Your own internal expertise, the complexity and maturity of your systems, and your business culture and decision-making processes, will to a great extent drive what’s possible in successful project delivery.

Depending on where your business sits in the project maturity model as a business, will have an impact on how you use external expertise.

Sometimes you have a nagging, uncomfortable feeling that something is ‘not right’ but you can’t say exactly what. Sometimes you’re clear about where you need to go but unsure about the path to take and what you’ll need to get there. Sometimes you have a clear purpose and confidence in what needs to change but no internal capacity to add another project.

We say that self-knowledge is a favour to others, in that it allows you to inform and educate other people on how to best interact with you.

Self-knowledge about you as a business is the same.

Businesses that are beginners at a project implementation or a software selection will often exhibit certain characteristics. More experienced businesses will present differently. Where does your business sit?

Businesses use external partners differently depending on what you need to do and how experienced your own team is. All businesses we work with are experts in their current business practices and knowledgeable of their process, but not all are experts at bringing together multiple external parties and internal stakeholders to deliver a project.

Internal IT teams

Businesses who are beginners at project management will typically have either a very lean IT department or sometimes they’ll have no IT specialists in their business. Sometimes they have lean teams and often they have a low understanding of infrastructure and how systems are set up works. The other characteristic that they often exhibit is that they are inexperienced in engaging with vendors and managing vendors to a set of criteria or delivery date. This includes briefing vendors well so that they can perform well.

By contrast, businesses that are more experienced and evolved in this area typically would have a process or a set of criteria that a vendor needs to be able to comply with in order to be brought on board. They would have an onboarding process and an active and clear vendor management way of working. They would have SLAs or KPIs that are clearly understood by the vendor, and a cadence of reporting and information sharing between the client and the vendor. That usually requires a strong panel of internal experts who understand the relationship, have a clear path about what the roadmap looks like, and can hold a vendor to account.

Complexity and Maturity of Systems

Just because something is complex doesn’t mean it’s mature. Mature, to us, is a marker for the depth of use businesses are getting from their systems. Are the systems that they have being used widely? Is the data accurately maintained and relied on? Does everyone across the business buy into the same data (or are there differences of opinion about who’s numbers are ‘right’?) Mature uses of systems have extracted every bit of value that they can from their investment.

Complexity is sometimes born of the desire to cater for every scenario in a process or from different people not consulting with one another across the end to end. It sounds counterintuitive but making a system simple is often a lot of really hard work at thinking through how people will interact with and use systems.

We often see in more beginner businesses, a high dependency on multiple spreadsheets, and manual processes that export data from systems and import them into other systems. This can take the form of manipulation of data into different formats to make things ‘fit’ or a critical part of the business owned by one person in one spreadsheet.

When financial information is fragmented across different systems, for example, sales are reported from one place and inventory from another information can get diluted and become difficult to manage. When businesses are managing this well, up to date, daily financial impact-type of transactions are in the system of record and reports are easily generated.

More advanced businesses are likely still using spreadsheets, but more judiciously. Their spreadsheets are not serving as a substitute ERP system. Their financials are up to date on any given day, and running a report that gives a position on the business doesn’t take lots of people having to ‘check’ or update spreadsheets.

The other key characteristic here is usually that there’s clarity around the ‘system of record’ (or sometimes we say primary system) for each type of key piece of data that runs the business. For example, customer records are kept in X system, sales records are kept in Y system, financial records are kept in Z system, so that it’s really clear which system is the owner of that dataset, even if they share data.

Decision-Making Culture

With beginner types, we observe decisions made in isolation and poorly communicated through the business. The impact of a decision is not considered by multiple people and the pros and cons are well-considered ahead of time. Low levels of discovery and due diligence in onboarding new systems and vendors that can lead to unpleasant surprises down the path.

Often, it’s the urgency of the moment that drives decisions without awareness of the whole picture. Moving quickly can be a competitive advantage, but, without some level of discovery and reference checking decisions made on the fly and vendors onboarded without appropriate diligence can have consequences across the whole business.

By contrast, culture and decision-making processes that are more evolved usually have a structure, or at least if there’s no way of collaborating or fitting into the decision making, it’s clear who is making the decision. Ideally, the structure has built-in multiple parties and considers existing structures before the decision is taken. I think the assessment of vendors then usually follows a process, and there is a reference-checking process included in the way that vendors are appointed.

Surprising for a lot of clients, but probably not for you as you have read this far, is the first step for a business when engaging external expertise is to identify what sort of business you are, what sort of project change is needed and how you will make those decisions. When you reflect on your business where do you sit? What do you need support with? If you require help with this process, please contact us.