Systems Survival Guide
for the "Systemically-Challenged" Executive
by Michele Pavlyak, MBA, CFPIM, PMP
Well over 80% of software projects are either canceled or experience significant time and cost overruns. This results in an annual added cost of nearly $150 billion to national software-project expenditures. Further, this data is skewed, with cancellations and overruns in large organizations in excess of 90%. Even when projects are completed, many no longer even resemble their original specification requirements.
This book is a culmination of my experience. It's a summary of "street" knowledge I have stumbled across in my encounters with a variety of organizations as they undertake one of the most daunting of exercises-selecting, purchasing and implementing software systems. Having personally managed major systems initiatives, performing "damage control" on some that were already begun and resurrecting many others that had stalled or failed, some strong patterns have clearly and consistently emerged. These recommendations are built directly from my clients'-as well as my own-sometimes painful learning experiences about what works and what doesn't where the software selection, purchase and implementation process is concerned. Every systems initiative is a growth experience, regardless of the level of knowledge you have when you begin.
My goal here is to write a book in reverse, and, as negative as it might sound, to teach you exactly what potential pitfalls await you. This book closely scrutinizes many patterns that have surfaced during the system casualties that exist - and there are many - and to examine in hindsight what contributed to those results. You can benefit from knowing about those experiences before you take the software leap in your own organization. These are smart companies we're talking about-in a variety of industries, all highly successful, growing and thriving organizations who are all so new at the software game that they're not yet far enough up the learning curve to always be able to predict the not-so-stellar outcome of their actions.
This book is not a guide to selecting the system itself. In many ways that's the easy part, and it's also the part that's frequently been exposed in articles, presentations and the like. And, believe it or not, your limited knowledge of systems will greatly work to your advantage. It will help you immeasurably in keeping your unbiased investment perspective and in treating your software purchase and rollout in the identical manner you manage your organization's other initiatives. As a systemically-challenged executive, you have the unique advantage of not letting your knowledge of systems detail influence your business decision. This book is written in English rather than in "System-ese" and is designed to completely dispel the mystique that, at this early stage of the software-industry existence, otherwise accompanies systems initiatives.
Systems Survival Guide for the "Systemically-Challenged" Executive is a tool for you as the champion of the initiative to use in managing your selection, purchase and implementation methods by capturing what works and what doesn't. It contains "nuts and bolts" pieces of advice designed to help your organization to carry out its systems initiative with minimal disruption to your company (i.e., in the way which best maintains and leverages your resources and morale.) You'll notice that it's brief, compact and straightforward, which is exactly what your initiative needs to be.
This book is designed to be a reference guide of information that is deliberately compressed and concise. A first-time cover-to-cover read will give you a flavor for the overall recommendations. Then go back and read each section in more detail as your initiative progresses.
This book summarizes the generic lessons learned from a vast array of clients in a variety of industries. My objective is to simplify the overwhelming information and choices available to you, and to provide step-by-step guidance for your selection, purchase and implementation process. You may find that your organization might occasionally carry some out-of-the-ordinary reasons why a different approach here and there may work to your advantage. However, my overall suggestions are nevertheless designed to provide you with a rapid learning curve and allow you to make a major leap into your systems endeavors.
This book also references the organizational dynamics that accompany this incredibly sensitive undertaking, and offers suggestions for how to best manage those dynamics for minimal disruption, maximum investment, and organizational success.
While the body of the book does not place a dollar value on the recommendations, the words of advice are designed to save your organization inordinate amounts of money. Total expenditures for system purchase and implementation are frequently in the millions of dollars, sometimes in the tens or hundreds of millions, and occasionally even a billion dollars or more, depending on the size and complexity of the business. These are actual dollars that might otherwise be spent on lost efficiency, development expenses, meeting time, turnover, loss of morale, and a whole host of other effects to which even the smartest organization and organizational leadership can otherwise fall victim. Parts of the book may sound negative in the sense that I speak from the perspective of what actions to avoid because of what devastating consequences those actions may have. However, remember that system purchases and implementations are a phenomenal investment of money, time, and careers. The suggestions are directed at minimizing the immense level of inherent risk.
Hopefully you'll incorporate the book's recommendations into your own company's upcoming plans. It is a useful guide not only for the systemically-challenged executive, but also as a step-by-step handbook for those who are taking part in your company's systems initiative, including Members of the Steering Committee, the Project Manager, and Members of the Project Team. I'm sure there are many companies out there who wish that they had had a similar guide which would have, as they look in retrospect, led them to vastly better results.
To those companies I have worked with, I thank you for your candor in sharing your experiences so freely. It is through your feedback that this book was born.