CRM Project: Enabling Agility beyond Challenges
I have often witnessed tension in CRM projects between scope management and
innovation. Organizations start out thinking of CRM as a project with a budget, a deadline,
and a set of high-level requirements. These requirements include the demands of the
business heads who decided to pay for the project so they are generally not flexible. While
there may be vague discussions of future phases to encompass a broader wish list, nobody
gives that much thought. The focus is exclusively on the project at hand that will bring
CRM to the organization.
Upon kick-off, the project manager (or in some cases business analyst, IT manager, or CRM
consultant) must flesh out the detailed requirements as quickly as possible and then
prevent those requirements from changing. Project managers know that requirements
churn poses the greatest risk to the schedule and budget. With deadlines and budget
usually tight and the high-level scope aggressive, the only hope for project success is a
determined effort to avoid requirements churn.
The problem is that CRM projects are great learning experiences. As participants think
through how they do their work, as they verbalize and visualize their processes, as they
understand how their processes affect others across the organization, as they collaborate
on how a new system could empower them to reach objectives, they start to rethink what
they expected of CRM. People wonder whether they might just innovate.
Oh, no. Sounds like requirements churn. No, let’s not go there. That is a later phase for
which there is no budget and no timeframe. So just forget it. Let’s squash that innovation
right now lest expectations get out of control. Project managers must meet expectations
and so they must control expectations.
Since I’m a PMI certified project management professional (PMP), I do know the PMI
answer to this dilemma. It is scope management with a documented process for handling
change requests. The problem here is twofold. First, few organizations put such change
control boards in place. Second, such a rigid process is unlikely to foster innovation. Just
tell somebody with a new idea that they must fill out a change request form and submit it
to a committee of superiors and you can be sure they will not have any new idea.
Because CRM projects lead to learning and new ideas, agility is essential to respond to
innovation as it happens rather than squash new ideas as a threat to the project schedule.
To consider what agile means, let’s take a look at a few of the guiding principles from the
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness
change for the customer's competitive advantage.
Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months,
with a preference to the shorter timescale.
Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing
Applied to CRM, I would translate these principles into the following bullet points.
Break from the notion that CRM is just one big project with a defined beginning and
end. The challenge of satisfying customers and meeting market threats never ends
so why restrict the opportunity for employees to innovate.
Launch CRM with an expansive vision rather than a rigid scope. The vision should
include making the organization outwardly focused toward its customers and
markets and promoting continuous improvements in processes that add value to
customers. And the vision should tie in closely with the organization’s mission
statement and strategy. Obviously, the CEO would be a great person to deliver that
initial vision at a kick-off meeting.
Include the widest range of stakeholders in the kick-off meeting even if initial phases
will not directly affect them. Collaboration across the organization is a great catalyst
Keep each phase, especially the initial phases, short so that the team does not have
to push off new ideas far into the future. Do not insist that the first phase include
every high-level requirement requested by the executive stakeholders. Some of
these requirements may be replaced as new ideas emerge. And once people start
using a system, they will have a better understanding of their requirement
Follow proven project management practices within each phase to reliably
implement new features on time and within budget.
Encourage brainstorming and idea generation on an on-going basis. When new ideas
emerge, create ad-hoc teams to pursue them even if the actual implementation is
not in scope for the current phase. Do not just say “not now” and leave it at that.
Make sure initial phases focus on usability rather than maximizing features. If
people hate using CRM, it is unlikely to become a platform for innovation.
Select a CRM platform that not only satisfies initial requirements but can adapt to
meet evolving requirements.
If you hire consultants to start you on your way with CRM, make sure team members
learn as much as possible from the consultants both about how to perform business
analysis and how to customize the CRM platform. In that way, the journey of
continuous innovation through can continue after the budget for consultants runs
In other words, start out with a big vision but get there through small steps.