Improve Technology ROI: Focus on People

Buzzwords are great. They give us an excuse to nod our heads, act like we are paying attention, and then completely ignore issues without giving them a second thought. As long as we use buzzwords we appear (if only to ourselves) to know what’s going on and we are on top of the challenge at hand. Perhaps the greatest part of working in technology is that we are never at a loss for buzzwords, or for meetings in which to use them.

Three of the greatest buzzwords in the tech arena are “People, Process, and Technology”. Throw in a few other favorites, such as “alignment,” “change,” “culture,” and… well, you get the idea. While these words are more ubiquitous in a technology discussion than fish are in the sea, they are often overlooked, misunderstood, and generally ignored. This is dangerous.

Looking over the landscape of a typical IT implementation we notice that the majority of activities are focused on process and technology. We spend tremendous amounts of time and effort defining business processes and specifying functional system requirements. We focus a large amount of time building and testing the technology. Consequently most of the people involved in IT projects are specialists in strategy, process, and technology.

So what is missing? Look closely. Did you notice the vast majority of our activities, and the majority of our team’s skills, are focused on aligning process and technology? What happened to our first buzzword, “People”? Do we just nod our heads and forget to consider our people – how we can move them (that is, align them) with the process and technology? What does it mean to align people with process and technology?

Aligning People

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For some, aligning people means providing training so employees know how to use the system. Others say you need to include communications to align their people. Some advanced organizations even extend their efforts to include mapping out changes to job descriptions and responsibilities.

While these are all important activities to help achieve alignment of people, process and technology, they don’t actually help us understand what alignment is. And if you don’t know what it is, how do you know when you have achieved it?

Alignment only occurs when your people, process and technology all perform together in a symbiotic relationship that delivers the desired results. The people use the technology. The people follow the process. They key here is that the people must actually use the technology and the people must actually follow the process. This requires people, ALL of the people, change their behavior to achieve the desired results.

Focus on Behavior Change to Improve ROI

“Did he just say our technology project needs to focus on changing people’s behavior? I thought we were implementing technology, not disciplining children or providing group therapy. What is all this behavior talk anyway?”

Consider the relationship between user behavior and return on investment (ROI). When do we actually realize ROI from our technology projects? Is it when the technology is delivered? Sadly, no. We only realize our ROI when the people actually use the technology. If a system is delivered, but not used, it does not return any value to the organization. So, while successfully deploying the technology is on the critical path (pardon the gratuitous use of the buzzword) to achieving ROI, the critical path is only completed when the system is used effectively by our people.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. This simple idea has tremendous implications that require advanced thought. It means we need to rethink how we structure technology projects, who we involve in the process, and how we define success. Looking back over the landscape of a typical IT implementation we notice activities focusing on behavior change are conspicuously missing. Worse still, people with skills and expertise in behavior change are typically not even part of the implementation team. This is the problem.

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