How to swim with the EPM sharks — without being eaten alive

The lesson of hurdle jumping in enterprise project management was brought home to me in an unusual setting. I was speaking to someone who specializes in commercial swimming pool chemicals, and he was explaining how chlorine kills the bad bacteria. Until you reach the critical mass of chlorine, he

explained, zero chlorides have been used and no bacteria destroyed. Once you hit the critical mass, the targeted bacteria in the pool die. Then you have to maintain the minimal level of chlorine to keep the pool safe.

What does this have to do with enterprise project management systems deployments? I’ll refer to a CRM system deployment we’re working on right now. Usually, the client has underestimated the effort required to deploy the system. They’ve elected to put in a minimal budget, thinking their own staff will be able to carry the project forward at a leisurely pace. The budget had little room for experienced and expert assistance and was mostly focused on functionality training. Internal technical personnel were also budgeted for the smallest possible amount of time, perhaps thinking the internal staff would be as efficient as a consultant who had done many of these implementations.

The budget for both external and internal technical expertise was quickly expended. And while the CRM system is installed and has some elements of the functionality working, there are large areas of the product that cannot yet be used — either because they aren’t functional or they haven’t been configured with the necessary templates.

Underlying architecture is also an issue. In one case the Web server required both an upgrade and additional configuration, and in another, an incomplete installation of Microsoft Exchange had to be tackled. The result is the system does not yet have sufficient momentum to ensure its viability. So, either the company will let the system limp along until something better comes along — or until the system is abandoned — or until it applies more resources and money to the project (perhaps even more than would have been required originally since they’ll be trying to rescue a project).

Sound familiar? I hope not. But this is exactly the scenario we often see in the enterprise project management space. The amount of effort required to validate the infrastructure, install the software and (most of all) configure the final system is underestimated about 90 per cent of the time. A compounding issue is that the level of expertise and experience required is also almost always underestimated. The result is that systems get installed, but have elements that are not working and too little time to configure the system to deliver the results that were expected when the deployment was authorized.

There’s not a panacea for such deployments. Educating management, if possible, can reduce the heartache. If you are involved in an enterprise project management systems deployment, determining the minimal working system may be a critical step in your planning.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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