The moment a CRM project goes live should be an excuse for celebration: a milestone successfully reached, the culmination of weeks or months of effort. Yet all too often it slips by like an unwanted birthday, unnoticed and unheralded, writes Liquid Thought's Roger Strain.
The reasons are often quite understandable – most projects suffer some degree of scope creep and the go-live date may have been pushed out a few times. By the time it's over the project team may want nothing more than to move on. But offering an anticlimax rather than an achievement means a lost opportunity to strengthen the team and cement user buy-in to your system.
In fact, failing to mark a clear go-live moment can sabotage the success of the entire project. The risk is greatest when a new system is slowly faded in while an old system is run in parallel. This can fatally undermine user confidence: "If this thing is so great, why aren't we using it?" (This is not to say that redundancy is a bad idea – but never let it look like lack of confidence).
Celebrating a switch-off moment, or at the very least the milestones in phasing out the old system, punctuates an otherwise endless stream of change and can reward and motivate user acceptance.
Celebrations can also give reluctant users the push they may need to let go of the old and familiar to embrace the new – it's hard to rise to a challenge that hasn't been set. Taking a leap, on the other hand, can be positively thrilling if the risk is acknowledged and well rewarded – and sometimes applause and a bit of fan-fare can be more than adequate reward.
If the project has been particularly challenging or difficult, there's all the more reason to celebrate when milestones are achieved. Don't sneak things through in the hopes of not making a fuss – again, this will undermine confidence by suggesting that you don't trust either your users or your choice of technology.
In long projects, it's important to establish significant milestones early in the planning process. Tackle the big-win issues in a simple, effective Phase 1, then announce and celebrate your success – and the ground is laid for Phase 2. Not all user needs and wants have to be met in the first phase; but if there's a clear, trustworthy project plan showing when they will be met, acceptance will come much easier.
This assumes, of course, that you have listened to and heard your users very early in the process – an essential foundation of any successful system implementation. Discover and meet the greatest needs as actually expressed by users – not as imagined by their managers.
Change management is one of the most important, but also most neglected, success factors in CRM implementation. If it's not possible or affordable to run a full-scale change management programme, then at least plan your project and its milestones to win user acceptance and celebrate the project's achievements.