Wedding days are a magical moment that girls and boys dream of from the time they’re little.  They get to be prince and princess living happily ever after.  However, this is generally where the dream – or fantasy ends.  They focus on the event.  They believe the transaction that is encompassed in the wedding ceremony is the thing they should look forward to.  Without taking away from the magic that can be the wedding day, there is more – the marriage.

In the context of a deployment of a new system, we often look forward to the launch day with the same dreamy expectations that it will be the culmination of the project.  The truth is, however, that the success of the project is not about the launch day, it’s about the adoption and engagement of the users after the launch is completed.

The Big Event

There is so much focus and preparation on the big event that it’s hard to see beyond it.  There are invitations to be sent and decorations and dresses to buy.  There are so many details to attend to – and those details can block the view to the other side.

As spectacular as the moment is – whether a wedding or a launch – it pales in comparison to the long-term commitment to the project or the marriage.  So while it’s natural to focus on the details of the launch and ensuring that everything is just perfect – or as everyone eventually finds out, as perfect as it’s going to be – it’s a shiny distraction from the long-term cost and commitment that the project will take.

Having “grown up” in software development, one thing was drilled into my head.  The cost of maintenance – the long-term support of the software you develop – will far exceed any costs you spend developing it.  It’s easy to say that this is no longer the case given the pace of change today – but good systems that deliver the most value to the organizations they’re used by always cost more in the long run than the initial burst of cost associated with the development.

The Merger Marriage

Some marriages look like partnerships – but only partnerships.  The two individuals make a contract with each other.  They agree to merge their finances, houses, and lives.  But it’s tit-for-tat.  I agree to do this but only if you do that.  While this is a basic collaboration strategy, it falls well short of the richness that can be found in a marriage.  (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more about tit-for-tat and other collaboration strategies.)  However, this strategy is a minimal investment strategy.  That is, each party invests what they minimally agreed to – and as a result, they get back the minimum that the other party agreed to.

There’s a different way of working on a marriage, where both parties invest just a little bit extra into the marriage than what they think they’ve committed to or that they’re getting out of it.  The result can be a level of trust, intimacy, reward that looks completely different than a merger marriage.

In change efforts, if we don’t find ways to invest just a little more effort in helping everyone use the results of the change, we may find that we achieve the goal of the change but fall well short of what is actually possible.  The organization may get return on investment if 20% of the impacted groups use the solution.  Perhaps that’s what the evaluation criteria for success was.  If you get 20% of users to contribute to a knowledge management solution or to update their profiles, the organization will, presumably, get the value that it wants from the implementation.  Shooting for the goal and intentionally stopping robs the organization from the impact of reaching 40% of even 80%.  While there are no guarantees that the greater adoption will result in greater results for the organization, it’s likely that the results will increase.

The difference between the merger or the success and the fulfilling marriage and overwhelming success lies in the amount of effort that you’re willing to put forth, not just in the development and launch (wedding) but in the willingness to make sustained commitments after the big day.

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