Monday, July 06, 2015

Enterprise Software's Life Lessons

Well, I ain't always right but I've never been wrong.
Seldom turns out the way it does in a song.
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.
                               - From Jerry Garcia's "Scarlet Begonias"

Somebody asked the other day what I've learned from from 25-plus years of working with, implementing, and developing enterprise software applications.  Kind of a life's lessons thing.  A pretty innocent question, but one that got me thinking.  And the more I thought, the longer the list became. I've been shown the light several times, usually in the strangest places and when I least expected it.  So the list grew to the point that I thought it might be worth sharing.  The list is not organized into subject areas, importance, thought streams, or sand piles.  I just wrote 'em down as I thought of them.

One caveat:  you may get the impression that my perspective here is a little negative...dark even.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I love my job, I love being in this industry, and I love what I do and who I do it with...every day.  But, like much of what we learn, most of these ideas came from painful experiences.  I just wrote 'em the way I learned 'em.

So, without further delay:

  1. The Prime Directive: at no time shall anyone interfere with the natural progression of a project by introducing unnecessarily advanced technologies or over-engineered features.
  2. Nobody buys enterprise applications for the technology.  They buy for desired outcomes…end states.  Everything else is white noise.  The software vendor that best understands those desired outcomes and how to achieve them usually wins the business.  Enterprise software is a set of tools, not a finished house.
  3. If you’re in product management or product development, the most important word in the English language is “No”.
  4. If project success is measured by achieving the originally desired outcomes on time and within budget, enterprise applications projects (both developing and implementing) only succeed 39% of the time.  This stuff is hard.
  5. In the world of SaaS providers, 4 measures matter:  A) subscription revenue growth; B) subscription recurring revenue (often referred to in the negative sense as “churn”); C) percentage of subscription customers who have “gone live”; D) the time from original subscription to “go live” date.
  6. If you’re a consultant, your client will “vote you off the island” more often than not…usually at the next speed bump encountered.  It’s similar to being the manager of a sports team…the team manager’s reign usually ends with termination because something isn’t going right.  Don’t worry about it.  Be as good as you can be at doing what you do, be honest and transparent, and understand that it’s just the nature of the business.  So travel light.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  7. In the SaaS market, good product gets you a seat at the table.  But good service keeps you there.
  8. Usable tools to compliment enterprise applications are just as important as the applications themselves.
  9. There will always be glitches at launch that did not appear in testing.  Keep cool, tune out the screaming, and work the issue.
  10. When estimating a project for internal or external customers, the required deadline is never negotiable.  Someone in leadership stuck that stick in the sand long before you learned about the need.  It’s not changing until it slips.
  11. When estimating a project for internal or external customers, the required budget is never negotiable.  Someone in leadership stuck that stick in the sand long before you learned about the need.  It’s not changing until the need for change is manifested.
  12. Fast, inexpensive, restrained (in scope) and elegant (simple but effective) projects with small teams are much more likely to succeed than projects with big scope, long schedules, bug budgets and big teams.
  13. If you find yourself speaking more than 20 percent of the time in any given exchange, you may want to consider shutting your yap and listening for a few minutes.
  14. If all of your stakeholders can’t describe your project in 30 seconds or less, you have organizational change managements issues to resolve before you can hope to deliver.
  15. Whenever your budget burn rate varies more than 15 percent (plus or minus), you have a problem that must be corrected before it grows worse.
  16. A great user experience is no longer a competitive advantage; it’s simply a requirement for entering the market.
  17. There is a “love cycle” in enterprise software implementation projects.  Early on, it’s a love fest.  The love fest shortly becomes an “us against them, but we’re stuck with each other” atmosphere.  Finally comes the “thank goodness this thing is over.”  The same cycle always applies, whether the project is successful or not.  It’s just a symptom of the stress that comes from taking the risks represented by the project itself.
  18. Packaged integrations out of the box don’t work.  They’ll need revising or rebuilding. Just build it into the plan up front.
  19. Be prepared.
  20. Always, always, always follow the money.
  21. Customizing packaged software is the most difficult and expensive choice.  Be sure you understand what you can accomplish within the functionality of the software before you decide to customize.
  22. Burn your calories where it matters.  Moving buttons on a screen does not change delivery of a desired outcome.  Tweaking a business process might.
  23. Ease of use trumps depth of features every time. Complexity is not a sign of sophistication.  The most important product and project decisions often revolve around what to leave out…minimalism generally breeds success.
  24. When you reveal innovation, you have about a 24-month window before a competitor does it better, faster or cheaper.
  25. When you feel like you’re out of the communication loop, it’s probably to late to do better with communicating - the vote of no confidence has already taken place and you’re on the way out.  So, right from the beginning of any effort, keep in mind that you can never over-communicate.  Listen and talk - it’s the key to gain the confidence of others.
  26. The customer is not always right.  Nevertheless, listen to, empathize with, and guide your customers (in that order)…regardless.
  27. Reporting and business intelligence are best planned earlier rather than later.  And information without context is just data.
  28. Mobile matters:  if you can’t offer productivity from a phone, it doesn’t much matter what else you offer.
  29. A project leader’s influence is inversely proportional to the size of the budget.
  30. If you’re fast because you’re quick, that’s good.  If you’re fast because you hurry, that’s bad.  The former indicates efficiency, while the latter just breeds mistakes.  As famed college basketball coach John Wooden often said:  "Be quick, but don’t hurry."
So, how about you?  Have some pearls of wisdom to share with the class?  Comment away!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fantastic post. Should be required reading for a CIO and the system integrators.