Hurry up and wait
BY ELISA LUDWIG
ALMOST EVERYONE wants to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. Look no further than the throngs of people angling to get their hands on a precious iPhone on the day it came out. It's no different in project management. Dangle the promise of a new software or gadget that might improve project results or boost ROI faster, and many companies will giddily sign on without hesitation. But even chronic early adopters of first-generation technologies will admit rushing into a new way of doing things can be risky.
A PITFALL is to believe that the technology by itself could improve project performance.
-MARIA RODRIGUEZ, PROJECT MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT, ROSARIO, ARGENTINA
“New technology is really like a green banana,” says Ralf Friedrich, PMP, a senior consultant, executive coach and trainer at the International Institute for Learning Inc., Frankfurt, Germany. “As a project manager, you have to make everyone aware that it may turn yellow after some time, but not at the first release. You have to be very agile in the way you think and be willing to try completely new ways of working to make that technology work for you.”
Organizations adopting the latest releases always face the danger of the unknown, Mr. Friedrich says. If something goes wrong, project managers don't have a team of experienced experts to turn to. It's probably all new to the in-house staff, and software providers may not have experience applying the technology in the exact way a company will use it.
“They're going into it with very little detailed knowledge and a high degree of uncertainty,” he says. “As we know, the devil is always in the details of those projects.”
So before they bring in all these newfangled concoctions, organizations better do their homework and help team members learn how to actually use the tools. “Any technology rolled out without adequate training creates a problem,” says Laura Aziz, Ph.D., PMP, an IT consultant and project manager at Computer Sciences Corp. in Lake Bluff, Illinois, USA.
adopting the latest releases always face the danger of the unknown.
—Ralf Friedrich, PMP, International Institute for Learning Inc., Frankfurt, Germany
KEEP IT REAL
Maintaining a realistic attitude about what the technology can and cannot do will ease the adoption process, says Ana Maria Rodriguez, a project management consultant based in Rosario, Argentina.
“A pitfall is to believe that the technology by itself could improve project performance,” she says. “Many times, important investments are made in technology without making an adequate analysis of the company's needs, and most importantly, without reviewing if the technology will be implemented following proper project management methodologies and concepts.”
Ms. Rodriguez maintains a checklist of questions to ask:
■ Does the company's culture support the use of project management technologies?
■ Is it necessary to build or strengthen this culture?
■ Are top managers of the company supportive of project management technologies?
■ If not, are they willing to be trained?
■ Does the company have experience implementing project management tools or techniques?
■ Were these experiences positive?
■ If not, how much resistance is there?
■ Is the company willing to change its decision-making processes to benefit from the project management technologies?
■ If not, why is it interested in these technologies?
BEYOND THE COOL FACTOR
Given that the second generation of a technology almost always outperforms the first, the advantages of being an early adopter are not always obvious.
“The benefit may not come directly with the product but from the experienced gained in the development,” says Ralf Friedrich, PMP, International Institute of Learning. “And if you launch something, and the rest of industry has to follow, you're two years ahead or even 18 months ahead, which is a long time in most industries.”
In the most successful cases of early adoption, the rewards are to the bottom line, with reduced time and costs and improved efficiency for the company.
When interactive ad agency imc2 adopted a new time-tracking software, the advantages outweighed the hassles and risks, says Erica Robertson, PMP, program management office department head at the Dallas, Texas, USA-based firm. “We knew there was a chance people would be hesitant to adopt a new system,” she says, “but we felt strongly that the benefits, such as better resource allocation and invoicing, made it worth making the leap.”
The number of iPhones sold in the first 30 hours of its release.
Organizations should also make sure they have the right people doing the evaluating, Mr. Friedrich says. “Technology nowadays is so complex that it involves getting the right people in the room who really have a systemic view of project management,” he says.
One way to make sure a new technology will be a good fit for you and your projects is to take it for a test drive. “When you pilot a product you can make sure it's going to do what you think it will do and make sure that it's easy to use,” says Steve Miller, president of Pragmatic Software Co. Inc., a project management software developer in Englewood, Colorado, USA.
Most organizations turn to technology when what they've been doing just isn't working—and they're often in a hurry to change it. Rather than jumping in head-first, Mr. Miller suggests making a smaller investment in a pilot program that will simulate the software in action.
“There's a lot less risk when you're not paying the full price of product,” Mr. Miller says. “Trialing it for 60 or 90 days costs one-tenth of the normal cost of implementing new software.”
In most cases, adopting technology requires working with outside vendors, and this may involve a different kind of teamwork. “Normally when you're adopting technology, you're not doing all the development in-house,” Mr. Friedrich says. “You're usually working with lots of suppliers whom you can't always manage.”
On one technology transfer project, the main architect failed to share the training information with anyone else beforehand. “He was a part-time consultant, and none of it was on paper,” Mr. Friedrich says. “Monday—the day the new technology was scheduled to debut—came, and he was out sick with the measles and nobody had a handle on what to do.”
Project managers need to carefully evaluate the level of support they're getting from a vendor. “You can have the best software, but if you run into issues or you don't understand how to use it and you can't reach somebody for support within a week, that's going to be very problematic,” Mr. Miller says.
Even if the technology is exactly what the organization needs and the vendor is ready and willing to help whenever you need it, don't overlook all those people who actually have to use these tools. Perhaps more than the strength of the technology itself, successful early adoption relies on human qualities such as patience and communication.
“It's important that the management of new technologies has a high guard against frustration,” Mr. Friedrich says. “With early-adopter projects there are always high emotions. The project manager has to stay calm.”
To that end, he recommends securing support from senior executives to help keep the project on track and help everyone keep an eye on the bigger picture.
Ultimately, Ms. Rodriguez says, the success of a new project management technology rests mostly with the understanding and expertise of its users.
And as tempting as it is to blame every little problem on the technology, sometimes that's simply not the case. Project managers may not take their own fallibility into account when applying what they think will be “magic bullet” solutions. “The tracking of project progress is always tricky as it relies on subjective assessment, and so you're likely to feed the technology with unreliable information,” Ms. Aziz says.
And no one has yet to unveil a technology that can solve that glitch. PM
PM NETWORK JANUARY 2008 WWW.PMI.ORG
JANUARY 2008 PM NETWORK