When I look out of our office window I can see the London skyscraper known as The Shard. It’s an amazing building, and is currently the tallest building in the UK. Sometimes when I look at something so tall I wonder about the process of its creation and I find myself marvelling at how anyone could have worked out just how to get so much steel and glass so high up, both safely and efficiently. I wouldn’t know where to start.
It makes me think of one of my favourite old sayings that you’ll probably know, “How do you eat an elephant?” with the response being, “One bite at a time.” Remembering this adage has often helped me tackle seemingly insurmountable projects and problems, and I guess the construction equivalent for the Shard would be “One floor at a time.”
When I put this in the context of Configure, Price and Quote (CPQ) IT Projects that we’ve seen, I think some of the most successful projects have been the ones that don’t attempt to bite off more than they can chew in one go. The benefits of CPQ systems (faster quotes and proposals, accurate orders, protected margins and simple compliance to name a few!) are so great that many companies want them all and they want them NOW. The temptation is to build the whole skyscraper in one go to get to the views from the top floor faster, which in construction terms could mean compromising design and safety.
Larger IT projects are often known to fail and the reasons are well known (but if you would like to explore these more fully see here). Business needs can change before the project completes, scope can go out of control and complexity is notoriously hard to manage well. So what is the answer?
Implementing CPQ bite by bite
There are several approaches that can help overcome the complexity challenges. Agile project management, rapid application development and prototyping are all well-known and effective if executed well. Recently we’ve seen a trend in the companies we work with getting great success with CPQ projects by taking the elephant approach and implementing their system in many small stages. As well as keeping things manageable, there are several less obvious benefits:
1) You spread the cost of implementation, and can justify each section at a time. This really helps some organisations where long-term investment funding is increasingly hard to get.
2) You get clarity on requirements at each stage, and can refine them in an iterative manner. Visualisation of each stage is far easier when you’re looking at an existing system and can discuss the next stage with reality. It reduces the chance of different functions seeing things differently.
3) Risk is reduced because the complexity of any one bite is much less. If a section of the project over-runs, the impact is contained and lessons can be learned. You effectively course-correct as you go.
4) Finally, while some people think that it’s less efficient compared to an overall grand plan, costs are often less because you learn the capability of the tool you are using. You learn what works well and what doesn’t in a far more realistic way and define your requirements with your chosen CPQ tool in mind. As an added bonus we find that it allows in-house teams to learn faster how to develop their own systems and become self-sufficient more quickly.
So you can see that there are many benefits from employing new CPQ solutions taking a phased approach. Look out for part two of this article where we will explore how as a client you can best prepare for this particular type of implementation process.
“Bite Sized CPQ” is written by Andy Pieroux, MD of Walpole Partnership