Why Most B2B Software Implementations Fail

Business-Success-FailureMy first job out of college was building, installing and implementing software that scheduled agents in a call center.  For it’s time, this was a state of the art application.  It took into account each agent’s skills, languages spoken, times available, shift preferences and even the kind of media they preferred to handle.  All of this was factored into a scheduling engine that analyzed, optimized and came up with a schedule that could increase a call center’s efficiency by 100% or more.  So imagine my surprise when the first request from most customers during an implementation was “show us how to enter our current schedule into your system and that’s it.”

Think about that for a second.  They just spent a considerable amount of money on a state of the art system that was easy to use and much faster than anything they had before; a system that could give them 100% better results, and what they asked it to do was maintain the status quo.  That’s sort of like me telling you “I have an app here that can help you get 100% healthier in under a week.  It will analyze your exercise and eating habits, look at your preferences and dislikes and then spit out an exercise and nutrition program that you’ll enjoy and fits into your schedule. This system is easy to use and will grow with you adapting to your needs.”  Now you take this system and use it for nothing more than tracking your weight.  Crazy, right?

Except this situation repeated itself at every single company and with every single product I’ve ever built.  Each and every time we sold the customer a highly advanced system that could take what they’re doing and optimize it for much better results, and the most common response was “just show me how to use your system to do what I’m doing today”.  In some cases there were valid reasons for a certain lack of flexibility, reasons like union contracts or government regulations, but even in these situations the lack of flexibility wasn’t complete.  Yet even these customers refused to optimize within the limited constraints they had.  Every where I went the status quo was always preferred, even when presented with a tool that could make life easier.

The result?  Software implementation that were barely used and customers that were disappointed with results that never measured up to the promises they heard during the sales process.

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Beware The Tiger Team: Why Special Project Teams Can Sometimes Backfire

Tiger Team: noun, a team of specialists in a particular field brought together to work on specific tasks.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before:

  • “This project is stalled, let’s put a team together to kick start it”
  • “Holy crap, we really need to improve our [department x], let’s get some folks on this right away!”
  • “Wow, how did the competition beat us to this?  We need to put together a tiger team right now to solve this!”

Ahh yes, the all hands on deck speech also known as the mating call of the tiger team.

But Shouldn’t We Fix These Problems Right Away?

Now don’t get me wrong, these are indeed big problems and you should definitely get your best minds on solving them right away.  A well assembled tiger team can cut through red tape, process issues and organizational inertia like a light saber through a storm trooper.  And yes, if you have a short term problem, by all means, put together a short term team to solve it.  Still, pause a second and answer this question for me:

Seriously, if the situation is so dire, how did you let it happen?  How could things have gotten this bad without anyone noticing or addressing them?  How did your team / division / department / company row so far up the proverbial creek that now you now need to call in a hit squad of your best people just to turn you around, build you a paddle and push you back into the water?  And here in lies the issue with tiger teams.

Solving The Root Problem

Tiger teams are sexy because they’re fun to put together and execute.  Get some cool people in a room, think up some awesome solutions, cut through the mess of red tape and get things DONE!  YES!  WE’RE SAVED!  And honestly, that’s actually true.  Tiger teams can and do save the day.  The problem though is that they’re so sexy and fun and effective that many times no one bothers thinking about why things went wrong in the first place.  Why should they, the tiger team has saved us!

Except constant tiger teams are like living in constant crisis mode.  Some people thrive on it but most will eventually burn out of the continuous ebb and flow of crisis followed by tiger team followed by yet another crisis.

Tiger teams are an effective tool in our management tool kit.  They’re also a good way to solve HALF the problem.  Tiger teams solve the short term problem, what they don’t do is solve the long term issue of how we got here in the first place.  For that we need something else, something I like to call, the Human Team.

The Human Team Sounds Lame!

Yah, it does.  Tiger sounds way better.  Humans are weak bags of pink flesh.  Tigers are 500lbs of deadly muscle and claws!  Tigers tear through barriers while humans cower behind them.  All true, but let me point something out to you.  Humans rule this world and tigers need protection from us to survive.  Know why?  Because tigers are animals that can’t adapt, can’t learn and can’t change their ways.  Humans do all those things, and that’s what the Human Team is all about.

Yes, get the tiger team in place to tear through the barriers and get the job done RIGHT NOW, but also put together a human team to analyze what got us in this mess in the first place.  Should we change our ways?  In what way?  What can we learn from this?  What can we do better?  What process needs to change?  What’s the long term solution here so we never end up in this sort of crisis again?

Without the human, the tiger is going to do some damage but will eventually exhaust itself from constant fighting.  With it, it’s an short term solution that’s rarely needed but very effective when called upon.

5 Hiring Mistakes I’ve Made

Thinking I’d found a hidden gem – Hidden gems don’t exist, especially not in an industry as talent hungry as tech. If the candidate is in a dead end job, never held a job for more than 9 months or never made it past an entry level position, there’s a reason for that. Sure, everyone can make a career mistake or two, but ignoring a clear pattern is like dating a person who’s cheated on all their ex’es and thinking you’re going to be their one true love. No, you don’t need to have something like singlehandedly launching Facebook for me to hire you (Marc, if you’re reading this, we do have job openings) but you should have some successes on your resume, some promotions to show off and least a few wins to tell me about.

Gambling on a possible superstar – Sure, that kid without a lot of applicable experience could turn out great but they can also turn out really bad, and what are you going to do then? Your employees reflect on you and your choices will determine your career. Do you really want to stake your career on a gamble? Go for the sure(er) thing. It’s better to be consistently good than inconsistently amazing. Also, if you really like someone without a lot of applicable experience then find them an entry level position that doesn’t require a lot of experience. It’s better for both you and them.

Incorrectly set expectations – The worst thing you can do is lie to a prospect. Even if they end up accepting the job, you’re going to end up with someone who’s unhappy from day one. Be honest about both the challenges and the rewards. Set the stage correctly, tell them what you expect of them and what you want to see delivered day 1, 10 and 100. The candidate that hears that and wants to work for you is someone who will thrive in your environment. And if you’re having issues finding that candidate, you may want to consider some changes to your work environment…

Not asking requirements up front – You spend days and weeks trying to make sure a candidate is just right and when it comes time to talk numbers, they tell you about some requirement they have that’s completely unrealistic. Check out salary, work from home flexibility, start date, stock options, benefits and all the other requirements up front. It’s better to be disappointed at the first screening than after you’ve told your boss that you’ve found the perfect candidate.

Not getting a verbal yes to a verbal offer before going to a written one – Written offers take time and going back to see if you can up the salary makes you seem like a used car salesperson. Negotiate verbally up front, get that verbal yes and then put everything in writing. Again, way better than going to your boss and asking them to approve yet another offer letter.

How To Get A Job – Chapter 2

Reminder, part 1 is over here.

Before we depart on our grand job seeking adventure, let’s meet the cast:

The Hiring Manager – That’s the person you’re going to be working for. They’re usually very eager to make a hire because they’re understaffed and they need the help.  So they want someone to fill the role but they’re also very busy trying to do the role plus their own while also hiring. At the same time, they know that this person will reflect directly on them. That means they want someone who won’t make them look like an idiot. Your job with the hiring manager is to prove you can do the job well and you won’t embarrass them.  Also, never waste their time.

The Hiring Manager’s Boss – Every hiring manager has a boss who’s looking over their shoulder at their hiring decisions. This person won’t be directly involved in the day to day management of the team but they still want to be involved. In almost every case, this person wants the impossible. They want someone who will work hard, put in long hours, has an amazing pedigree, knows the market and the job before they’re even hired and will do all this for half the pay of anyone else. In other words, the impossible perfect candidate. You’re not that person, no one is. Which means the hiring manager’s boss will never say “hire them!” after your interview. That’s fine, you don’t need their approval. What you do need is a lack of a veto. That is, you need to make sure the hiring manager’s boss doesn’t say “don’t hire them” because that’s a death sentence. No hiring manager in the world goes up against their boss once they’ve made up their mind.

How do you do that? Mostly by impressing them with your skills and passion. Remember, they’re not going to dive into the details like your hiring manager. What they’re looking for is more of an impression of you as a person. So make sure you leave the impression of a hard working, incredibly passionate about the job and very knowledgeable candidate. We’ll talk more about how to do this later.

Hiring Manager’s Stakeholders – These are people who you will be working with day to day. So if you’re interviewing for a marketing job, these might be the other people on the marketing team, or someone on the sales team. Like the hiring manager’s boss, your main job here is to make sure they don’t veto you. You do that by making sure they feel good about working with you. Ask a lot of questions about how they do their job, finish every interview with a “so how does this position help you?” or something like that. Make them feel comfortable that you will make their job easier.

The Coordinator – This is usually an HR person but could also be an office manager. This person is in charge of screening your resume, which means they’re the gate keeper you need to get past if you even want an interview. Even after you get your interview, this person is still in charge of setting up follow up meetings, reminding the hiring manager that you’re waiting for an answer, putting an offer together and doing all the hard logistics work that no one else wants to do. Your goal is to show this person you have everything the hiring manager asked for in a candidate and also not to piss them off. The easiest way to not get a job is to annoy this person. They’ll make sure you never get another interview again. So learn their name, thank them nicely on every email and make sure they know you appreciate their hard work.

How To Get A Job – Chapter 1

This is going to be chapter one of my mini book on how to get a job.  I’m posting it here because I want to make the information freely available plus it’s fun for me to publish each chapter as I write it.

This book won’t get you a job. Only you can do that. Any author, book or blog that tells you otherwise is lying. What this book will do is help you get noticed. It will help you that interview or that meeting that may lead to a job. It will help you not get ruled out before you even get a chance to show them how good you are. The rest is up to you.

I’m writing this book because I’ve been where you are. I’ve spent weeks and months looking for a job and seen first hand how frustrating it is to be ignored. I would try to invest time in my resumes, I would customize and tailor them to every job opening I saw. I spent hours creating just the right resume for that position and then…. nothing happened! They never got back to me, they never even acknowledged I was alive.

So I’d get angry and then I’d decide that I was wasting my time tailoring resumes and I should just go for quantity over quality.  I would send hundreds of resumes every week to every possible job I could find and then… still nothing happened! At which point I’d read some article about how I should be crafting individual resumes per job opening and the cycle would begin all over again. It was ugly, it was frustrating and it was extremely unproductive.

That was 13 years ago. Luckily, I did get a job, although it was no thanks to my job seeking skills. Since then I’ve switched job three times, I’ve led teams of dozens and I’m now a VP at a large tech company. Even more importantly, I’ve hired numerous people to positions similar to the one I was searching for way back then. Which brings us to the reason I’m here in my kitchen, trying to type quietly so as not to wake up my 1 year old daughter and telling you how to get an interview.

I’ve been hiring lately, a lot. Five highly paid positions in just the last 2 months. I’ve also seen a lot of really crappy resumes and approaches. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve written a few public rants about the quality of the candidates I was getting and how annoyed I was with the whole hiring process, but this time as the hiring manager, the person on the other side. That’s when I realized that these people who were sending me resumes were making the same mistakes I did 13 years ago. They weren’t making them because they were bad people or even bad applicants, they were making them simply because they didn’t know better, just like I didn’t back then.

So, since I need good people and you need a job, I thought I’d write down some thoughts on how to land that first interview and how to get me, the hiring manager, interested in you rather than just dumping your application in my deleted items folder.

Note 1 – I’ve vetted these ideas with multiple other hiring managers. So not they’re just my ideas. These are tactics and methods that every single hiring manager would recommend.

Note 2 – My background is in the high tech industry and specifically in start ups and small companies. These ideas are mostly applicable to other industries but not all. Government positions for example are completely different and will require skills that I can’t teach you.