It is easy to configure a WFM solution within an inch of its life, but an ‘everything is configurable’ approach can lead organisations into unnecessary complexity.

Fuzzy goals. Optimistic timelines. Unexpected complexity. When IT projects fail, more often than not, these are the culprits that land organisations in troubled waters during rollout. One of the more critical challenges for almost any enterprise software implementation is ensuring that the business case isn’t supplanted by the ability to configure around process challenges that arise as the software is deployed into the business.

In workforce management projects (WFM), the notion that ‘everything is configurable’ is a well-trodden path that can lead to outcomes that don’t deliver the promised benefits.

Workforce management projects can start to fail when the broader challenges of the business come into play and the solution focuses on configuring around them, rather than maintaining a vantage point of how the WFM solution can transform the business.

The problem is that relying on configuration can lead to unexpected consequences that have very real impacts on people within the business.

Simple is Often Actually Complex

Let’s take a typical scenario in workforce management: A client with field-based employees wants to implement an online time-sheeting system to replace their manual, paper-based systems for permanent staff only so that they can record the cost of the people against their jobs.

A reasonable hypothesis might be that most of the industry-leading products can manage each of the functions required, so a quick desktop review and the process of interviewing vendors will lead to a fit-for-purpose application, which the vendor can then deliver. On the surface of it, it looks simple: After all, you don’t need a sledgehammer to crack a nut, right?

Until you ask “why” and “what does ‘good’ look like?”

These questions are fundamental because when probed a little further, the client actually has a future state vision of what Workforce Management looks like for their organisation, perhaps without realising it.

When they dig deeper, “good” looks like a system where fatigue management, job costing, workforce planning, time and attendance and, ultimately, automated pay to extend the functionality beyond time-sheeting. The ideal scenario is that anyone working on a job – be it internal or external – could have their costs recorded against the job.

Going beyond ‘we need time sheeting software’ and looking at workforce management reality from a transformation viewpoint posits a different path to finding a software solution to what is often a very complex problem. Focusing on software as the solution can often lead to ‘everything is configurable’ fixes that can have unintended consequences.

Reality Check #1: Just Because it can, Doesn’t Mean it Should

Vendors know their software, as they should. With the array of modern applications, the extent of configurability is close to infinite and most leading WFM solutions can be configured to within an inch of their lives.

A vendor will naturally be inclined to solve your business challenges within their software if they can; the desire is often to solve all problems within their product and position this as one of its strengths.

However just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Take the example of a business requirement to include a client ID and a job ID within its time sheeting system, so that the rostering team could roster an individual to a customer at the task level. This may be needed for financial reporting and invoicing.

With some ‘creative’ configuration – and perhaps some customisation – the vendor is able to meet this requirement in the application. However, the impact of the customisation is then felt in the Case Management function, Workforce Management function and the Finance function, which become clouded.

The operational overhead (technology debt) left behind can become almost unworkable and the business case of automated rostering completely invalidated due to the requirement of an army of rosterors to administer the process.

Reality Check #2: Nothing Lives in Isolation

In a connected world, there is an assumption that data and information are integrated across applications to deliver on a business process. The first obvious question, if we continue from the previous thread, is “who and how do people get connected in the time sheeting system?”

If looked at in isolation, the vendor could correctly state (and deliver) that people can be set up in the timesheeting system with roles and security profiles. But then what?

Looking at ongoing operations, this may not only become an administrative overhead (as people are added, removed or changed) but it could also impact the field staff if, for various reasons, they can’t access or use the application; the billing system if their time isn’t recorded; and in turn, the customer if the invoicing becomes inaccurate.

Configuring as a problem-solving process introduces risk. For that reason, we strongly recommend to Quay clients that a full (end state), end-to-end solutions architecture be prepared and logical transitions carved out into delivery phases.

This enables the organisation to identify and clearly understand the impacts of each phase on people, processes and technology rather than using fire-fighting or ‘tweaks’ to get the system to work as it should.

Reality Check #3: Change is Always Underestimated

We’ve previously explored the reality that change is always underestimated in WFM projects. Automation efficiency and information benefits are deemed to be significant and typically drive the business case, however simply swapping manual for automatic isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

There may be a lot of upside, but there are significant change implications that are often underestimated by vendors focused on the solution rather than the impacts across the business.

Taking once again the example above of staff in the field. If, for whatever reason, they aren’t able to logon to record their time, then it impacts them directly – in fact, they may not get paid.

The knock-on effects can be significant: the administrator has to deal with enquiries and fixes; the payroll team have to manually override or reconcile in a subsequent pay period; the finance team may need to adjust invoicing; and the customer has to deal with the hassle of paying an adjusted invoice.

Managing Change is About Managing the Impact

Ensuring that a change management process is in place to assist with moving staff onto the new system, troubleshooting during the roll-out and feeding back throughout the deployment of a Workforce Management transformation, it is possible to mitigate some of the risks, but more importantly, help staff to navigate the changes to how they interact with a new workforce management process.

Vendors can bring a significant amount of thought leadership and capability to a WFM project.  But when they lead a project they often lose sight of or underestimate the change, integration and people impacts.

When confronted with these challenges they can try to solve them first and foremast via configuration or customisation – which can be to the ultimate detriment of the project outcomes. There is a place for vendors in all projects but leading the project is often a high risk approach for WFM projects.

Quay has considerable experience and expertise in Workforce Management. For more information about how to establish – or rescue – a WFM transformation, please contact our team on 02 9098 6300.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose WFM strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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