The Four Fears of Implementation

“This new platform will automate all of your processes… wait for it… all in one place! You’ll be able to edit, save, publish, and review documents in a central location. And what’s even better – all it takes is one easy implementation and then all of your corporate problems will be solved!”

We’ve all been there — the marketing conferences, the sales calls, the vendor demos — you asking the same questions and finding that “this” technology solves all of your problems and more. Despite the promise, however, 62% of IT projects fail.

While unique factors come into play in every organization, including budget cuts, underestimation of time and/or resources, staff turnover, and change in company direction, I believe most technology failures actually come down to fear.

Building a complex technology infrastructure requires a proverbial leap of faith — in the platform itself, the people implementing it, and the people expected to use it. This is an interesting concept considering that most people don’t associate technology with emotions. However, implementing something that changes the way people work every day is down right terrifying. This fear creates hiccups, backtracking, doubt, turmoil, and, ultimately, project failures.

Now I’m no psychiatrist, but I have been at the helm of a handful of complex technology implementations that range from Marketing Automation Platforms, Email Marketing Platforms, content management (CMS) and enterprise content management (ECM) systems, CRM solutions, and corporate and marketing website builds. From these experiences, I’ve observed four main fears of implementation.

Fear of Bureaucracy
Process automation requires identifying your current process and visualizing your ideal process. In this world, there are two kinds of people: project managers and everyone else. Most people see projects as Done or Not Done, and everything in between as the vague “In Progress.” Project managers, on the other hand, see everything as steps, with many steps dependent on moving to the next. These are two fundamentally different ways of thinking.

Technology platforms simplify and consolidate steps, which is great for project managers. Everyone else may be able to see the value, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts, they have the false impression that the new process creates more headaches for them because they realize, “Oh wait, I have to think in steps now, too?”

How to overcome this fear: Gather your team and draw a flowchart together of all of your tasks. It doesn’t have to be pretty, and you can even use pen and paper or a whiteboard. By simply identifying every step you take to get something done, you will be better equipped to consolidate and streamline.

Fear of the Bottleneck
Automating a process requires accountability. Most people who work in marketing are juggling dozens of tasks and have anxiety about being a bottleneck for someone else. In an automated process, the bottlenecks are are highly transparent. When you begin to define someone’s role in a workflow, reality sinks in: “Progress can’t be made unless I finish this step, thus I could become my worst fear: a bottleneck.”

How to overcome this fear: Be honest with your team and meet regularly to discuss what works and doesn’t work with the new system, including the workflow. If your role is unrealistic, don’t be afraid to say so.

Fear of Execution
Most systems proclaim the same benefits: automated processes, ease of use, “all in one,” full marketing integration, and so on. Who wouldn’t want such a solution? However, a system is only as good as the content that goes into it. If you put garbage in, you will get garbage out.

Once you start looking deeply into your process, you will inevitably start to identify problems with your content too, which creates more to do and reveals more problems along the way. It is at this point that you realize that either the project will look bad because the content is bad, or you’ll have to rush clean-ups “post-launch” (or my favorite, “in phase 2”).

How to overcome this fear: Build deviation time and budget into the project plan. In an agile process, you re-evaluate tasks throughout the project, so you can tackle unforeseen issues while continuing the project momentum.

Fear of Adoption
A project like this is ultimately about one thing: achieving simplicity. However, this creates some natural anxieties. If 90% of your job is navigating the complexity of a process, couldn’t this system replace 90% of your job? What if you can’t figure out the new system? Sure your consultant will train you, but isn’t that flawed business for them, because the more you know the less valuable they are to your company? Can you trust them to teach you everything you need to know?

Adoption takes time — more time than most people want to admit. It also takes patience and someone who’s willing to repeat themselves… A LOT. At first, a new system takes people out of their comfort zone, but in the long term, it should increase productivity and actually make your job more effective, not obsolete.

How to overcome this fear: Be patient and refrain from pointing your finger at any one thing; this creates uncertainty that can fundamentally undermine a project. The worst thing you can do is lose faith right before the finish line.

To wrap up, I would like to share a quote that my fantastic mentor, Olivier Naimi, kept reminding me of during our last project:
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

(This blog was originally published by Red Bricks Media, a San Francisco Digital Agency. Written by Claire E. Fisher)