Even though the characteristics of the review users will vary by organization, we use the following guidelines:
• The feedback team should be selected at the start of the project, and explicitly authorized by their managers to spend an hour a week (or whatever you need) for however many weeks the project needs them. Try to keep the team stable for at least one release cycle.
• The team should be about equal thirds: power users/computer sophisticates, luddites/passive-resisters, and people who work closely with another system in addition to the CRM.
• The team should be reasonably centralized. Even though much of the review should be done over the Web (and in some cases must be remotely to be realistic), it's easier to coordinate and schedule the sessions when the team isn't on the road or scattered across several time zones.
• The team should be comprised of people who have the bosses' ear. Decisions and approval cycles go faster if the boss trusts their representative, better yet if the boss delegates the authority on small decisions to the team member. Beware fake delegation, where the boss overrules or contradicts their delegate!
It is typically much faster to collect user review feedback in individual meetings. Of course group sessions would be a better use of engineering's time, but the scheduling impact of a single meeting can be far worse. It's easy to lose a week's time just trying to coordinate a 5-way meeting, and the resulting traffic jam effects can stall parts of the project and idle your engineers.
In CRM projects, management decisions about the four Ps (priorities, policy directives, people, and process) can be pivotal to CRM project success. The more important the decisions, the longer it takes to get the meeting...and the bigger the schedule impact of decision changes.
So it's critical that the project lead be able to tap the political power of the CRM executive sponsor as well as top IT leadership. The specifics depend on your corporate culture, but it's generally better to have short, quick decision cycles and avoid the "summit meeting" impulse. Of course, sometimes a big meeting devoted to CRM is required, but too often these are non-productive because the focus tends to wander away from the specifics of what you need decided. We've all lived through meetings like this where decisions from previous meetings were overturned, almost invariably clobbering the schedule.
No matter how executive decisions are made, it's best if there is a signoff sheet at the meeting, and the decision published on your Wiki to reduce the chances of misinterpretation and eliminate plausible denial. Trust me, your schedule will thank me six months from now.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.