TECH TALK 17: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF A COMPUTER
By Bill Allen
This is the 17th article in the Tech Talk
Sooner or later, every residential
construction company faces a computer
conversion project. To increase efficiency
and accuracy, you may need to automate
functions like payroll, estimating, job
costing, etc., that you currently do on paper
or partly on paper. Or, perhaps you're
considering purchasing an integrated software
system to dovetail several stand-alone,
automated functions that need to talk to each
other and share data. Or perhaps the time has
come to convert from one integrated software
system to another.
Depending on the planning and communication
that goes on behind the scenes, your
employees may regard a computer conversion
project positively and look forward to
gaining new paradigms, controls, and
opportunities. On the flip side, they may
view the project with the trepidation of
getting a nice, slow root canal.
You see, while it's in process, a conversion
is "dead time." It does nothing to close more
homes, get more land, reduce costs, or
shorten cycle time. Because they can't see
immediate benefits, employees may wonder why
the company is undertaking a computer
conversion project. Unless you explain the
rationale upfront, they'll be dismayed if
their workloads increase or shift to
facilitate the conversion.
What Do You Want?
The crucial term here is "expectations."
Everyone reacts differently to a computer
conversion project and plays a different role
in it. As a business owner and the one behind
the conversion, its important to understand
how each of your employees sees the project
unfold. Lets break this down a little:
What does everyone want from the
implementation? You can start with an
owner's expectation of increased profits or
market share. Department managers may be
looking for better control or proactive
decision-making capability from each part of
the system. Staff members often want
solutions to reduce hassles and task
duplication, and make life easier.
Now let's look at some difficulties arising
from those differing expectations:
Managers and others who don't get their hands
dirty working on the actual nuts and bolts of
the conversion typically view the conversion
tasks at a high level. They believe the
results are attainable in a best-case
scenario-and that may be the only scenario
they consider. Vendors and staff may fuel
this viewpoint by telling managers that a
conversion can be completed in a certain (and
unbeknownst to them, inadequate) amount of
time. However, when normal circumstances
throw off the projects timing, everyone
becomes frustrated and disappointed.
Psychologically, upper-management personnel
tend to be big-picture. These folks generally
aren't detail-oriented. Unfortunately, the
mechanics of a computer conversion don't
allow for high-level anything. A project of
this nature demands 100% uncompromising
accuracy in data conversion, file setup, and
everything else. If you end up building a
database that nobody trusts because it's
riddled with flaws and errors, you're back at
Pave the Way
More software implementations fail because of
an organization's negative personal dynamics
than the softwares inability to perform.
Some residential construction business owners
assume that they can hire or retain miracle
workers (i.e., a new manager or consultant)
to perform computer conversion projects for
I have nothing against consultants; in fact,
I am one. I help with many software
implementations, and hopefully facilitate a
smooth and productive transition. But what I
can't do is fix a toxic communication process
in an organization thats forced to share
information for the first time.
So what are you to do? The simple answer is
careful planning and communication. Use these
steps to lay the groundwork for an effective,
successful computer conversion project:
* Explain to employees why you are
undertaking the project. Tell them what's in
it for them, and what they are likely to
expect throughout the computer conversion
process and after it is complete.
* Ask them what they hope to gain from the
* Ask them what difficulties they foresee
during the project's implementation. Be sure
to address and act on their concerns.
* Allow plenty time for the conversion. If
your company is operating at redline
capacity, it's unrealistic to think you and
your employees will magically find the time
to convert the data, learn the system, and
apply new management tools. Change takes
time-lots of it.
* Don't expect some outside party to wave a
magic wand and do the project for you. It's
okay to ask for a consultant's or vendor's
help, but remember: It's your business and
your reward for working to apply the
benefits. The sooner your employees become
invested in the project, the more productive
the experience will be.
* Break the project down into tasks and
* Work with your employees to come up with a
reasonable timeline for those tasks and
* Consult your employees about who should do
what tasks-and make the appropriate people
responsible for their completion. Empowerment
helps facilitate employee ownership of the
* Write down your project plan. Fine-tune it
with your employees help.
* Celebrate project milestones when they are
achieved. For example, when all customer
records are entered in the new system, send
around a congratulatory e-mail to the person
who did the data entry and CC everyone in the
* Think through the next steps and
contingencies of your project plan before you
get to them.
* Meet with your employees regularly to
* Don't expect everything to go according to
the project plan. There will be some
variances and frustrations along the way.
Plan for those, too, when you develop your
*Provide support and help to those employees
in the trenches who are doing the conversion
tasks. Don't drag managers into thick details
they can't constructively deal with.
* Discuss and review the plan, again and
again. There's no such thing as too much
preparation or communication.
Bill Allen is a longtime contributor to
NAHB's Business Management & Information
Technology Committee and is president of W.A.
(http://waallenconsulting.com). The Redmond,
Wash., company provides information
technology consulting services and process
management assistance to the home building
industry. Contact Bill at 425-885-4489 or via
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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