What is More Important: People or Technology?

Putting new technology in place requires two things: getting the system ready for the people AND getting the people ready for the system. Government organizations often focus more on getting technology ready than the people. We have been on both sides of this equation and will tell you: the technology side is easier. Problems are well defined and solutions, while sometimes costly, are generally available. Failure in a systems project is rarely the fault of the technology. Most failures can be traced back to one of two things: 1) The agency did not manage the project well and made poor decisions, or 2) the project did not prepare users for the change the system brought.

Ask yourself: last time you started an information systems project, when did the real work on user readiness begin? Users were probably involved early defining some requirements but then they were left alone almost until the system was complete. Work on “getting the people ready for the system” typically starts too late and takes a distant second place to getting the technology ready. When schedules run tight, training, documentation, or user acceptance testing are cut short. When stress runs high and decisions are made quickly, communication is inconsistent and less transparent.

Getting people ready requires a broad range of hard and soft skills, and experience. It means getting users over their fears through organizational change management techniques but also holding them accountable for readiness through metrics and performance management. It means communicating to them in their language and involving them meaningfully during the entire process. Like computer programming, this work requires specialty skills that take years to learn and master. However, systems projects, when they do anything to get users ready, routinely put people without these skills in charge of getting the users ready for the system.

So what can you do to avoid this cause of project failure? Prepare your people. Plan adequate time and money. Use people with the appropriate skills and experience on your “people readiness” team. Give those that will use the system the same level of attention that the technology gets. Seems pretty easy but we rarely see it done well.