You hear about it all the time. Organizations invest in a software tool and then struggle with its adoption. It could be project management, customer relationship management (CRM), requirements management, or any other type of software tool. What started with high hopes of efficiency and value ends up being a cost burden. But, there are some steps you can take to avoid this.

Focus on the Process
The problem is the software tool became the focus and the overall process was ignored. Tools have lots of “gee-wiz” features that put a sparkle in everyone’s eyes but their core purpose in relationship to the process is often vague. So, before you ever begin selecting a software tool make sure the focus is first on the process.

This process needs to be developed, refined, and documented making sure it is a pure process.  It should be true to its intent, serve that function only, and demand the least amount of effort while providing the most value. The tool must integrate with and enhance the process.

Prepare Users
In most cases the first impression of users towards a new software tool is negative as it requires change and adds details to their world that they would rather not have to deal with. There is nothing directly in it for the user and they have little vision for how it is going to help the organization. In reality this may not be entirely true but it is a common perception of the user.

To prepare users for the tool, provide them with the big picture and how the overall process helps the organization. Then show them how the tool fits into the process and makes it better. Finally, properly train the users and give them job aids to assist them in using the tool. But, keep in mind none of this will be a success if you do not address the process items described above.

Identify Key Metrics
Most software tools are databases with lots of functionality that allow users to view and manipulate the data. Because of this there are lots of metrics that can be collected related to the process. Collecting metrics that signify progress towards the end results of the process is crucial; however, identifying them out of all the data available is a challenge. You need to keep the big picture in mind while you look for the key data points. These data points will tell you if you are progressing through the process as designed, letting you know when there is and is not compliance to the process.

Let’s say you have a good project management process in place. The intent of the process is to deliver products on time, within budget, and with all the requested functionality. You have selected your project management software tool and now need to identify the key metrics. The tool was selected because it has the capability to automatically calculate the major milestones of the project. Some examples of data points that tell you the process is moving towards the end result could be:

  • The number of tasks that do not have a predecessor or a successor task in the network diagram
  • The number of tasks that have start dates in the past
  • The number of tasks with fixed start dates that do not allow them to be calculated

The more tasks you have of this type the more likely the project manager is not complying with the process and its conventions.

Reports that contain the key metrics for the process should be easily produced and generated at a frequency that is consistent with the rhythm of the process. Some processes produce results on an hourly basis and some on a monthly basis. The frequency of the reporting period should be frequent enough for you to identify trends in compliance and address them when they are fresh in the minds of users.

Encourage Correct Behavior
Knowing when the process is or is not being followed as designed is great; correcting the behavior when it is not is the end goal. In order to correct behavior, the right level of management needs to be involved from the start. The manager needs to have responsibility over the process and the people. They alone have the capability to influence the user base’s behavior. In addition, the success of the process needs to be very important to the manager. If it isn’t then the organization should never consider integrating a tool.

Also, don’t try and get full compliance right from the start. Pick the most important areas of the process and concentrate on those first. Change is hard and it takes time. You can always add additional areas as compliance increases.

Software tools are great but not the “be all”. Start with the process and keep it top of mind. It will keep the tool in check and make sure it does what you want it to do and not visa a versa. Only then will it add value and gain the acceptance of your organization.