New From Microsoft (NOT Software!)

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By Bill Kennedy - There's something new from Microsoft, and it's not software. It's a methodology called Sure Step.

Why am I excited about a methodology? Because Microsoft has recognized that the reasons that projects fail or customers are unhappy with their system rarely have to do with the software. Just Google "why projects fail" (e.g. here, here and here). You typically don't see "the software was missing important features" as the reason. Project management issues usually top the list: lack of planning, scope creep, poor communications, lack of a proven methodology etc. etc.

In the world of medium sized accounting packages that I work in, project management is often viewed by customers as an unnecessary frill. When creating project budgets, I stopped putting in time for project management because it was routinely removed in the price negotiations with the customer. Instead, I built in time to create a project plan as well as for status meetings and progress reports.

The consultants and the software companies only have themselves to blame. During the sales process we minimize the difficulty of implementing new software. We talk about how easy it is, how everything is menu driven and can be accessed with the proverbial one click of the mouse. We minimize the work that needs to be done by the customer: designing their chart of accounts, downloading history from their existing accounting system or putting thought into how they want the reports to look.

Unless customers see themselves as at least a 50% partner in the success of the project, I guarantee you they will not get full use of the system they invested in. I'm not talking about a dramatic failure here. The result will just be that staff will not abandon their tried and true spreadsheets or side systems and embrace the new technology. Microsoft measures everything (just ask any Microsoft employee what getting a yellow or red light means). They measured software success and came up with the mind blowing statistic that 46% of software licenses go unused. This means that only half of the people you thought would use the new system will actually do so.

So, what should customers do? If you do nothing else, insist on a weekly progress meeting throughout the project, so you can be sure that the whole project gets completed, not just the minimum necessary to go live. The meetings should be short and only the senior people on the project need attend. This meeting is not for solving problems, it just brings them to light. The agenda is:

  • What was accomplished last week
  • What is planned for next week
  • Where we are in the project plan (you DO have a project plan, right?)
  • New or changed risks faced by the team

Weekly meetings force people to actually DO something or face the embarrassment of having nothing to report. They let you know who is waiting for whom. They inform everyone of the issues faced by others. They allow you to be proactive instead of just reacting to issues.

Also, during the sales process talk to your consultant about how they implement projects. If it's Microsoft software and the words "Sure Step" do not come up in the presentation, ask why. Ask them about what you need to do to ensure the project's success. Ask them how much of your staff's time you should budget for the project. If the answer seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

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