IT – It’s a People Business

It’s not easy building and launching successful IT systems.  You must have a firm grasp of technology.  You must understand a customer’s business well enough to know where a system can add value.  But you must also understand the people in an organization and how the project should be rolled out and socialized.

When preparing for a system launch, I often think about responses to the new system and how the people in the organization might react.  Let’s face it, we’re creatures of habit and most people don’t like change.  So it’s understandable that a new system will encounter some resistance.  The pie chart below shows a typical distribution of reactions to a new system.

There will be a few “Early Adopters” who see the benefits of the system. They were probably the folks who went to bat to get the new system funded. There will be another group of folks, “The Resistors” who doubt the system will improve their job. They may even view the new system as a threat and would prefer that the initiative fail. Usually, most folks don’t have a strong opinion about the system.  These “Fence Sitters” are the equivalent of undecided voters during an election. It is imperative that you get this constituency to accept the system during rollout.

The Productivity Trough

This brings me to another common phenomenon for IT projects: The Productivity Trough. After implementing a new system, it is not unusual for the business to experience a drop in efficiency. There may be myriad reasons for the drop-off, but they generally revolve around training and/or a reluctance to let go of older processes until the new system is established. It is vitally important that you help the business climb out of the Productivity Trough and power them onto the upslope. If you allow the business to stay in the productivity trough, the “Fence Sitters” will move over to the “Resistors” camp. And without strong support from above, your entire project may be doomed to mediocrity or all-out failure.

During a recent project we had a brief dip in productivity immediately after launch. The system was used to capture bench top data generated during reagent manufacturing. Initially, there was resistance because we were displacing the familiar paper batch records. There was even an incident where an incorrectly entered lot code caused some unnecessary rework. We determined that the best way to ensure correct lot code capture was to institute bar codes. Within a few weeks, we’d introduced bar codes and the early resistance turned to wholehearted support. In fact, the business now wants to convert their entire operation over to the new method and is having to be patient while the site administrator configures the necessary records.

So when you are implementing that new system for your company or on behalf of a client, don’t just concentrate on the technical aspects of the system. Remember to consider the social aspects of system adoption and to understand how the new system will affect the different constituencies. After all, IT is a people business.