valleyofdispair_600When organizations are evaluating new technologies and major process changes, it is common for them to develop inflated expectations that often leads to disappointment and frustration. Factors that contribute to this are the human tendency to be over-confident, an evaluation process that is not rigorous enough, and sales and marketing messaging by vendors that under-emphasizes complexity. Buyers are hearing what they want to hear while sellers are accentuating their positives and minimizing any difficulties and complexities. Software implementations are especially susceptible since modern software products are so complex, but can be made to appear simple and easy in a demonstration.

If expectations exceed reality once the implementation begins, the organization enters what is called the Valley of Despair (Gartner calls this the Trough of Disillusionment in their Hype Cycle model). In this stage there is a high level of stress, uncertainty, poor productivity, and sometimes anger as expectations get aligned with reality. Also in this stage, the organization’s productivity typically falls below the level of productivity of the old technology or process. Much of the discomfort comes from the fact that, no matter how poor the old process or technology was, it was well-understood and predictable, so the team was comfortable with it.

Getting out of the Valley of Despair requires the organization to set aside emotions and follow a systematic plan to steadily deploy the new technology or process, knowing that they will likely need to evolve their plan as they go. Exiting the Valley of Despair requires focus and determination.  Often times while you are in the Valley of Despair, you will second guess your decision. You can quit or move ahead. This is the point where ROI is born – if you give up, you will lock-in your losses. If you push ahead, you will have the opportunity to reap benefits on the other side.

With focus and determination, the organization will become comfortable with the new technology or process and begin to realize how to use it to improve productivity to a level higher than the previous level. This period is called the Slope of Enlightenment. Productivity gains in the early part of this stage will be fairly high before productivity begins to level off.

This roller coaster ride occurs on almost any project and is especially acute when the organization doing the implementation has never attempted such a change or the change involves a technology that is unknown.  Remember that it’s a process, not a project.  Stay focused, work hard, and stick to the plan.  It’ll be worth it.

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