Why are CRM, Website and IT Projects often so difficult?

07 Jan 2019

By: David Hart

Change / E AND H / Membership Associations / Professional Membership Sector

We were asked to deliver an expert briefing on this subject at the recent Associations Congress and Expo in London. The session proved very popular, so we thought we’d share a summary of our thoughts more widely.
IT projects are always challenging, and unfortunately a large proportion still fail to deliver the intended benefits. Why is this still the case? What can be done to improve the success of our projects? We have identified eight key areas which, if not addressed, are likely to make your project particularly challenging.

1. Unclear or badly defined objectives
Talking to the senior team about their proposed project, the Membership manager will be very clear about why the project is needed – it is to do ‘X’; the Marketing manager will also be very clear – it is to do ‘Y’; and the CEO will often have a specific budget or timeframe in mind. Different perceptions of why a project is being undertaken and what needs to be achieved are common. If these are not identified at the outset, achieving a shared understanding of what needs to be done and what a successful outcome would look like, then these differences come out as the project progresses, often resulting in confusion, delay and additional cost.

2. Lack of ownership/sponsorship
Implementing a new CRM or website is a major undertaking for any membership organisation, both in terms of cost and in terms of impact on the organisation. Once the objectives are agreed, any project must have clear sponsorship and be ‘owned’ and ‘championed’ by the senior management. Effective governance and decision-making mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the project stays aligned with the organisation’s strategy and business plan, and that the impact on day-to-day activities is managed.

3. Insufficient budget
The cost of implementing a project is much more than just the costs of the new CRM system or the web agency – your supplier costs may only be about half the actual cost of the project. Other costs that need to be considered include the cost of the internal project team; procurement costs; data cleansing and preparation; integration with other systems; client project management; organisational change etc. It is also sensible to allow an appropriate budget contingency in addition to the supplier’s tendered costs – suppliers will rarely fix costs until after the ‘discovery’ phase of the project has been completed, and there will always be some changes in requirements as you learn more about what the product can do for you and the supplier learns more about your organisation.

4. Inadequate supplier and contract management arrangements
Far too often we meet organisations who have spent their budget with a supplier, but the system still isn’t fully implemented or working, and the contract gives very little leverage for the client to resolve the situation. In our experience, suppliers to this sector always need to be actively managed if you are going to deliver the project successfully, and it is essential that you have a contract in place that enables you to do that. Payments should be against plan milestones and deliverables, ideally with a significant retention to ensure that post-live issues and problems are resolved quickly. Maintaining a good relationship with your supplier is also important – you are hopefully going to be in it for the long-term – and the potential for a good relationship should be one of the key criteria in your procurement process.

5. Inadequate planning
It is important to ensure that your project is properly planned. Delays and cost overruns often result from inadequate planning – or unrealistic deadlines being set without working through a plan first. The supplier’s project plan will typically focus on the things they need to do. You need to ensure that you have a realistic plan that includes all the things you need to do to enable the supplier to deliver (including design workshops, data cleansing, time for decision-making, business-as-usual constraints etc.) as well as any work needed to other systems, and an effective stakeholder management and communications plan. The process of doing the planning (and the thinking it makes you do) is as important as the plan itself.

6. Poor supplier product or performance
Poor supplier performance and the delivery of defective products are unfortunately still things we come across in almost every project. The IT market for Associations is characterised by smaller suppliers, many of whom have problems retaining technical expertise, find it difficult to balance resources across many clients, and sometimes lack effective quality management systems and process. Due diligence in a procurement process – talking to other clients, taking references and undertaking a realistic risk assessment – are critical in identifying potential issues in this area, as is having a realistic understanding of how much of your solution is standard (i.e. how much is the same as their other clients) and how much is being configured specifically for you. Understanding the level of risk this area presents will enable you to put in place appropriate management arrangements and contingencies.

7. Insufficient capacity to do the project
Any CRM or website project will almost always need you do dedicate at least one full-time member of staff to the project – often more if the project is large. Additionally, if your project is going to be successful you need to engage everyone from the start – involving them in procurement process, then involving people in design workshops and, most significantly, in thoroughly testing the new systems and in learning new ways of working. The impact on staff resources and business as usual activities is significant. It needs to be recognised from the start and the necessary capacity created. Failure to adequately address this will result in adverse impacts on both the project and the organisation’s day-to-day activities, and potentially to very stressed staff.

8. Failing to address the people issues
All too often we see organisations who have a problem thinking that the solution is to buy a new IT system. This is rarely the reality – change doesn’t happen until people do things differently, and IT needs to be seen as the enabler for people to work differently, rather than the solution by itself. In considering a new CRM, membership organisations will be looking at areas such as achieving a better understanding of their membership, more effective member engagement, improving communications or services, or improving internal efficiency. Achieving any of these is likely to involve changes for staff, from the way in which data is used and managed, to the way they interact with members, and to many of the activities and processes that comprise their job role. These changes, and the implications, need to be understood and planned as a core component of the project. Failure to do so is likely to result in significant sums having been invested in a new IT system, but without realising many of the anticipated benefits.

David Hart – January 2019
Email: david.hart@eandhlimited.com