FRAMINGHAM, 23 JUNE 2010 - CRM projects can have some very tricky technical elements, particularly when it comes to integrating with other customer-facing and internal systems. They can also be quite labor intensive when it comes to normalizing, deduping, cleansing, and converting data. But in many CRM projects, those issues aren't the biggest contributors to schedule slips. Look closely: the larger the CRM project, the more likely that the delays are coming from outside of IT. No, it's not time to beat up your vendors. It's time to engage more closely with your users and project sponsors.
Why? Because a key problem in CRM projects is getting permission to proceed. The team is waiting for user feedback, executive policy decisions, or management approval. CRM projects are much more vulnerable to this issue than most enterprise applications because the requirements and business processes are much more variable than, for example, an accounting or HR system. Since CRM systems provide the most business benefit when they are tightly aligned with business policies and personal preferences of the sales and marketing VPs, fit really matters. Organizational politics really matter. And some of the priorities will change with every reorg...which in sales and marketing can happen pretty frequently.
So, approval cycles — quick, definitive, and broadly communicated — are a key success factor for tight CRM projects. There are two levels of approval cycle — and the project lead can only do one of them by him/herself. The second one, senior management has to help with.
User adoption is a key metric for CRM systems. You don't have to believe in Agile to know that engaging users early and collecting their feedback on a regular basis are the best ways to avoid waste and rework. In our CRM projects, we want users to try out features-in-progress at least once a week.
Why so often? Because users are busy people, and they tend to forget what they told you. Further, as their personal goals and priorities shift over time, it can be tough to even keep the users on topic (sometimes they'll give you feedback on a different system than the one you're working on). Asking for feedback incrementally, and publishing user feedback in a Wiki, will improve the quality and relevance of their input.
It's also important to get feedback from the right users. Sometimes, the people who have time to spare for a functional usability session aren't the ones who matter. Other times, people who just love to be critics aren't setting realistic standards. Choosing the right users is something of an art, but an art that the project lead must learn.
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