In three previous columns, I described how our CRM implementation project began and how we addressed the concerns that arise naturally when you ask people to change the way they do their jobs. We took a holistic approach, looking at the implementation in terms of people, process, and technology. I also described how we structured the project as a series of small pieces to help ensure overall success.

These steps were all part of a 15-month rollout effort completed in October 2001. In the months since, some interesting changes have altered the landscape.

Part 4 of 4

Check out the three previous installments of the CRM rollout case study.

Maintaining momentum
Our strong executive sponsor left the company at the beginning of Phase III of the implementation. It is a tribute to his leadership that we were able to complete the remainder of the implementation under the momentum he established. His position has not been replaced, and instead of one strong executive sponsor, we now have three project sponsors who are basically peers. We continue to receive direction and priorities from this group of three, although the leadership is not as strong as it was. It looks like the users have embraced the tool and incorporated it into their work habits enough that they will continue to use it. Even so, without a single, strong voice as a champion, continued use is definitely an identified risk.

To support the initiative from an IT perspective, we’ve made certain that every request for new sales/marketing capabilities or new information is driven through the CRM tool. For instance, we recently implemented an enhancement that allows users to auto-fax customer invoices to a customer or sales person. This approach reinforces the organization’s need for the CRM tool, makes users more comfortable with it, and integrates it further into the users’ daily routine.

Lessons learned
Overall, we feel good about the CRM implementation project. Both IT and client management viewed the project as a success. We owe its success to some basic decisions that we made early on:

  • Recognize when you have a culture change initiative. We recognized immediately that this project was not simply about implementing a software package; it also required major changes in the way people do their work. Salespeople are notoriously independent, and they needed to have the right information and incentives to ensure they would use the CRM package.
  • Look at people and processes, not just the technology. We implemented the project using a balanced approach covering people and process issues as well as the implementation of the software package itself. If we hadn’t taken this approach, chances are the software implementation would have been successful—but no one would have used it.
  • Obtain strong sponsorship. Even with strong sponsorship, a culture change initiative like this might fail. Without strong sponsorship, you might as well not start. The best sponsor for a culture change initiative is the person at the top of the organization. No one else usually has the political muscle and organizational clout needed to push the required behavioral changes.
  • Look for quick wins. We had a pilot group up and running in eight weeks. This early move allowed us to get on the map and start to build a positive image and momentum for the rest of the project.
  • Break the project into smaller pieces. This is good advice for any project. We implemented an 80/20 solution first (maybe even 70/30) and then enhanced the capabilities in subsequent project phases.

This last item comes with a built-in cautionary tale. The successful implementation I’ve described was for the organization’s U.S. division. A separate initiative established in the European division subsequently failed. Instead of taking the approach of rapid deployment and implementation in smaller phases, the European group chose the more traditional path of gathering user requirements first and implementing a system up front that would meet most of their needs. In other words, they were shooting for a 95-percent solution. The result was a yearlong analysis phase. As business priorities came under closer scrutiny from a cost-cutting initiative, their project was cancelled since it had yet to deliver value after a year.

The success of this CRM implementation underscores the importance of thinking beyond the technology requirements. On the strength of a strong sponsor, a holistic approach and a series of small milestones, we ended up with a successful implementation and, just as importantly, a tool users accepted.

Rolling out those big applications

Implementing large-scale enterprise applications can turn the stomach of even a seasoned project management veteran. Share your story by dropping us a note or posting a comment below.