With over 30 years of experience working in research and development (R&D) for a variety of companies and industries, I’ve seen my fair share of information technology (IT) systems implemented to support various global processes such as product lifecycle management (PLM), phase-gate, portfolio management, legal and finance.
This series provides leading practices for avoiding the top ten most common mistakes.
Mistake #3: The "Fix All" Solution
View the IT system as a tool to lock-in a process; it cannot, on its own, fix process problems
It’s amazing how many projects make the mistake of jumping to system implementation without taking a hard look at what they’re automating first. Projects need to put the process first. In other words, take the time up front to ensure any processes involved–new product development (NPD), new product approvals, financial processes, phase-gate, etc.–are as efficient and effective as possible before implementing an IT system to support them. View the IT system as a tool to lock-in a process; it cannot, on its own, fix process problems.
To avoid this “fix all” approach, there are a few things you can do to ensure your IT system serves its purpose.
First – Never automate a bad process
I once inherited a PLM system project where the company assumed that having all the information in a central location would help them automate the NPD approval processes. After following a lead product developer around for a few days, I ran to my leader and said,
“We would be crazy to automate the current process these folks are using!”
It was a great case of “the tail wagging the dog.” Product developers spent more time navigating all the approvals required–sometimes more than once depending on development stage–than they did developing products. The approval requirements overlapped and were unclear. Clarifying and streamlining the development process took months, but was well worth the time. It ensured that the PLM tool locked in a more robust process. I recommend that anyone leading a project like this take some time to “walk in the shoes” of the people doing the work to truly understand the process before attempting to design or implement a new IT system.
Second – Ensure stakeholder understanding
To make sure that everyone understands the process, take the leaders of all approving functions offsite for a day and ask each to present the following:
Their current review process and requirements for new product approval
The reason why: trace every requirement to its source–either an external agency (FDA, etc.) or policy from headquarters
Two things will happen:
50% of the current requirements disappear as they are the result of adding patches to cover one-time events that happened over the past twenty years. Very few are really required by an external agency or corporate policy.
Everyone sees the monster they’ve created for product developers. Six or seven approving functions asking for information that is 90% the same, but asking it to be formatted slightly different for their use!
Third – Empower the people close to the work
Finally, let the people near the work design the new processes and workflows. There clearly is a role for management to play in projects like this, but it is not to get down in the weeds and design workflows. Management must set clear business requirements but empower the people near the work to design the process and workflows. They know better than anyone how to build an efficient process and are extremely motivated to do so.
Taking these steps to ensure that your processes are effective, efficient, and ready for the support of a new IT system will exponentially increase the return on your investment and longevity of the solution.
Stay tuned to discover leading practices for avoiding these ten common mistakes. Being mindful of the challenges and solutions discussed in this series will greatly increase the chances of your next project becoming a sustainable success.