Implementing new software is a high-risk endeavor—and far too often businesses are doing it wrong and then paying the price. Replacing software is a complicated and costly process that takes an average of nine months to complete.
Ninety percent of businesses say they’ve had to replace at least one software tool in the past 24 months, and 81% report plans to replace another in the next 12 months.
A strong technical IT project manager (PM) can help their business avoid these costly mistakes. So if you're an IT PM, what should you be focusing on during a software selection project to make a difference?
To find out, we surveyed 319 IT project managers to understand how often and why software is getting replaced at their companies and their levels of influence and technical knowledge. We’ll share the findings and provide insights for how you can make better software selection choices and improve your company’s competitiveness through technology.
IT PMs help drive tech strategy, supporting adoption of new technologies.
87% of IT PMs say emerging technologies have allowed their company to survive disruptions.
63% of IT PMs say their company is comfortable investing in emerging technologies.
74% of IT PMs say they have influence in defining the overall technology strategy at their business.
72% say they influence defining the technology requirements and 69% say they influence determining the business need.
Replacing software is costing businesses time and money.
90% of IT PMs say their company has replaced at least 1 or more software tools in the past 24 months.
About 1 out of 5 have replaced 3 or more tools.
It takes an average of 4 months to select a new tool and an average of 5 months for implementation.
81% say they have plans to replace one or more software tools in the next 12 months.
66% say in retrospect, their company could have made a better choice in the software tool(s) than what was selected.
A lack of focus on requirements gathering could be a key problem.
47% say software had to be replaced because it was missing necessary features. 37% say it lacked customization options.
But only 14% of IT PMs say they need to improve their skills for vendor selection and vetting, 10% for technical requirements gathering, and 7% for business requirements gathering.
Tech adoption rates are high: We found that 63% of IT PMs say their company is comfortable investing in emerging technologies (e.g., software with artificial intelligence or machine learning functionality, blockchain technologies (e.g. NFTs, cryptocurrencies), or internet of things (IoT) or connected devices).
Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) can often adopt new and emerging technologies faster than larger companies due to their less complex IT infrastructure, fewer employees to train, and, typically, more nimble business mindset.
Adopting new technologies helps SMBs gain a competitive edge and be nimble in times of great change, such as shifting to remote work during the pandemic.. In fact, 87% of IT PMs agree that emerging technologies have allowed their company to survive previous disruptions.
And it’s IT PMs that help drive the selection and adoption of new technologies. PMs can be the bridge between operations and IT because of their knowledge of how both areas work and the tools they use.Therefore, the more involved they are in defining the tech strategy, the better they’re able to ensure the new software tool aligns with the overall strategy.
Here’s a breakdown of where project managers say they have influence in the technology strategy of their company.
Deepen your technical understanding of your company’s IT environment and foster relationships with operational leaders to better understand your company’s business processes. The role of the PM is an ideal one to help IT and operations communicate and strategize together because of the level of involvement and knowledge you have about both.
For example, the more you understand the IT architecture across your business, the better able you'll be to check if a newly requested tool is actually a duplicate of one you already have. Sometimes this happens when a too-often siloed department, such as accounting, requests a new work management tool because they’re unaware that marketing is already using one that would satisfy their needs, too.
How you do this depends on your role in your company:
If you’re a portfolio or program manager, odds are you’re already invited to tech strategy meetings, but if you’re not, this should be your main objective, immediately.
If you’re a project manager under a portfolio/program manager, speak with them about increasing your technical understanding. Ask about educational opportunities and take the initiative to learn more about IT architecture and environment design and management via YouTube or the training material offered by the companies you use (e.g., AWS and Microsoft offer tons of educational content about hosting, design, etc.)
If you’re a project manager at a company without a portfolio or program manager, talk with your CTO/IT director about getting more involved in strategy meetings. Make an effort to join the strategy meetings of other departments, such as operations and HR, or any other area of the business that partners with IT to implement software and other tech.
Next, let's look at why companies are replacing software so often.
Replacing software takes time and money—so understanding why it happens will help you avoid making the same mistakes when picking replacement software.
Here’s a look at some of the key stats about software replacement efforts:
We asked our respondents which software types they’ve replaced in the past 24 months to see if one particular type is causing the issue. But the results show that it’s a mix, with most of the replacements aligning with the changes we’ve seen in how work gets done and the progress we’ve seen in businesses going digital the past several years.
Note: IT service management software, or ITSM, is the tool your IT teams use to create, track, and manage work tickets and incidents to be completed by the IT team. For example, when an employee submits an IT ticket, the work is managed in the ITSM tool.
Since it's not just one type of software that is being replaced, we need to look at the reasons all these tools are being replaced in order to understand how to prevent the new one from also being a poor fit.
The top reason for needing a new software tool is missing features (47%)—this is one that you can avoid and should be the main focus of your next software selection project. We’ll get into how in the next section.
When 66% of IT PMs say that in retrospect, their company could have made a better choice in the software tool that was originally selected, you know the selection process needs an overhaul.
The good news is the majority of reasons why software is getting replaced can be prevented with proper requirements gathering in the selection phase, or discovery phase, of the project.
The bad news is too many companies overlook this part, under-resource the effort, and generally take requirements gathering for granted. They often jump forward with buying a software tool they already had in mind, that was used at their last company, or that they saw a slick sales pitch for recently.
Instead, each time a software tool needs to be purchased, whether as a replacement for an existing system or altogether new for the business, the effort needs to be a formal project with an assigned technical IT project manager. Ideally, this PM would have an IT business analyst (BA) on the team to gather the functional and technical requirements. But in smaller companies, this can fall onto the PM’s shoulders.
While it's clear that requirements gathering is an important skill set for project managers, we found that PMs aren't prioritizing it as a skill. We asked PMs what areas of project management they expect to need to learn more about in the next 12 months, and gathering requirements ranked at the bottom.
The focus on cybersecurity isn’t surprising as threats are becoming more advanced, more common, and the consequences more dire. IT PMs certainly need to continue to deepen their understanding of new tactics and technologies to help protect their companies. And learning more about IT infrastructure and the architecture environment of your company is critical in order to be influential in the tech strategy and to be a strong technical PM.
Both of these skills are important for IT PMs to be successful when selecting and implementing new software of any type. But requirements management needs to be taken much more seriously in order to prevent poor software selection.
Requirements management includes:
Eliciting the must-have and nice-to-have functionalities from power users and supervisors who will be using the software tool.
Documenting these needs clearly and thoroughly. Validation by subject matter experts is included in this part, too.
Grading each software product in its ability to meet the documented requirements. Vendor scorecards are a great way to accomplish this.
Each of these steps should happen in the discovery or selection phase of the project.
Make the case for your department to hire a BA or identify someone internally with strong technical and communication skills who’s interested in cross-training. The best BAs are the ones who know enough about the software and your IT environment to know when a technical requirement is fully fleshed out or not and also quickly builds trust and engagement with the power users and supervisors who’ll use the tool in order to get the most complete picture of their needs.
If you must be the PM and the BA, be sure to schedule extra time in the project so you can perform both functions. Requirements gathering and discovery are critical steps of any project and will make the difference in avoiding getting stuck with a bad-fit tool that needs replacing within the year.
The stakes are high for businesses when picking new software. The wrong choice requires a replacement effort, which takes an average of nine months and tens of thousands of dollars to complete.
Luckily, as an IT PM you’re in the unique and critical position to bridge the gap between understanding what the business and IT needs and how to get it done. Follow the tips included throughout this report, such as deepening your technical understanding of your IT architecture and focusing on requirements gathering, to help your business get the right software.
If you’re anything like me, you’re curious to know more about the IT project managers who took our survey. Well, here’s some info about their experience to satiate your curiosity.
GetApp conducted the Technical Project Management Skills and Digital Disruption Survey in June 2022 of 319 U.S. project managers who've managed an IT software development/implementation project to understand how often and why software is getting replaced. We also asked about their technical knowledge and the tools/approaches they use to help their companies choose and implement the right tech. Respondents were screened for their involvement with project management at their company (very to extremely involved) and that they use a formal PM methodology.
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