This will also reduce the amount of time required for UAT and Training

     – Any change that requires a larger modification should be removed from the current phase and re-scoped preventing any lag on delivery of the current phase. 

      There are still pitfalls to be found, but in general i find that this approach gives a good mix of the two project management models allowing you to get the best from both.

      Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

      Its not new, but this old adage applies here and particularly in the requirements gathering phase. 

      Take as much time as you can in gathering the requirements and getting these signed off before you start development. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. The moment a project is started, senior management will be champing at the bit to see “something” for all the work that is going on. This isn’t easy but its absolutely essential to not allow the initial planning stages to be rushed. No one will thank you for rushing into development and not delivering what is truly needed or nothing at all, least of all senior management. One client i worked with on a project spent 6 months gathering requirements, making organisational changes, running focus groups, reviewing the proposed solutions before starting development. The development process only lasted 3 months. On paper, this seems crazy and yet the project was delivered on time, within budget and with functionality that provided real benefits. 

      Conclusion


      This strategy isn’t supposed to be everything that you need to make your CRM project successful. However, by remembering the points above you will have a much greater chance of delivering a quality solution that delivers real benefit without wasting your companies budget. BBC….take note

      If you would like any help with your project please don’t hesitate to contact me. 

      Joel Abbott – Managing Director
      xRM Consultant