It all started with my first maternity leave; I offered to help my husband out with a little bit of office work, when possible, for his landscaping business. Imagine spending days scanning and printing hundreds of physical receipts for bookkeeping at the end of the season between your newborns naps. Or spending hours trying to find a customer worksheet because your CRM is a mishmash of your invoicing system and flat file worksheets which you can only query by name (and for which there was a typo in the name by the way). Or invoicing hundreds of paper worksheets over the course of a business season, by manually adding every single new customer into the invoicing system and writing the invoice number onto the paper worksheet to ensure that it could be traced back if necessary (which means, sifting through stacks of paper worksheets to find the one that corresponds with a given invoice).
Sure, I wanted to tear my hair out, but I didn’t think much about the existing inefficiencies at the time because my husband had taken the time to build a system that worked over the past decade. He spent every winter looking at how he could improve the business and streamline operations, including looking at IT software and applications to improve operations. Though he had looked at a full system implementation in the very early days of starting his business, as is the case with many small start-ups, you face many other competing cost considerations that tend to take priority when you’re first building a business.
It wasn’t until I landed a new job upon return from my maternity leave that my eyes were opened to the power of digital transformation with enterprise software solutions for businesses. I joined a team that was overseeing a project to implement a CRM for the first time ever for a newly stood-up government center. I saw the challenges from the client perspective of gathering and articulating the requirements of a large and diverse set of stakeholders; of managing a digital transformation project while managing ongoing operations; and the sheer difficulty of change management when it comes to user adoption.
This powerful experience resulted in me realizing that there was a significantly better way to run business operations. While pregnant with our second baby, I took the experience gained from my new job and suggested to my husband that I spearhead a project while on my second maternity leave to help him completely overhaul his disparate suite of business applications and develop a fully integrated and automated system to streamline his operations, to which he agreed.
After researching a variety of cloud-based CRM and business application solutions, I landed on Zoho’s suite for its competitive pricing (particularly for small to medium sized enterprises), its scalability for growing businesses, and its excellent range of business applications. We then hired our first software development company which resulted in huge lessons learned. The initial attempt at building our system with this company was an absolute fail. The company failed to conduct a proper system design with the appropriate schema to properly integrate and synchronize the various systems and databases. We literally hit a roadblock where information from one part of our system couldn’t flow to the next part of our system due to the poor design. Among other things, the company failed to check-in with us to keep us on time for project delivery; we had been clear that timing was critical since we were adamant about not disrupting operations by going live with the new system during our peak operational period.
Figure 1: Aligning business workflow mapping with the playbook process to do a full system and schema design will provide the roadmap needed for your project.
While a hard pill to swallow, we ultimately cut our losses and decided to start fresh with a new company. That’s where Hero Technical Solutions (HTS) comes into the picture. I started off as a client of HTS and from the get-go, the team immediately instilled confidence in their ability to execute our project with their playbook and schema design process. Once the project was rolling, we on the client-end failed at times to provide the required inputs to keep the project going due to the realities of juggling the business, my actual full-time job and our young family; even still, they gently nudged us and often helped to keep us on track. They were careful to manage our expectations and help us identify the actual priorities needed to go live, versus allowing us to get lost in the ever-evolving wish list of requirements that tend to pop-up as you start to see your vision come to life.
Even when we fell short and then asked them to speed up the project delivery date before the next big peak in the business season, they prioritized our project, worked with us to conduct end-to-end testing, and delivered on-time. They played a big part in successful user adoption by tailoring the training to each of the different user roles within our organization. While many of our employees still had a strong desire to cling to the old paper-based ways, the excellent system design and user training resulted in their full conversion, such that they can’t ever imagine going back. Overall, the results of the project for my husband’s company have been phenomenal.
Today I’ve flipped the coin and joined Hero Technical Solutions as a project manager. Given my experience as the client on more than one occasion, I now have VERY high expectations of what I as a project manager need to bring to the table to empower clients to seamlessly implement and deploy their Zoho solutions. I could give you the standard Coles Notes or ChatGPT overview of what a project manager does, which are of course all important aspects of the job; instead, I’d like to share four key aspects of a project managers role that I believe have to be nailed to take your Zoho project and overall experience as a client to the next level:
1. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe“– Abraham Lincoln
From the outset, scoping and designing the entire system architecture is critical. Would you start building a house without a blueprint of all the different systems that go into building your house? From the actual layout to plumbing, HVAC, electrical, etc.? Alongside gathering your requirements, budget and timeline, project managers need to spend a good amount of time upfront learning your business, its existing systems and pain points to then research, design and architect a comprehensive solution for building your system. “Sharpening the axe” will ensure that expectations are managed, and that project planning and development tasks flow with greater ease once you kick-off the project, helping you to stay on budget and on time.
2. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.“ – Henry Ford
You’d think that it wouldn’t be difficult to convince someone to move from their standalone excel spreadsheet to a powerfully integrated CRM tool, but one must never underestimate the power of habit. The power of cumulative advantage that underpins the decision making habits of consumers is equally as powerful when it comes to workplace habits and technology adoption. We humans crave automaticity and are geared to prefer consistency above other potential factors that motivate decision-making. This is why user adoption is a big make or break for digital transformation; the cost of implementation will only achieve the desired cost savings and increase in efficiency by successfully helping employees transition from legacy systems to your new systems. A stellar project manager follows the user over the course of the project – they take the time to understand how the various users of an organization will truly interact with the system. In doing so, they work with the customer to customize a simple, intuitive, user-friendly interface and reinforce it with customer-centric training and documentation. Overall, it’s about creating an incredible user experience that aligns with existing work habits (with some additional bells and whistles of course).
3. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
We’ve talked about system design and architecture at the front-end of planning a project, but for those familiar with projects of any type, the reality is that projects never follow a linear path. Unexpected issues and blockers arise, business requirements change, priorities shift, stakeholder needs evolve, and sometimes expectations simply don’t align with reality. Above all else, transparency and informed choice are fundamental principles that project managers should aspire to when communicating with clients about expectation management, change requests, priorities and project scope. This empowers project stakeholders to make informed choices as the project progresses to keep things on time, within budget and within project scope. Furthermore, empathy for a client’s position goes a long way in communication over the life of a project – while many clients have a strong desire to contribute to the project’s success, the time and effort required to do so is often weighed against the realities of the business’ ongoing operations.
4. “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” – Henry Ford
We live in a world where companies face intense pressure to keep up with and/or deliver the latest advancements in software and technology. This can often come at the expense of inadequate quality assurance (QA) and testing processes that can often lead to several negative consequences in terms of performance and security. As we move up in project scale, a lack of adequate QA and testing processes can have far ranging effects in terms of cost and impact on the lives of others, resulting in reputation damage. Leaning on the communication skills mentioned above, a skilled project manager will maintain sight of the short, medium and long-term impacts of your project based on the decisions made today. They maintain and advocate for rigorous standards with QA and testing processes to save you the headache post-project implementation.
By sharing my mistakes as well as the qualities that I believe separate good project managers from the pack, I hope you can learn a little bit from my misguided Zoho journey. A well executed project can truly elevate your business and help you regain lost hours in cost and efficiency – take it from me, I witnessed it first hand. The impact was profound, which is why I’m ecstatic to have joined Hero Technical Solutions – I hope to help others on their journey of business transformation with their Zoho deployment.
Customer Success Specialist