What makes a technology project successful?

Take a moment to ask yourself--is it as simple as just getting some technology in place that works well? In today's article we'll explore the most important component in a technology implementation. Spoiler alert: it's not the tech!

I've spent years thinking about how to decrease risk on technology projects and structure them for success. By the way, years is a long time to think about something you might expect to be straightforward! What would you guess is the most critical factor in a technology project's success?

As part of my work, I've had the chance to ask a lot of people this question. I often hear responses like:

"Good technology that functions well."

"Tech that fits in our budget."

"Good support."

These factors are all essential. Your technology solutions should function well, fit into your budget, and come with a phenomenal support team. Without these basic components, the tech would be pointless. Furthermore, from a business perspective, it would make no sense to implement.

Nevertheless, you might be surprised to learn that none of these things matter in predicting a technology project's success.

Take a moment to ask yourself--is it as simple as just getting some technology in place that works well? Most of us have participated in a technology project at some point, and know how it works (or, in many cases, doesn't work) in practice. Tech projects are incredibly challenging and complicated. At times, an implementation can feel like a field of unexpected landmines. When a catastrophe or unexpected misstep happens, our initial reaction is to blame the tech. We tend to conclude that our "technology just didn't work."

But consider the typical technology-related challenges facing most agribusinesses. They almost always fall under three categories: 

  1. Collecting new data from your operations.
  2. Increasing the insights you can glean from data.
  3. Using data and insights for outreach to smallholders and customers.

None of these challenges require cutting-edge tech solutions. If anything, usually, they are resolved by mundane, stable functionalities readily available in hundreds of platforms that are often free and run on the hardware you already own. Spreadsheet tools, GIS-enabled survey tools, SMS, USSD, and other simple technologies can solve 99% of what you need. In fact, barring some obscure examples, most of your challenges are similar to those that other organizations have faced and have solved countless times.

So if the technology isn't to blame, what’s actually going on here?

Let's take a look at what a successful technology implementation project looks like:

"A solution that functions well from the technical side of things must be identified and then aligned with the business's goals and priorities. It then needs to be brought into a company by the right people, at the right time, who believe in the solution. They must facilitate the often lengthy and arduous process of change management. Staff roles will need to pivot towards these newly implemented processes as part of an improved state of operations. Simultaneously, leadership must consistently communicate why uncomfortable changes are necessary for the benefit of everyone and the company's future."

Seriously - that is what it takes to bring a technology project home in a way that will actually solve your challenges, no matter what you are solving and regardless of the scale. It's like landing a rocket on another planet—every single time. There are hundreds of things that need to come together simultaneously.

That is overwhelming. But as with all things we write about, the underlying truth is simple and straightforward; even if it's not the answer you want to hear. Notice something important about the scenario above: almost none of the components of a successful technology project have anything to do with the technology. So, what is the crucial factor in a technology project? You.

You are the most important factor in predicting whether or not a technology project will be successful.

We often structure our technology project plans as follows: 1) call a technology provider >> 2) pretend they will solve all of our problems overnight >> 3) spend lots of money, get let down. Gah! We all know this doesn't work in practice, but we still keep doing it! Why?

First, we are confusing technology with implementation. Technology itself is straightforward - it's a tool with features and functionality that either works for your use case or does not. In contrast, implementing technology is not straightforward at all. Technology and technology implementation are two very, very different things.

Second, we often dream that technology will solve everything for us with ease because no one wants to admit the opposite reality. In reality, tech projects are a lot of work. Although that may not be the news you want to hear, it does lead us to a single, simple truth. The more work you put into it, the more likely your project will be successful. 

In fact, I can predict whether your technology project will be successful without hearing about your specific challenges, without hearing about your revenue or profit, and without looking at your company strategy, goals, vision, business model, or anything else you might think would be critical. To make this prediction, I'd ask you a single question:

"What would you sacrifice to take your next steps on digitization?"

In other words, are you as a company ready to prioritize technology? Remember, technology is like any area of your businesses. Without fail, what you prioritize and sacrifice for is what will get accomplished. But in the hope of a shortcut and free lunch, we are often too ready to buy into a common, detrimental misunderstanding. Just because technology is meant to make your life easier does not mean that technology is easy to implement.

So I'll ask you again, how much are you willing to sacrifice? Can you make technology a real priority? As a leader, are you able and available to rally your teams together around a shared vision and reinforce that vision as things get tough or are more challenging to implement than expected? Do you have the resolve to try things that might fail, only to keep moving forward by finding solutions from the learnings? Can you free up your staff to dedicate countless hours toward understanding and documenting requirements, working with technology providers, learning new tools, testing solutions, and teaching colleagues? Will you hold them accountable for these new responsibilities?

If you can't answer these questions, or you aren't able to put effort into a tech project at this time, then maybe you are not ready for a technology project. There's nothing wrong with that. If anything, waiting until you are prepared to invest in tech as a priority will save you a tremendous amount of money and countless headaches. But before moving forward, remember our simple truth. What you get is what you give, and that's how it should be. It's your business, and you are the one who will determine if your next technology project is successful.

Need help understanding what it is really going to take to get tech implemented at your organization? Reach out to us -- we'd love to offer our input!