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How to Survive the Print MIS Transition

A Print MIS transition is like a battlefield of sorts. For the person leading the transition it is a time of scrutiny, chaos, incredible intensity and unexpected disruptions. It is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and stress generating events you can face. While it is incredibly rewarding to get through it, you usually don’t come out of it unscathed.

By Jane Mugford
Published: July 15, 2014

A Print MIS transition is like a battlefield of sorts. For the person leading the transition it is a time of scrutiny, chaos, incredible intensity and unexpected disruptions. It is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and stress generating events you can face. While it is incredibly rewarding to get through it, you usually don’t come out of it unscathed.

To the person leading the implementation, all eyes are on you. The leadership above you is watching you like a hawk and the team below you is perfecting the art of the “water cooler” conversations as they critique the Print MIS moves you are making. Quite frankly, the disruption of a Print MIS implementation, no matter how perfectly it goes (and none of them go perfectly by the way), lends itself beautifully to increasing your blood pressure and making you want to buy a one-way ticket to ‘nobody can find me here’ island. So, how do you see it through this incredibly challenging time and come out as a functioning and not bitter human being?

1)     Go to User Conferences Before you Implement

One of the best things you can do is go to a user conference of the software you purchased before you start your implementation. This isn’t so much about going to classes to learn things about the technology. While that is usually beneficial, it isn’t as meaningful before you’re live. However, what is incredibly meaningful and worth every penny of the cost of the trip is meeting peers who have gone through the journey you are about to embark on. The networking is everything. Don’t be shy, introduce yourself to people, join the user groups and start asking questions. “What went wrong?”, “What would you do differently?”, “What was easier than you thought?” This accomplishes two things: first, it gives you a realistic perspective of what it takes to get the technology implemented. Secondly, it gives you a stack of business cards that you can have handy. It is always so much easier to not re-invent the wheel. When you get stuck on things, you can always call the vendor but sometimes the vendor can’t help you with ‘real-life’ scenarios that they haven’t factored in to their technology. Folks that have implemented prior to you are innovators. Trust me, there is at least one thing they have done to be innovative with the technology. So long as you are not a direct competitor, they love to share what they have learned. Don’t be afraid to ask for ideas and help from these people that have gone before you.

2)     Give yourself some breathing room to focus on the MIS transition

You need to re-evaluate your work schedule. A Print MIS transition is a heavy undertaking with a tremendous time commitment. I don’t know most of you reading this, but I could make a fairly educated guess that you are already flat out at least 40 hours a week. You need to put a lot of hours a week into the Print MIS transition (even if you have an internal team assigned, you are leading the team and plan). My suggestion on how to do this is to seriously find a way to block off one day a week to not be in the office. That’s right – one day…EACH WEEK. If you can’t find out how to carve out 8 hours a week, you need to be very honest with yourself about your ability to get this done on your own. The reason I suggest not being in the office is that to be truly focused, you can’t be distracted by the day-to-day interruptions that will happen. Even if you are sitting in your office with the door closed. Also, a Print MIS implementation requires you to ‘think outside the box’ and let the creative juices flow. Sitting at home with the music on and the coffee pot full can really aid this. So can sitting with your laptop at your favorite coffee shop. I know most people feel guilty about not working in ‘an office’, but trust me, some of the best work that you can do will be outside of your normal work environment.

3)     Build your support network

Outside of industry peers, you really need to build yourself a support network to help you through. That may seem corny but it is important. These are the ‘ventees’, the people you can vent your frustrations to through the transition, especially the 3-4 week go live craziness. These are the folks that can know that you are on the brink of tears (even the guys!) or at risk of firing just about anyone because they looked at you funny. These are the ones that can also keep you motivated to keep going. They can also help you to keep things in perspective ‘will this really matter a year from now?’ These are your trusted advisors, your closest ‘business’ friends and your mentors.

4)     For actual go-live, warn your ‘outside of work’ life

The initial week to 10 days of go-live can be a round-the clock adventure, especially if you are running a 24/7 operation. Even if your facility runs 8-5, your days will be long and intense. If you have living beings that rely on you for their general existence (kids, pets, elderly parents), make sure your backups are engaged and warned so they can help you and take some of the pressure off. As an example, warning your spouse that it’s going to be really tough for you to cook dinner and get the kids off to soccer practice that week, can help everyone be prepared and not be scrambling. It can also really help you to know things are covered on the home-front.

5)     Block out the noise

One of the hardest things to do is to block out the noise and sideline critiquing that happens during a transition. The hardest thing to do is not take it personally. However, you have to find a way to do that. Just remember, it is always easiest to stand on the sidelines and complain rather than to jump in to the middle and figure out the problem or come forward with a solution. People love to complain about politics and some of the biggest complainers are the ones that never vote. However, why you are in your position is you are well equipped to do this. You just have to wear your thickest skin during the transition. If you go in to the implementation expecting criticism from all angles and directions, then it will be easier to take when it happen and easier to block out.

Embarking on a Print MIS transition is a very exciting time for your company. It is going to give you an entirely new platform from which to grow your business and move it in to the future. However, for you, the person leading the charge, it is a complex and at times, all-consuming journey. It is important to consciously determine how you are going to make sure YOU have the resources you need to see it through. You are in fact, the most important key to the Print MIS success story in your organization.  

Jane Mugford is a contributor at WhatTheyThink’s Print Softwaresection as well the lead print MIS specialist at Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions.

 

Discussion

By Cary Sherburne on Jul 16, 2014

I've heard from some folks that this is a depressing discussion. Maybe, but it is so necessary. I just read an interesting article on the state of the newspaper industry (http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-newspaper-crisis-by-numbers.html)

Its closing paragraph has some relevance here. We do love our print service provider community! But we also are passionate about the things that printing companies must do to stay competitive in an ever-changing and increasingly digital world. Not too different, really, from what newspapers face.

The closing paragraph of the newspaper article says:

PS: I Love you

A newspaper executive told me a few days ago that some people in the industry hate my continuing coverage of the challenges facing newspapers. For the record, I don’t enjoy writing this stuff any more than newspaper people like reading it. But I do it because I am trying to remind them of the urgent and formidable challenges they face in not just protecting their individual businesses but also in preserving the irreplaceable public trust that newspapers represent.

 

By Jennifer Matt on Jul 16, 2014

Cary,

Folks are right - IT projects can be depressing, in fact they have a reputation of going over budget, under delivering on the ROI, and causing lots of frustration and disruption to the business. They are challenging and the reason we write about the challenges in such an upfront (some would say, "in your face" manner) is that making IT projects succeed is within YOUR POWER if and only if you dedicate the time and resources to prepare for the undertaking.

Jane isn't writing a theoretical article here - she's writing about a Print MIS transition that she just completed and witnessed how hard it was on the EVP of Operations (this is real life - might not be what you want to hear but its what people are actually experiencing).

Difficult topics are the ones that need to be talked about more, not less. I truly believe that the printers who survive and thrive will be the ones that accept and embrace that we are now squarely in the information age and data is the raw material of this age - if you don't have a trusted system (Print MIS) to collect, manage, and serve up data to you in a way that makes you a data-drive organization, you will struggle to remain competitive.

Thanks for the comment. The good news about this topic - the printer is now experiencing what I would call "operational ease" because of this effort.

Jen

 

By Christine Farr on Aug 22, 2014

I had 25 years of knowledge and experience in both the computer field and in the printing industry having worked for 4 corporations in a professional capacity when I was asked to lead the tech team through a transformational change in which we were moving from one system to another, a common system. I made it look easy but I was using an agile project management methodology which was behind my success. I was well respected by the users and developed a close bond with them. Then my mentor retired and this manager was promoted and decided he would lead the tech team and added a bunch of compliance measures that made the users fill out trouble tickets before the techs could look at their problems. Well that's fine as long as the techs test their programs thoroughly before handing it over to the users but that wasn't what was happening. The users thought this manager and the other techs were too self important and resented the trash they were handing over to the users which were full of bugs. The next thing I know I am the one in trouble for helping the users deal with this trash. It was crazy. The users don't always know how to describe a problem but they sure know when there is one. It is so much easier to take a quick look. The users stopped reporting problems because they were sick of the attitude they were getting from the techs and finally the whole thing got so out of control that I was forced to confront management about it and the next thing I know I was fired in an ambush. Well it turns out that this manager practically destroyed the company through his incompetence and is blaming everything on the recession. That's what happens when you let a "hacker boy" run the project and not a professional I.T. person.

 

By Christine Farr on Aug 22, 2014

My best advice in surviving a Print MIS transition is to cultivate a relationship with the users and give them a part to play in the process. The users can either make or break a project. By including the users in the process, it makes them feels that they have a stake in the project's success as much as you do.

The one mistake I made was focusing too much time on the science and not spending enough time cultivating my relationship with management. I thought I could let my work speak for itself but you still have to spend the time promoting yourself to management. How soon they forget.

 

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