Friday, September 10, 2010

ECM Critical Success Factors

Of late, I've been thinking of some of the challenges related to implementing large-scale ECM programs and projects, and would like to extend some of the thinking in this very useful presentation created by AIIM, and host of other contributions on the 'net.

I suggest that for ECM to be successful:

Senior decision makers must be able to think strategically.
In knowledge-based organizations, it is very difficult to quantify the benefits of ECM projects that are broad / enterprise wide in scope (v.s targeted to a specific work group/isolated, well scoped problem). Highly improvisational/collaborative knowledge work, unlike production work, is hard to monitor / measure objectively for changes in efficiency and effectiveness. Given the complexity of organizations and the environments they operate in, cause and effect relationships are almost impossible to draw concretely in advance. Senior managers need to think with the end in mind, make investment and corrective action decisions based on weak signals (information, often anecdotal, that emerges from local intelligence and extended social networks often disconnected from the organization's structure), less than complete quantitative information, and a mix of abstract thinking and common sense.

Strong, strategic subject matter expertise leadership must be available start to finish. 
There is no "cookbook" for ECM.  Every organization is different, and what worked in one situation will not automatically work in another.  Technologies vary, organizational culture varies, degree of existing internal experience and capabilities vary. What is essential is to have a strong, experienced subject matter expert leading the initiative who has the ability to help the project team access and adapt proven practices to the situation / context of the project, to translate abstract concepts into practical reality, and who can develop / promote common understanding about the overall solution design across client groups, business and technology team members.

Learning must be explicitly built into the project plan.
Given the complex nature of both broad based ECM implementation and the organizations within which implementation takes place, any confidence in the accuracy of detail long range plans that cover the entire project / program from start to finish is misplaced. It could be argued that rigorous detailed planning for later / final project phases is misplaced as well. ECM is best managed as a learning oriented project, with explicit learning / after action review meetings scheduled in the plan after key project phases / milestones, and a "re-planning" step identified immediately afterward.  This step can also be synchronized with funding requests to continue progressing with the project / program.  Add explicit activities to ensure that delivery partners (e.g. IM/IT/Communications)  and program/project governance groups (e.g steering committee / working groups) learn what is required to fulfill their responsibilities and make critical, timely decisions as the project progresses.  ECM projects/programs are social systems that constantly change as time progresses, and planning and management of the project must accommodate.

Promote realistic expectations about plan accuracy and project outcomes and benefits.
In keeping with the above point, it is essential to resist the urge to tell "good news stories," to set unrealistic expectations about the degree of certainty of plan and outcome scope, and to tell decision makers, and staff in general, what the project team thinks these two important audiences want to hear. It is always difficult for people who are well paid project management or subject matter "experts" to admit they are unsure.  With the stage well set for a learning project, the personal/reputational risk is minimized, but the old adage "it is what it is" really must apply.

Gear the project to organizational readiness / capacity for change for both the project and the outcome.
If a documented or implicit planning assumption is that "people will be available when required," challenge it strenuously. Challenge equally any plans that assume that some form of homogeneous common understanding (or even interest) about ECM/IM exists across project governance and target audience, because it's rarely the case. If the plan is based on an assumption of 100% availability for full-time staff, challenge that as well. One of the scarcest resources in any organization is attention. There are so many competitors for attention all the time, and no one can ever be sustainably 100% focused/available for a project.  ECM initiatives constantly compete with other strategic and operational priorities for attention. Employees still have an interest related to their operational roles and responsibilities, and are often drawn into related conversations or meetings.  Even external consultants have responsibilities associated with their home organizations, and are rarely truly 100% focused/dedicated. Lead ECM with organizational change management and communications, and embed these activities throughout the project plan. The very first step should be to ensure that a proper knowledge and awareness foundation is laid for key decision makers and stakeholders before proceeding.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I see companies all of the time block innovations because they can’t get their heads around the benefit of a new way of doing something--- the status quo police are out to get you. See this posting in Forbes magazine