Implementing JD Edwards (did I mention we chose them?) in an aggressive timeframe is rather like being chased downhill by a giant snowball – it keeps getting bigger and faster and you just hope you can keep running fast enough and that nothing trips you up.
In this case the main reason the snowball keeps growing is because of the massive amount of user support we seem to have. Now I’m the first one to evangelise the need for people at every level of the organisation to get on board IT projects (at least if you want them to succeed), but even I’m absolutely flabbergasted at the support and level of ownership we seem to have whipped up for this one. The folks in the business are pretty much doing it for themselves, and that’s just the way that we in IT like it.
It’s a bit like that Oliver Sacks book Awakenings – the one that was made into that movie with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro – in that people out in the business who we’d thought had given up and gone to sleep years ago have suddenly realised a new lease on life as soon as they get to put their point of view forward and contribute to how the business might work.
It reminds me of a project I was involved in back when I was working for a certain airline. We were developing and rolling out a new system into all their retail offices. Our pilot site was in Christchurch and one of the residents of this site was a particularly old and crusty character – I’ll call him Bruce – who’d been around since the flying boats (or at least gave that impression).
Now Bruce was a fearsomely good travel consultant. He’d been, like, everywhere and back several times. He had regular customers who would come back year after year to book their trips with him. Bruce had a timetable for every plane, train, boat and donkey cart on the planet within easy reach. He had shelves, drawers and boxes full of them. His workstation was more like a nest in an enormous wall of brochures and timetables. We knew early on that Bruce was going to be a problem. He loved paper (or so we thought) and this just didn’t fit the new model.
So what did we do? We could’ve just cast Bruce aside and allowed him to become a casualty progress. But we didn’t. We asked him what he thought. It turned out he hated the paper too. All he wanted was the information. Bruce became one of our best users. He probably contributed more to the eventual solution than any other individual user and far more than any of us IT people did. In fact, he became a total pain in the arse because he kept coming up with brilliant ideas.
Never, ever, ever underestimate a user.