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Project Management Systems: Setting Up For Success

In previous blog posts and Beyond the Creative presentations my colleagues and I have stressed both the importance and the difficulty of successfully implementing project management or digital asset management systems. Over the last year we have seen and analyzed multiple failures...or near failures…by some of our largest clients. In this blog I would like to share some of the root causes of those failures in hopes you can learn from their mistakes and increase your chances of success.

One of the biggest reasons for the failures was not including cross-functional teams in requirement gathering and throughout the implementation process. There were various reasons for not being inclusive:

  • One key reason is that it is more difficult to craft solutions by team consensus than from top-down decision-making. Taking into account differing views and building consensus takes more time.
  • Another reason is scarce resources. Involving teams requires a significant investment of non-utilized time, and some teams feel they can’t afford to spare those resources.
  • And finally, some leaders feel it is a waste of time, because they have a full understanding of the organization and its requirements.


Whatever the reason, this is a mistake. If cross-functional teams are not included they won’t have a vested interest in the success of the implementation, and the chances of successful adoption will be reduced. It’s also a mistake because you may be missing important requirements.

Another big reason for failure is a lack of understanding of how these systems should be set up. Face it: most creative leaders will have the opportunity to implement a new system once in their career, if at all. They have not had the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. To compound this problem many tool vendors either don’t have the expertise nor the resources to consult with a client on best practices and process improvement. Too often, after the agreement is signed, they point you to training documentation or canned videos and say “Good luck...feel free to call us with any questions.” Even a great system implemented poorly may fail.

Another reason for failure is to allow the enterprise IT department to select and implement the tool. While IT involvement in selection and implementation is critical, they may not be the best stakeholder to lead. They do not have expertise in creative operations and they may have a vested interest in the software selected. They may have enterprise licenses available and familiarity with particular tools, but these may not be the best tools to support creative operations. How many of you have been approached by IT with SharePoint as a solution to your project management needs? Creative operations need unique tools like integrated web-based approval routing or digital asset management.

Doing a poor job of requirements gathering prior to tool selection is another potential mistake. Too often we have seen clients select a tool based upon how pretty the user interface, how many things it can do or even how much they liked the salesman and the demo. But what is important is how well it supports your process. Often much of a system’s potential functionality is not used and may even serve to complicate the user experience. For example if you chose an agency management system you would likely get accounting tools like general ledger, check writing, accounts payable and receivable, balance sheet and income statements, but a typical in house agency would not use this functionality (which doesn't mean you shouldn’t select it, just that you should ignore or turn off this functionality). You could also end up having less flexibility to configure the tool to meet your unique requirements all because of functionality you may not use.

Finally, any system will require a system administrator and a project management team to shepherd projects through the production process. It is the nature of business that even the most well-conceived project plans change throughout the course of a project. Traffic, project managers or account managers need to be tasked to update project plans. Teams without this role will struggle because schedules are not accurate and users quickly lose confidence in the system.

As you can see there are many challenges in successfully implementing a system like this. Make sure you don’t underestimate these challenges and make sure you have the proper resources allocated. These projects are costly and highly visible so investing in this effort up front is critical to their success. Let us know if we can help you successfully implement your new project management system.


Dan Mucha

Cella Senior Consultant Dan Mucha brings more than two decades of results-oriented thinking and a record of success to bear on every challenge. His background includes co-founding and guidance of a vanguard marketing services firm to 13 consecutive profitable years—with record performance in productivity and increased shareholder value. As a consultant Dan helps organizations with business unit strategy & planning; process evaluation & re-engineering; and financial/workflow system evaluation, design & implementation.

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