Jun 2005


By Bill Allen

This is the 14th article in the Tech Talk series.

As I mentioned in Tech Talk 9: Don't Fix New Software if it Isn't Broken, many people who buy new software expect it to work the same way and produce the same results their previous system did.

Many users often do the same (let the tail wag the dog) when contemplating other technology-related changes or system updates. There's a very consistent tendency to base change on a lack of change. Contractors want the same-old-or think they do.

A builder I worked with last year wanted to reduce his cycle time, improve his production schedule's accuracy, and enhance his customers'experience. However, he rejected what was probably the best fit for his stated objectives because the integrated software he'd been considering couldn't produce certain sales backlog and project management reports the company had been using for some time.

The reports satisfied a certain comfort level of control that management required, but what did they really accomplish? Not much. The sales backlog report was simply a periodic spreadsheet of "deals in the pipeline" and a monthly subjective update of time remaining to close. The subjective update was based upon each project manager's assessment of the current contract status. The spreadsheet was manually updated, which made it subject to input error. To make matters worse, it didn't link to the construction schedule.

The project management report was an impressive set of schedules produced with the rest of the financials. The expense breakdown included a time sheet indicating how each project manager split his time between several projects. The report also tracked several expense items that were charged to the project level. Ironically, the project managers didn't fill in the reports accurately; they estimated their time and project expenses well after the fact. The result was a batch of minutiae that nobody took action on.

The builder decided not to integrate or update his stand-alone, manual procedures. The decision was based on a defensive and "safe" set of constructs to maintain the status quo-not to move forward. You can imagine what that did for the systems he was trying to improve. How can you avoid making the same mistake in your organization?

Use the following tips to become more comfortable with change, and to make decisions based on what "should be," not what has been done in the past.

Top management must embrace change and compel staff to drive a value-based decision-making process. For example, if your customer service manager is dead-set on not updating or improving the company's warranty claims process, he or she must provide good reasons why it should remain as is. Chances are those reasons won't outweigh the benefits of an improved system.

An integrated, automated system is ultimately the only way to eliminate redundant data entry and information retrieval. If you maintain separate databases, they should at least be electronically synchronized and perpetual.

Every "feature" of a new or updated system must yield measurable, demonstrable results that make a very personal difference in your company. Just because one builder accomplishes something with a given system or software program does not mean another builder can attain the same results.

A demonstrable result is the result of written procedures that employees follow all the time.

Measurable results translate into quantitative and qualitative differences that can be implemented and documented.

Budget for sufficient resources to evaluate and implement the new system or upgrade (staff time to review different systems, software training, working with a consultant or vendor, etc.). This does not mean simply doing an automatic conversion from one system to another and getting through it as quickly as you can. It involves assessing every aspect of your company to see where change will make a difference and taking the time to allow that change to improve the operation. A system decision is a real opportunity to take stock of your company' character and culture. This makes true change more attainable and prevents the past from controlling the future.

Bill Allen is a longtime contributor to NAHB's Business Management & Information Technology Committee and is president of W.A. Allen Consulting ( 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

For more information about this item, please contact William Heslop at 800-368-5242 x8472 or via e-mail at

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