by Stephanie Overby

State of the CIO 2003 Best Practive #3: Involve User Representatives

Apr 01, 20037 mins

When Tom Smith took over as the new senior vice president and CIO of Waste Management in 1999, the company’s users were divorced from IT. Charged with introducing a host of new systems to turn around the struggling $11.3 billion trash hauler, Smith knew he needed the company’s 53,000 end users on his side, or the massive modifications he had in mind would never take root. Users are “who you’re building the systems for, so they have to be involved. Most systems failures can be attributed to inadequate user involvement,” Smith says. “We knew we had to start rolling people through our projects who had been working in the actual business and get them to participate with us?from setting requirements to QA testing to training.”

In answering “The State of the CIO 2003” survey, 69 percent of best practices CIOs said user representatives from affected departments or functions should be involved in all stages of IT initiatives. Like Smith, many CIOs know that getting line users involved early can increase a project’s chances of success. But figuring out who to invite to the party and how to get them involved can be the real challenge, particularly in large or far-flung enterprises. Here’s how leading CIOs do it.

Find the Expert Users

Smith is located at Waste Management headquarters in Houston, but his users are spread out among 48 states and Canada. Getting them all involved in IT initiatives would be a logistical impossibility. So Smith has focused on getting the right end users engaged. His project leaders work with a core team of experts from the corporate and business levels, as well as a group of field representatives nominated by their local managers to join a geographically dispersed team for each major initiative. For example, when IT was building a new billing system, the project manager needed to talk to local office users in areas such as receivables, billing, and credit and collections. So he contacted senior managers in each functional area, asking them to nominate their best and brightest to help out. Once the hard work of locating the right users is done, convincing them to take part is relatively easy, according to Smith. “[These users] like to be actively engaged in what we’re doing, and they take pride in being aware of all the new things coming down the road,” he says.

Typically, a project team will handle all of the planning for a new system and provide all the technical expertise. If necessary, team members conduct site visits to ensure that they understand the system requirements. With Waste Management’s biggest IT project to date?a PeopleSoft revenue management initiative that will roll 800 customer databases into one?the IT team has involved 120 users from the Phoenix field office in requirements planning and software selection. “They brought a knowledge base to the table that you never would have gotten through the traditional approach of defining requirements and matching up software to that,” says Smith. “Without that [user involvement], this project would have a higher risk of failure.” The revenue management pilot was implemented in Phoenix in February.

Seek Out the Doubters

For any major IT initiative, Ron Remy, director of IT operations for Lockheed Martin Space & Strategic Missiles, knows he must involve one set of end users: the informed skeptics. “They’re public enemy number one” because they can bring IT projects to a screeching halt, “but if you involve them up front, they can be a good barometer for how the project is proceeding,” Remy says.

A year and a half ago, he began work with a collaboration and virtual work initiative called Workshare that would allow employees in the company’s two locations in Littleton, Colo., and Sunnyvale, Calif., to work together on building launch vehicles and satellites. Remy sought out the doubters right away. It was a project that had the potential to change the way the siloed, geographically focused $6.8 billion company did business. Lockheed was beginning to see the need for experts in one division of the company to help out on projects in other areas. Rocket scientists in Littleton were needed to contribute to the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter project going on in Fort Worth, Texas. And the kind of online collaboration needed to do so was a foreign concept.

Locating the anti-Workshare users wasn’t hard. “They tend to be subject matter experts, and they’re pretty well-known” because they’re vocal and they’re often the creators of the systems IT is trying to replace, Remy explains. Depending on the amount of time each user could offer, Remy either assigned them to the project’s steering committee or the Workshare project management team.

After a year of working with that group of skeptics, the project has made headway, thanks in large part to their involvement, Remy says. Today, nearly 500 people in the company are using Workshare, and the project has extended to other Lockheed Martin companies. The new way of working is enabled not so much by the technology itself?document management products have been on the market for a while?but by the involvement of formerly nay-saying users, Remy says. “They have a strong set of views,” he adds, “but if you can win them over, [the skeptics] end up being the early adopters and thought leaders who influence others.”

Keep a Check on User Involvement

Though Remy is convinced that involving skeptics is important, he offers one caveat: Don’t let them hijack a project. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way with a previous project. “[The users] ended up turning the new system into something that looked just like the old system,” Remy says. “You want them involved; just don’t let them drive.” Having a forceful IT project leader to keep things on track and set parameters for user involvement, Remy says, can help prevent change-averse users from seizing too much control of a technology initiative.

So that change-wary users don’t drag their feet when new systems are announced, Waste Management’s Smith brings users into the project process earlier. “Part of how you avoid that is education,” Smith says. “A lot of our [project development] strategy is focused on bringing users up to speed as quickly as we can on the new capabilities these systems have to offer. We look at education and appointing people to become part of the team as a way to get those old ideas out of their head and show them how things can be done differently.”

Leverage Power Users

At the start of each IT initiative, Tenneco’s IT group identifies superusers at facilities that will be affected by new projects. These knowledgeable, interested users help with all stages of projects, from requirements definition to postimplementation support. But they are most critical during the implementation and training phase, says CIO Haser. New technology at the company is introduced one plant at a time, beginning with the one that Haser’s team has identified as most receptive to change, based on a willingness to commit resources to the proposed project.

Haser used this procedure during the recent rollout of SAP’s ERP suite. Once the application was installed in Ligonier, Ind., he asked a superuser at the Puebla, Mexico, facility to assist in the rollout there. Haser asked the plant manager to free up the user’s schedule to help with the implementation. “During training, an IT person may be able to answer questions like what a time fence is and explain how you set it, but a user can tell you things like, What’s the best way to figure out what my time fence should be?” Haser explains. “We [in IT] understand technology and how data flows through the system, but we’re never going to understand the MRP system as well as someone who uses it every day.”

It used to take about 18 months to see the effects of new IT projects, Haser says, but partly as a result of the users-training-users approach, benefits are apparent from three to six months after implementation.