I recently heard about a person in the military who was described as "all Mach but no vector."1 When asked what this expression meant, the general replied that the person in question always seemed to be going 100 miles per hour, but direction seemed optional.

Unfortunately, these days we often witness this same occurrence in information technology-driven customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives. The person in charge speeds down the implementation trail with little or no guidance from the business community about what problem(s) he or she is expected to be solving. This occurrence is not new to the information technology (IT) industry, but that doesn't mean it's any less disturbing.

We have seen this happen repeatedly in the data warehouse world (e.g., "If you build it, they will come."), and now we often see CRM technologies being implemented with the same detachment from the business community.

This predicament usually stems from one or more of the following situations:

  • IT assumes that they can divine the business requirements (e.g., "We know more about the existing systems than they do.").
  • IT assumes that the technology in question is so good that, once in place, it will solve any of the business problems (e.g., "We're jump- starting the sales force automation project by giving each representative a brand new laptop computer.").
  • The business community demands that IT provide a system/solution, but fails to participate in its development (e.g., "We told them what we need; why can't they just leave us alone and get busy implementing it?").

In any event, the result is little or no business community involvement. All Mach ­ no vector.
The problem is that if you don't have business community buy-in, ownership and participation from the start, the chances of obtaining it once the project gets rolling are pretty slim. The solution, though, often equates to choosing the lesser of two evils ­ either continue without guidance or bring the project to a temporary halt.

What will happen if the project continues without guidance? Like a rocket without fins, the odds are very high that it will hit something, just not the target. That is, it will be a partial or complete failure. Even if the project is delivered on time and on budget, it is likely to have no relevance to or even alignment with the needs, strategies or goals of the business. Unfortunately, this leads to diminishing business community confidence that IT can ever deliver on its promises.

Again, the alternative is to regroup. There's an expression, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Or, staying with the earlier theme, "If you find yourself going Mach 3 with no user guidance, slow down or stop the engines and get some guidance."

Don't hesitate to go back to the genesis of the project. Someone somewhere must have decided that the initiative was worth a budget allocation. Determine how the project came into being, what its drivers were and who benefits most from its implementation. Who started it? What was their justification for the request? Why did they think it was needed?

Obviously, this person must be high enough in the organization to approve the necessary funding and resource allocation. Once you identify him or her, have that person take ownership of the project. The owner cannot simply rubber-stamp it, ensure its funding, wash his or her hands and then return to critique the finished product.

Require the owner to provide the compelling business reasons for the initiative. It must become the owner's responsibility to articulate and justify the need, make available the business users needed to participate and share the responsibility of making the project a success. In addition, constant association with the project is needed to guarantee the proper positioning and support of the team and project, as well as the project's ultimate success within the organization as a whole.

It is also the owner's responsibility to ensure that the initiative is indeed aligned with the vision and goals of the organization undertaking a CRM shift. Furthermore, it is the owner's responsibility to ensure that the initiative will move the organization in the right direction and that the remainder of the organization understands how and where it will fit into the overall customer-centric strategy.

Don't allow yourself to be trapped in a situation where your business community supporters will not help you. You probably won't succeed in that kind of environment. If you have to wait or do something else before the need becomes critical enough to warrant real business participation, then so be it. It will be worth the wait.

1. This expression and the story behind it came from my friend Donald Soulsby of Computer Associates, Canada. Thanks, Don!

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