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ECM head games

July 12, 2010

We’ve been looking at the ROI of ECM from a number of different perspectives over the last two months in these posts, but one aspect we haven’t really focused on is the psychology of an ECM business case.

What I’ve found in my work with clients over the last few years (and in my time on the other side of the table in IT) is that folks often have a hard time viewing the costs and benefits of their project realistically. They tend to care deeply about the domain of the project; they attach great importance to the benefits of the project and feel that any costs are certainly worth the effort; and in the end, they are unable to look at the project from an enterprise, C-level point of view.

However, unless they can do so, their chances of getting the project approved are slim to none–and if it does get approved, it will be in spite of, rather than because of, their efforts.

The best way I’ve found to tackle this challenge is to stop talking about what the costs and benefits of a project are–for the moment we just assume that there will be a very favorable return on a much smaller cost. But once we take this as a given, it’s time to consider a much more intractable problem: if there is the ROI that we say there is, why hasn’t the organization done something about it in the past?

Although I’ve written elsewhere on using the question of why no one’s done this before to drive business case development (go there to get the nitty gritty details and then come back), here I want to simplify the issue a bit, distill it into a short exercise you can do quickly with the team to at least get them started thinking about how challenging getting funding for ECM will be; and once that’s done, you can set aside time to tackle the problem in a more sustained way with the technique I presented in that earlier post, When ROI Isn’t Enough.

Basically, I lay out four “big buckets” of possible attitudes to a given problem/solution for the team:

  • No one cares about the problem, and there are no real gains to be had by fixing it
  • No one cares about the problem, but there are real gains to be had by fixing it
  • People care about the problem, but there are no real gains to be had by fixing it
  • People care about the problem, and there are real gains to be had by fixing it

We then have a discussion about which bucket(s) our project might fall into, or even where the different categories of benefits we’re predicting fall.

Now, you’ve got to eventually do more work than this in order to fully surface the challenges you face and what strategies you might use to overcome them, but I’ve found this little exercise to be a great place to start, particularly if the team is feeling overwhelmed with the road ahead of them to get ECM funded.

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