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January 8, 2010

Reducing the friction of implementation

When we speak of friction we often think only of the sales and marketing processes, this is one of the reasons why the lack of friction is key to disruptive technologies.

Friction in price, usability, adoption, implementation, integration...the list goes on.

But for consultants there is also a fair amount of friction involved in every engagement we undertake. The problem with friction is that if left unchecked it can ruin what starts out as a promising improvement initiative.

1) The friction of the uninvolved. As the initiative spreads out from the ivory tower there is a gradual increase in resistance, depending on how disenfranchised and threatened people feel.

2) The friction of the threatened. If your initiative focuses on either productivity or profits then it is a sure bet that you are cutting deep into the status quo in some fashion. And this is a threat to many people.

3) Accounting friction. As the project progresses the focus on costs becomes more acute. Particularly for projects where improvements are in the medium to long term.

4) Resource friction. After decades of downsizing there are very few organizations who have the internal resource time to assist, or to even to attend training.

5) Time friction. Long term engagements often suffer from the fact that during their projects the problems they set out to correct have been eclipsed by others.

There are many more, but these cover a multitude of problems that you can run into. And if you are sitting there nodding your head then you need to ask yourself "If I already know this, why does it continue to happen?"

There are several underlying problems here. One in particular is time based billing. The longer the project, the more likely we are to experience problems like those above, and if you ask the client they generally want these things to be done as quickly as possible.

But under time based billing consultants earn more when they work more. Hence we run out of money in the latter stages, the project drags on and we don't end up securing the latter stage funding to deal with the communications issues.

Here are some killer tips that I have used, and seen used, on some really large jobs with incredible effectiveness.

a) Bill on the output, not on the work done. Agree times, impacts and measures so we will recognize it when we see it. it is one thing to set off on a $100,000 contract with a fixed price intention, it is another thing entirely to do it for $3,000,000.

b) Start where they are feeling the most pain. Where there are financial/ cashable benefits to be realized. And bank them as soon as possible.

c) Be as Socratic in style as possible. Facilitation via questioning, engaging with the company, and dragging in as many people as possible. Develop in the outlying areas some of the elements, and make sure that everything is adequately explained. (E.g. not banners, coffee mugs and T-Shirts!!)

d) Talk about benefits early and often. Not potential benefits but realized, bankable and traceable ones. The ones that hit the companies profit and loss.

e) Work out early if you are doing it for them, to them, or with them. And then build the right strategy based on that approach. 

Some friction in implementation is inevitable. Change does not occur at any stage or in any area without some disruption. But it can be minimized, and the likelihood of it ruining what would have been a brilliant initiative can be lowered substantially.

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