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PODCAST: Pulling together a great technology selection team

Welcome to another episode of Podcasts by Digital Clarity Group. In this segment, Cathy McKnight and Connie Moore explore what it takes to pull together the right project team for selecting complex new marketing technology for the organization.

Pulling together a great technology selection team: Transcript

Connie Moore (CM): Welcome to our podcast on CMS team selection. I’m Connie Moore, Senior Vice President of Research at Digital Clarity Group and our guest today is Cathy McKnight who is Co-founder of the organization and Vice President of Consulting and Operation. Cathy brings a wealth of experience in content management system selections and implementation projects. So, we want to look at the project team specifically because the skills that the experienced and the all known, not technical skills, but higher level skills are extremely important to the success of projects

So Cathy welcome and let me ask you the first question which is: Why is this an important topic that we’d like to share with our listeners.

Cathy McKnight (CMK): Hi Connie and thank you. Yes it’s really important. One of the things when it comes to technology selection, often what happens or can happen is that a business need is identified, they need a new CMS, a new marketing automation platform, those requests often coming from the marketing team and then that request gets tossed over the fence to the procurement team and they might engage technology and then all of a sudden marketing finds out that they have a new technology yet nobody has asked them what they need, what their objectives are, what their goals are and what they need the technology to do.

So it’s really, really important to have a cross functional team and inclusive team so you can avoid some of the surprises that may come out of picking a technology without really knowing what it is that you need the technology to do.

CM: So cross functional is an interesting word and it matches with my own experience of doing business transformation projects. You need to have skills from different parts of the business representatives and not only skills, but you need the time and energy and commitment within the project. So on a content management system project, where would you draw from within the organization, what part of the business should be represented?

CMK: So I think you can think of the selection team as two circles with a centre and then with the core team make up and then others who would be sort of be around the periphery who would need to get involved at different points. So I think, you know first thing is to step outside the usual suspects and consider all the stakeholders that will be impacted by this selection in the technology.

So quite often when we’re talking about, particularly when we’re talking about customer experience: technologies, things like content management systems, marketing automation, digital asset management, even analytics; You see a core, base of the team including representation from marketing, from IT, and certainly from some of the lines of businesses that are most directly impacted by the technology or who will be using the technology and then when you start looking at that peripheral circle, that’s when you start spreading out, still engaging them, just maybe not on a full-time basis where they’re not the core project team members.

Things like security and operations, certainly finance, understanding what the budget is. Communications from both how are they going to use the tool and then also thinking about what’s missing from your team? It’s great to have a committed team of internal managers, subject matter experts and bringing all that organisational knowledge and operational experience and their good intentions, but you know a lot of times they’ve become the selected teams by mishap. Some would say they were at the wrong place at the wrong time and they get tagged with being part of this team, that’s where bringing in an external expert becomes a real saving grace sometimes. Someone who has expertise and can guide the process and selection, the ins and outs to ensure the success and really reduce the risk that can happen by leaving it in the teams of an internal team.

CM: So what would you say if you’re drawing from these diverse parts of the organisation, which really sets you up for greater success, what would be the key role that you assign within the project team?

CMK: So absolutely a Project Sponsor. You know, the road to success is paved with good intentions or whatever that idiom is, without having senior leadership buy-in and support for the project, there are so many competing initiatives going on in an organisation, the likelihood of actually getting to the end goal of acquiring the tool can be a challenge, so you really need that senior leader advocate. Someone who is there supporting you at the highest level ensuring funding is happening and that it doesn’t get bumped for another project.

Absolutely a Project Manager and a professional Project Manager if you have them on staff, someone who’s role it is to run a project. Often I see organisations actually bring if they have a PMO, Project Management Organisation, they’ll bring in someone from that team or someone who’s dedicated, that is their role is to be a PM to help guide the process. They may not have experience in the area of the selection of the technology being selected, but someone who really understands what needs to be done to make the project effective and efficient and on track is really important.

Also having because it is a technology selection that we’re talking about, making sure there’s an IT lead as well as a marketing lead. Often you want those two counterpoints to ensure that the business is being represented, but also that IT is being heard as well. Even when you’re looking at a SAAS, Software As A Service option as the technology, still having IT involved to understand, you’re gonna want this technology not to be a standalone, it needs to be interoperable and really harmonize with the rest of the landscape so having an IT is really important.

And then again having core representation from those lines of business, consistency, right? So having the voice of the business represented is also important.

CM: So I think that’s super and will help set the core up for success. I also wonder how important you think organisation change management is and then do you see that or not that often?

CMK: That’s a really great question. I think change management is critical. It’s one of the things that is commonly overlooked in a selection project. People look at this strictly as, “oh we’re just buying a technology, there’s no real impact”, but it really does impact the entire organisation. Even if it is something that is going to be used by a small part, it changes the way things operate and it should be changing the process and the skillsets that are engaged to execute on that technology once it’s implemented. So having a change management process, whether it’s for a smaller change management effort within in a smaller team of the organisation or whether it’s going to impact the organisation as a whole like if you’re executing a new CMS for the entire organisation, that has widespread impact, making sure that there is a plan as part of the project charter and part of the overall project plan that includes change management which includes of course communication and messaging and what not and the impact of skill and process of the new technology. I think it’s really important.

CM: Yes and you know, I have seen projects where there’s almost open warfare among project team members, when you’ve got a schism between say marketing and IT and I’m just thinking sort of the top of my head that not only could a change management person help with the overall change that’s going on in the organisation that you implement, be it the technology and change or processes accordingly, but that change management person might be helpful in creating a more harmonious project team.

CMK: Yeah and I also think that’s another great rule, not full out from a change management perspective, but certainly having someone come in externally to support the process and the project in the selection, that’s part of their roles as well because they’re able to look at it from an outside-in perspective and rather than getting caught in the weeds of what goes on day to day within the organisation, they really, those outside experts have an opportunity to provide some insight and say, “Hey have you thought about this? Did you realize that this technology is going to impact this team” and really get the project team to step outside their usual comfort zone and boundaries of those that they usually work with to really consider others and the impact of the organisation.

CM: You know involving external advisors or external implementers is more concrete than the internal cost. Do you find that the expenditure on the outside service providers is worth the money and creates a payback in the long term?

CMK: Absolutely. We’ve had our clients come back and tell us what they’ve spent on our services to support them and drive their selection process, has actually saved them two fold on the backend whether it’s through better pricing from the service provider and or the technology because those individuals, those companies know us and know that we know their pricing and they put their best foot forward. Also from an efficiency standpoint, making sure that the project runs on time. We’ve seen selections, we’ve gone in and worked with clients after they’ve been in a selection process for a year, just to select a project, so how much money has been wasted there where bringing in an outside expert from start to finish, you know the Digital Clarity Group process, we can have you ready to sign a new contract within a couple months. So it really does from a time and efficiency perspective and just making sure that you’re gaining those efficiencies really does, in the long run, save money and it really reduces the risk which is a huge cost saving overall.

CM: That reminds me, last year you and I interviewed a number of companies about their selection and implementation projects and we ran into multiple companies that not only had it take a year, that it take longer and they had to restart the project, two and even three times because they were trying to do it all themselves, save money and in the long run it costs a fortune not to bring in external advisors.

CMK: Right, just knowing, we know the questions to ask. We know the people to contact and we know the rocks to turn over throughout the process which really you know again, in the long run, to spend a little money upfront during the selection process to ensure you don’t buy the wrong technology, in the long run, those cost savings are huge.

CM: So where we looked at the project team you were talking about and the concentric circle, how would the typical project be? Let’s say the core team.

CMK: So I would say for the core team you’re probably looking at a core of four or five people, excluding the senior leader or sponsor. They’re represented, but you don’t expect them to show up at every meeting, but you have a Project Manager, you have a couple of leads from maybe from an IT, definitely representation from the IT, there might be a couple business leads, you have as well as maybe a business analyst, someone to support them. So typically speaking I see core project teams running in that four to six number and then the extended team, depending on the stakeholders, I’m a huge advocate of making sure people feel engaged and involved. So involving them in workshops or interviews or updates as they need be, but from a decision-making process it’s really important to keep it to a smaller than a larger group because then it’s very hard to get consensus and agreement.

CM: So Cathy, I think you’ve given a lot of nuggets of knowledge drawn from practical experience for how to build your CMS team when you’re getting started on the selection process and moving into the implementation phase. So I’d like to pose my last question as what three takeaways would you give our listeners if they are in the middle of or beginning of setting up the CMS team.

CMK: So I think first off, communicate. Making sure that everyone involved understands the scope of the project, the expectations from the outset. I think one of the things that causes roadblocks for companies when they do run a selection process is a lack of clarity in the expectation. So whether it’s the time, commitment, how long it’s going to take overall from end to end from the selection as well as the contribution. Then making sure people are kept up to date and informed so whether that’s posting something on the company internet to give updates. Whether that’s weekly update from a project perspective or meetings. Just making sure that the communications are flowing, decisions that have been made are shared so there’s no surprises at the end.

The next thing is to take the time to plan. Set out a project charter, write down the goals and objectives, identify who the project team is. One of the things that does is it helps the entire team stay focused on the end goal and the business objective. It helps give the team something to centre back on to when they get caught into the weeds of the technology features and functions which so often happens when you start collecting requirements and the pages and pages and pages of things people want/need the technology to do, it’s very easy to lose sight of what the ultimate objective is.

Then the third thing is to engage an expert to help guide the process. Not only will that as we talked about save time and money probably in the long run, but it really does mitigate a lot of the risks. You know it helps companies find the best fit option from a technology and partner perspective. It keeps things on track from a timeframe perspective when you have an external consultant coming in and really driving the process, it helps keep things on the rails. It minimizes the impact on the overall business. So having someone to do all the minutia and keep things moving really does allow people to keep doing their day job and not feel overburdened by the selection process and as I mentioned earlier does reduce the overall risk in many ways.

CM: Well I think that is excellent advice and you’ve given our listeners an insight about how to build successful CMS teams. So thank you so much for participating today and thank you, listeners, for tuning in and hearing what we have to say. You’ve been listening to Podcasts from Digital Clarity Group and we appreciate your time and interest, thank you.

CMK: Thanks, Connie.

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