Planning for complex rollouts: All about nose-guessing?

I am observing everyday that there are more and more organisations now focusing on harmonising their CRM process globally. I mean the design a common set of processes, enabled by a technical platform, to be deployed across the organisation and across the world, with minimun local adjustments.

Precisely like we used to do with ERPs in the past.

I also see that, far from being reflective, many of those organisations often operate in a surprisingly ad-hoc manner when planning the sequencing and deployments of large and complex digital transformation programs.

I am always trying to simplify complexity, breaking it down in smaller pieces of work, and as a result my definition of a deployment approach is fairly simple. It is about choosing between a number of possible options where there is some level of uncertainty. I believe a good plan directly engages with the business users and their acceptance or not of the new ways of working, processes, and systems. In short, I truly think that the overall success of the program greatly depends on a well-designed rollout plan.

The issue: The nose-guessing game

The problem I often observe, always with good interest and a bit of smile to be frank, is that many organisations are generally underestimating or over-simplifying this exercise. I see in so many cases that it leads to a varying combination of a semi-formal evaluation approach and of deliberate nose-guessing. In some cases close to 80% nose-guessing. We always see the end-result, never the approach to it. Would you agree?

I have been working In the Nordics for more than a decade. Firms usually follow a similar pattern: The first roll outs are pretty straightforward, targeting the neighbouring Nordic countries. Thereafter, the following deployment activities are most likely to be either the UK or the USA depending on the business strategy. Then, only then, the nose-guessing game starts. The central questions for organisations become: How to sequence Spain, Italy, and France for instance? How to prioritise between Asia and Europe? In which order? Can we group them?

In some other cases, top managers directly intervene in the process. Their influence can be important, however selective. In practice, anecdotally, the whole plan may come from the mind of one person. It is then simply transmitted as a series of decisions, never challenged, and people are forced to accept it.

What is needed is an open-mind exploration of the various options. And many programs are just not ready. They lack a consistent approach. The definition of compelling criteria, their weighting, and the formalization of a rigorous analysis for prioritization and sequencing is non-existent or not followed. This is the problem.

The solution

I have been heavily involved in many large and complex transformation programs across my career. I have seen what works well, what does not work at all, or what will clearly lead to strong difficulties.

I have learned that in order to design and manage an executable rollout plan in a systematic and control way, we need to follow disciplined and structured approach. The key steps typically include the definition and agreement on the criteria, the associated weights, the preliminary ranking of potential scenarios, the assessment and prioritisation of those scenarios, and eventually the decision process.

The first step I like to start with, is to agree on the criteria against which each option will be assessed. When working with my clients, I usually bring to the table a pre-defined list of categories and criteria, that I have consolidated from best practices. It is a way to start the discussion, not from a blank paper, and help the activity practically. Stakeholders may have different views on what the most important criteria should be. So, this all the time very good discussions. Surely.

Those criteria usually fall into 6 categories:

  1. Benefits (e.g. Time to business),
  2. flexibility (e.g. to integrate business units)
  3. Risks
  4. Speed (e.g. Before first release)
  5. Degree of change
  6. Complexity (business, people, or technical)

Once the criteria agreed and selected, one of the most energizing activities starts: The definition and evaluation of each deployment scenario against the agreed criteria. There are many options possible. Usually, we start with aligning the possible scenarios with the business strategy, and then select or reject. We continue until we have assessed all options.

I like those sessions with the stakeholders. They are very interactive.

As you see, all those elements, taken together, operationalize a complex deployment strategy. They balance the business objectives with the timeline, the risks, and other attributes. It gives everyone the confidence that we have approached it in a structured and risk-aware manner.

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My final would be that the program itself will not be jepardised if we do not use a structured approach. But, rather, it will make things more difficult overall: More difficult to manage and control, less flexible to adapt… Ultimately, this may impact the time plan and the budget, eventually diminishing the business case.

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About the Author

Didier Dessens

CRM and Digital Experience Advisory

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