Why Organisational Project Change Fail and How to Prevent Implementation Failure

New IT installations often fail. At least that’s the widespread belief surrounding organizational project change initiatives today — it is bound for failure.

One frequently cited a study from the 1993 book Reengineering the Corporation goes as far as saying that as many as 70% of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort do not achieve the dramatic results they intended. A more recent McKinsey survey of more than 1,500 executives who had undertaken a significant change effort in the past five years found that only 38% of respondents said “the transformation was ‘completely’ or ‘mostly’ successful at improving performance.

After two decades of hearing about high failure rates related to change, it’s unsurprising that business leaders are wary of organizational change projects. Organizational psychologist Nick Tasler explained that these negative biases can create a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy.

“When a change project falls a day behind schedule, if leaders and employees believe that successful change is an unlikely outcome, they will regard this momentary setback as the dead canary in the coalmine of their change initiative. (Never mind the fact that three other initiatives are still on time or ahead of schedule),” he wrote in an article for Harvard Business Review. “Suddenly, employees disengage en masse, and then the change engine begins to sputter in both perception and reality.”

Yes, change is hard, and complex IT implementation projects, particularly ERP installations, can be particularly challenging. But it doesn’t mean they are doomed to failure.

So where do you start? How can you choose the right technology for your retail business, and ensure that the implementation project runs as smoothly as possible and you get the most from your investment?

Here are some of the main causes of failure in any organizational change initiative, and how can you prevent them from happening:

Mistake #1: Failure to plan

Issue: An outdated legacy system is impacting business performance, and it needs replacing quickly. In their rush to get the project going, business management jumps straight into the implementation without taking the time to develop a well-thought-out organizational change management plan.

Solution: Don’t be tempted to cut corners in your planning. Analyze your business, decide what should be prioritized, and understand all the different ways the project will impact your routines at every stage of the process. “Companies should start by analyzing their current and future requirements and processes,” says Gunnar Ingimundarson, Chief Consulting Officer at LS Retail. “How many software solutions are they currently using, and what are they used for? Map out the disparate solutions in the stack, alongside their dependencies and interconnections. The next step is to figure out where they can draw the biggest – or quickest – benefits. Is your POS system not generating the information you need on stock levels and product visibility? Or, are there integrations that repeatedly cause problems or break down? Do you experience missing data? Identify the area(s) where a new system would bring immediate value in terms of savings or returns. That’s where you should start, and that should determine your priorities.”

Once the priorities are set, break the project down into manageable chunks, from the pilot phase to initial implementation to company-wide rollout. Consider when it’s most appropriate to start each phase of the installation so you won’t place unnecessary strain on your business during busy times.

Mistake #2: Key stakeholders aren’t on board, or have unrealistic expectations

Issue: Management wants new technology in place quickly and only focuses on the end goals. They get frustrated by how long the project is taking and threaten to pull the plug. Or they wonder why the new software isn’t being adopted widely and successfully when they failed to communicate the changes to everybody in the business and get company-wide buy-in.

Solution: All stakeholders need to be committed to the project’s success right from the beginning, and to clearly understand the project’s scope and goals. “Internal resistance can kill even the best implementation project,” says Eric Miller, Regional Director for the Americas at LS Retail, building on his 13 years of experience in software implementations. “Get the buy-in from all stakeholders from the start, and make sure that the goals, objectives and expected end results of the project are clear and communicated from you to the stakeholders, and from the stakeholders to all the customer parties involved. It never pays off to sell a dream you can’t deliver on.”

Bring together personnel from different departments to understand their requirements and what outcomes they hope to achieve from the implementation. Similarly, they need to understand how much time should be devoted to a project like this and ensure project teams are given sufficient time to carry out the work. Set realistic timeframes from the start, and ensure everyone knows exactly what’s required of them.

Mistake #3: Unforeseen changes throw the project off track

Issue: Even the best-prepared projects encounter hurdles along the way, but if unforeseen issues arise and major milestones are missed, it can be tempting to throw in the towel and deem the entire project a failure.

Solution: Know that when you’re dealing with a large-scale IT implementation, it’s hard to plan for every eventuality. Be willing to adapt and take a different approach if it ultimately means the project will be a success. “What was deemed to be the best approach initially may need to change – this might even happen after the pilot is completed. I have seen companies that went through multiple pilots before finding the right balance. It’s a learning process, and it’s never over,” says Miller.

It’s worth learning everything you can from the pilot implementation. Instead of rushing on to roll out store #2, take a moment to see how the system is working and to identify any issues that you couldn’t have planned for in your testing environment. Success comes to those who take a considered approach.

Mistake #4: Picking the wrong technology partner

Issue: It may be tempting to go for the cheapest technology provider, but the cheapest upfront may not necessarily deliver the long-term business value you hoped for. You quickly realize they can’t help you achieve your outcomes because they lack drive or even expertise.

Solution: Before you enter a working relationship, ask yourself who your long-term partner should be and what knowledge they should have in order to support you throughout the project. Are they familiar with the retail industry, its requirements, and workings? Do they fully understand your business needs? Can they come up with ideas and solutions when a challenge arises? Once the pilot and system rollout are complete, will they provide the ongoing support that you’ll need?

It’s important to choose an IT partner that has deep knowledge of the industries you operate within. Their technology has to relate directly to your business needs and they need to appreciate the unique intricacies of what you need to be able to do. Consider how they tackle problems as they arise, and if they can foresee challenges and risks that you may not have considered. Your technology provider should be a long-term partner, someone you are confident working with, and that you trust to take the right decision for your success.

Mistake #5: A focus on short term wins rather than the bigger picture

Issue: The upfront costs of the project are high and management struggle to see the overall business value. They’re concerned about how quickly they’ll achieve a return on investment. They begin to think that it may be cheaper and easier to simply fix their legacy system and keep it ticking over for a few more years.

Solution: While it’s important to focus on the immediate benefits the new solution will bring to your business, it’s just as critical to consider the longer-term impacts too. You may be looking for your solution to quickly boost productivity, deliver business efficiencies, and achieve a fast return on investment, but consider other far-reaching benefits it can bring too. How will it positively change the way your employees work? That is, how many work hours will you save by automating tasks that are currently done by hand? How will it enable your business to scale and grow? What other functionality will you be able to add, which will impact the bottom line? “When calculating the software solution’s return on investment, it pays off to keep your perspective open,” Eric Miller suggests. “You can’t really put a price on a platform that will help you streamline the business, cut needless manual processes, and that can scale with your needs and adapt to changing consumer requirements.”

The above article was written by LS Retail on 27 August 2020.  The original copy can be access here.