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Lowering the bar on ECM

July 27, 2010

One of the hardest things for project teams to understand is that successful ECM programs don’t owe their success to best practices, technical content management expertise, or selecting cutting-edge tools. The secret to ECM success, in my experience, is first to establish goals that (if met) will deliver recognizable value to the organization and then to set a realistic, actionable timeline for achieving them.

Doing so can be surprisingly difficult: the lure of “silver bullet” technology solutions, the complexity of ECM capabilities stacks, the dogmatic adherence to a “best practices or bust” mentality among architects and technologists, the inability of a cross-functional project team to overcome their differences and think about content management from an enterprise perspective–all these (and more) can prevent the team from reaching consensus on where the organization needs to go and how it’s going to get there.

One way I help the team overcome this block is to show them the following diagram.

What this illustrates is that, although we may be at the bottom left somewhere in the neighborhood of worst practices right now, we have a range of options for where we might get to on the right side of the figure–achieving best practices is not the only alternative. Between where we are now (the status quo) and being all we can be (the ideal future state), there are a range of possible future states, any of which may be perfectly adequate at achieving the goals of the ECM program with less effort, cost, and risk than the ideal future state.

This is a complicated way of getting the team to understand the old saw of not letting perfect be the enemy of good enough. But by drawing it out like this, you have a better chance of having a conversation about the issues behind the feeling that we need to get ECM perfect at the organization or the fears keeping them from supporting “good enough” ECM. There are often deep seated, half-conscious attitudes lying behind folks’ positions, and simply saying, “Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good enough” and moving on rides roughshod over these without really addressing them.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 8:30 am

    Excellent. Sometimes the question that people never ask is this: “If we do this, will we be in better shape than we are now, and can we improve from there?” Too often people try to get to the end state, fix everything, or otherwise try to achieve perfection. This leads to long schedules, missed deadlines, and canceled products.

    Fully implementing an ECM strategy takes time. It is a long journey. That said, it is like a car trip across country. You can stop, look at the giant ball of yarn, and enjoy the progress and benefits achieved to-date.

    -Pie

  2. Chris McLaughlin permalink
    July 27, 2010 10:26 am

    Good post, Joe.

    Rather than “best practices,” perhaps we should have an ongoing focus on “better practices?” Or, more to the point, perhaps the real focus for ECM implementations should be establishing a successful foundation for continual process improvement and ongoing, incremental gains?

    I have always been a big believer in an iterative approach to technology implementations as opposed to larger “big bang” deployments over long durations. As Pie points out above, steady progress toward a longer-term strategy supported by the periodic achievement of shorter-term objectives (and incremental ROI) is typically more successful in the long run.

    Another argument for iterative project approaches is that, in my experience, requirements tend to change over time as dictated by the market, competition, internal circumstances, etc.

    So, to sum it up, I guess my argument is that the continual pursuit of “better” is the more successful, long-term approach. And, along the way, you may actually find that you have, in fact, arrived at your own “best practices.”

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