Recovery from IT project madness in a few steps

If memories of your last IT project are keeping you up at night, Amy May suggests a 12-step remedy.

No, not Insomniacs Anonymous. May, a managing partner at consulting firm Amtech Marketing Inc. from Franktown, Col., says method takes the edge off the implementation madness. She presented a 12-step salve at Call Centre Canada, a conference for customer contact pros held in Toronto last month.

Although she was speaking to a call centre crowd, the Amtech’s “Blueprint for Due Diligence” represents “a methodology for selecting technology, no matter what that technology is,” May said.

Step one: Assemble the project team. Include users and someone from the financial side of the house, as well as a project manager to help keep the project on track, May said. “The last thing you want is a team leading the project. You have to have someone at the helm.”

She also suggested employing a sort of IT liaison – someone to bridge communication between business and technology. This makes each side a partner in the project, which, in turn, helps the project succeed.

Step two: Know what you want. “The key to defining the right solution is defining the goals,” May said. To that end, list the 10 must-have features that the new install should provide. Rely on the team to learn just what the “ideal system” should look like, or how the current setup could be improved. The end result is a basic project plan crucial to step three: the budget approval process.

For step three, document the important savings or revenue and productivity increases that the new system should provide.

Go to vendors to get a sense of the metrics. For example, May gleaned from various call centre technology vendors’ Web sites that Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems can reduce customer rep headcount by 10 to 30 per cent. Skills-based routing, whereby calls are sent to reps according to the caller’s needs and the rep’s expertise, makes for a 30 to 60 per cent improvement in productivity.

Step four: Draft a requirements document that lists the features needed. Collect “wish lists” from interested parties. Conduct focus group sessions to learn just what users expect from the system. Or perhaps hire an outsider to do the grunt work, May said.

Step five: Research potential solutions. See vendor Web sites for “customer success stories” or “case studies,” but don’t stop there. Talk to colleagues at other institutions. Go to trade shows and chat with other attendees. “That’s where you’ll hear the war stories the vendors don’t want you to hear,” May said.

Step six: Submit an RFP to five or six vendors that summarizes your requirements and describes preferred methods of response. May said it’s difficult to compare solutions if vendors answer questions in different ways.

Step seven: Analyze the proposals. Create a scoring method that takes into account the system’s strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately helps you pick the top two or three front-runners.

In the eighth step, the vendors come to show off. Prepare a “demo issues” document so you know what to look for during the show. As well, May advises two visits: one in which the vendor comes to the client, and one in which the client goes to the vendor. The first demonstrates how the vendor performs in the client’s space and the second affords the client an opportunity to get a feel for the vendor’s culture. The dual demo goes a long way toward seeing if the two camps can work together through what’s to come.

Step nine: Conduct reference checks, but keep in mind that most vendors prefer to showcase good news. “Find references that the vendor won’t talk about,” May said. Scrutinize industry publications and contacts to get the skinny on implementations.

Step 10: Choose your poison. Compare the scores, the reference results and the demos. Gather up the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal and make the decision.

Step 11: Negotiate the contract. Companies should specify penalties for non-performance. This is also the time to suggest that the vendor provide multiple years of maintenance for the incoming system – at a discount, of course, May said.

Step 12: Write an implementation plan detailing the tasks required to get the system running, who is responsible for each task and when the tasks should be completed. Monitor the system and report back to management on the results. Thank team members for aiding the selection process.

Is it all just common sense?

“Definitely,” said conference attendee Michelle Roach, manager, planning and support at Burlington, Ont.-based Cogeco Cable Inc. “But seeing it documented in the 12 steps helped. The session was definitely useful.”

The session also brought back painful memories, she said.

“The reference checks that are not on their (vendors’) lists, that’s important. We didn’t do that. We talked to everyone on the list. What we found was the reference checks we were provided were people who had similar technology, but weren’t necessarily in the same business as we are. It made things a little more difficult.”

Jason Sguigna, call centre coordinator with Scholastic Canada Ltd., a children’s book publisher in Markham Ont., said May’s advice hit home for him.

“To me, the interesting thing was having an IT liaison, someone to bridge between management and the IT group. It’s a good idea. Sometimes it’s easier that way. You have one contact person. You avoid miscommunication.”

That’s the point, May said, adding that care in team building, cost justifications and RFPs help smooth technology selection. “The more methodical you are in the process, the shorter the timeline.”