On customer experience for information and knowledge projects

A few days ago I received the Good Experience newsletter with a feature story on customer experience. The article makes great reading about the importance of really understanding your customer and really listening to what they have to say. The article focuses on the retail customer experience but the same applies to a range of information, knowledge and content management projects, as well as general business activities.

Similarly, Roger Corbett, former CEO of Australian retail grocery giant Woolworths, was often out visiting stores and talking with staff and customers. He was even renowned for bringing back Woolworths shopping trolleys from the supermarket carpark on any of his regular store visits.

Being visible, interacting and listening to your customers (both external customers and internal customers like staff) should be the hallmark of any type of knowledge and information-based project. Unlike factory-process work popular among conveyor belt managers, knowledge workers have thoughts, opinions and motivations when they are at work.

Knowledge workers make decisions and they interact and communicate with other people. These workers will be more willing to approach new or adapted systems and processes when they are part of the process itself. And part of that “process” is in listening and understanding what they have to say, preferably based on a personal and trusting relationship. Maximising “what’s in it for me” is not just the maxim of the project manager, but your people as well.

And listening does transcend into action. The conversations do impact on the actual project and change management. The conversations do feed into the systematic project fundamentals of project design and implementation. PRINCE2 is no real prince if the kingdom is full of unwilling followers!

I was talking yesterday afternoon with a professional colleague lamenting the difficulties of information management implementations. He was asking (rhetorically) why it was so difficult to get implementations to work when the project plan and methodology had been so carefully worked out. And how come there was still confusion about workflow and work policies and procedures when the vendor-client relationship had been so professionally managed by the systems and implementation team (of one). He sighed deeply, shook his head, and said: “and now we have the system and we’re well into the implementation, but after that we need to start the change management process!”

Indeed.

I asked him if he’d thought about the change management issue even before he started the project. I asked him if he or anyone else had gone out to the staff to understand their workplace behaviour and motivations before the project had begun, or even during the Gantt chart timetable.

I asked if he was seen as someone trusted enough to have an honest and open conversation on the issues and opinions of staff before the proposed project took on its own momentum. He interrupted to remind me that stakeholder consultation was part of the project plan. I pointed out that consultation is really conversation – and not a one way dialogue or information dump devoid of personalisation and meaning.

He looked at me as if I was crazy!

“I don’t have time for all of that. I have a project to run, mileposts to get through, work to document, and a change management program to develop and roll-out!”.

I am sure everything he was thinking and everything he was doing made sense to him. I am sure he was truly earnest about implementing a system with the best of processes and the best of project fundamentals. My final question was whether it made sense to the customer (the staff) – his internal stakeholders who would actually be the ones using the new system and working with it in their jobs every day.

According to the Good Experience story (and translating the message to your internal customers and clients): “Even so, few companies actually do [listen]. Listening to customers is DIFFICULT. I think it’s just too plain and simple for many companies to really commit to. You can just imagine executives thinking: something so mundane as talking to another person who happens to be my customer – surely that couldn’t be the key to success, when there are so many newer, flashier solutions available?”

Quite.

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3 responses to “On customer experience for information and knowledge projects

  1. Brad, in a related but slightly different context, the other day I was talking about the difference between installation and implementation. From your story, while it talks about “implementation”, if change management is just an activity that happens near the end then really sounds more like an installation. This will have a knock on effect on the overall outcome, even if the technical installation goes well.

  2. Hi Brad,

    Your colleague told you that he didn’t have enough time, what’s the solution. Should he not focus on the overhead of Project Management (creating plans, gantt charts, etc…) and engage in longer conversations with the stakeholders/clients/team members. Should he hire someone else?

    The problem is there, the solution is there, but I can’t see how the solution can be implemented knowing that your friend simply doesn’t have time.

  3. Yes, you’re right to consider the time aspect. It is the classic project management “triple constraint” – time, quality, resources – you can have two but the third is usually not possible. Therefore, if you don’t have time, the impact falls on quality and resourcing.

    My friend needed to work through some of the issues before the implementation, and perhaps even before purchase of the system. The outcome of not having done the preparation work is that therehave become even bigger problems during the implementation phase. He also needed to consider change management from the start and not think of it in terms as a concluding phase.

    Perhaps his lack of time was the reason why he didn’t do some of the people issues but I have seen people issues ignored before even when time was available. The people issues were really the crux of my post.

    What needs to happen is that he needs more resources to help him complete the implementation and really work at the change management at this stage of the game.

    My final point is that unless people issues are identified within the project plan, resourcing and timing issues will often fall short of the actual project needs, making things even more difficult later on.

    Regards,
    Brad

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