Commentary & Analysis
Clear Communication with Print Software
Clear communication is essential when implementing print software. When you don’t ask clarifying questions, you assume that if there were more relevant details about the integration they would have shared them with you. Do not assume. Ask clarifying questions. Be that annoying person who keeps asking questions.
By Jennifer Matt
Published: April 19, 2017
Assumption: a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.
We all make assumptions all the time, consciously and unconsciously. Human nature doesn’t like uncertainty so rather than asking clarifying questions, we assume and move forward.
This is so dangerous.
Question: “Can your Print MIS integrate with our existing web-to-print system?”
Sounds simple enough, straight forward question, simple answer, EXCEPT the part about… the API Module (application programming interface) is required to integrate with any solution and it costs extra. The API at this time only supports one direction only (allows you to push data into the MIS but not get data out of the MIS). The development to integrate between these solutions requires development effort and development resources which also cost extra. We don’t know of any other printers who have done this particular integration and integrations like these typically take months to complete.
When you don’t ask clarifying questions, you assume that if there were more relevant details about the integration they would have shared them with you. Do not assume. Ask clarifying questions. Be that annoying person who keeps asking questions.
“My Print MIS won’t work with my business.”
“My people have been trying to implement it for years, the solution just doesn’t fit the way we do business.”
What parts of the solution don’t fit?
“All of them, I don’t want to get into the weeds, we have tried and tried, I’m shopping for a new solution. Chalk this up to a learning experience, I picked the wrong solution.”
What are you going to do differently in your selection process this time?
Clear communication. Clear definition of the problem. Remove the emotion that comes with frustration. You are making a very big assumption here which is; a different Print MIS will work for you. There is one thing for sure, a different Print MIS will cost you money (that is the only thing you can 100% count on). There is a very good chance a different Print MIS will cause you the same level of frustration about a very different group of features/functionality. You cannot possibly be setup to succeed with the next one until you’ve really defined the root cause of the failure of your current solution. There are two parts of the root cause; one is the technology, the other is you/your team/your people/your approach.
When determining the limitations of the technology, we make so many assumptions (things that are accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof). One person on your team makes a single support call into the vendor, asks them a question. The answer to this question is taken as total truth. I’m not saying you should doubt all the advice that is given via vendor support resources, what I’m saying is that if a customer called your company and asked a question that could really be solved in many ways, would you bet the bank on what the person who happen to answer the phone said? No. People have limited perspectives. The support team at a vendor does not know about your business, does not know about the full functionality of the solution (that is nearly impossible). Print MIS’ solutions are complex, for any given challenge, there might be five different ways to solve it.
I’ve seen printers throw out expensive software packages based on assumptions that were 100% false. Such a shame because nobody wins in this scenario. Printer wastes time and money, vendor wastes time and money, new vendor gets a potential customer who is jaded and has a habit of making assumptions.
Now the interesting part, what is your role in the failure of the Print MIS implementation? In virtually every single instance, there is a lack of clear communication. This comes in many flavors, I’ll list my three favorite and also describe what you would ideally want to correct going forward.
1. Lack of Vision, Purpose, Goal, Communication
Software impacts your people, they operate better when they have context over the “why” without this context there is little chance of them getting truly engaged. When people aren’t given the “why?” they imagine the worst “e.g. this software is going to replace my job, hence I need to make sure it fails.”
You must create a message that is relevant to your people. This message must focus on “what’s in it for them.” Yes, you must put your sales hat on here. You can ignore this as your own risk, companies who do this start slower because it takes time to think this through and then deliver the message in a meaningful way. These company’s complete implementations faster, have much broader engagement from their team, and get more ROI out of their investment with the vendor.
2. Problems Dominate the Communication vs. Solutions
Communication has a tone. Communication develops a pattern. Software implementations that are “off the rails” have a tone/pattern of complaining about the problems. The team gets laser focused on finding problems as if this is the key to their success. This is the worst of all combinations; your team is working hard at finding why this project won’t work.
When someone comes to you with a problem, after you understand it, ask these questions:
How can we proceed/succeed in spite of it?
Can we change something about the way we work to make this software work for us in its current state?
This is a big question. Most companies approach software implementations with the attitude of bending the software to the way they work. What is more flexible, your workflow or print software? Your flexibility is 100% in your control, software is out of your control, it’s expensive and time consuming to change. Not many printers have “perfect workflows” so flexing a bit to work more in align with the software is not only possible, it could lead to a more efficient workflow. Printers are attached to their workflows, often only because it’s the way they have been doing something for years.
3. Ownership, Responsibility, Accountability Communication
Print software is “owned” by the vendor. Once you license it for your company, you need to take ownership of its success in your business. When your communication keeps the ownership outside your company, there is a lack of accountability and you are inadvertently keeping the door open that this whole thing might go away.
Once you decide about print software, you own it. Your team’s job is to dig in and learn how to optimize this software for your business. This means proactive learning. This means your people will soon know more about how the vendor’s software works than the vendor support people do!
Clear communication is not easy, it is way easier to make assumptions and move on but it can lead to some expensive decisions. The assumption is dangerous because it leads you down a path that feels like certainty but isn’t. Ask more clarifying questions.