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I was sitting there quietly in this meeting with a dozen other people, all trying to figure out why this company couldn’t roll out the expensive marketing automation suite that they bought. It’s a large company, so there was a lot to discuss. There seemed to be lots of reasons for them to go slowly. No matter where the conversation led, there was another problem that this rollout would cause, and the group labored to come up with solutions for each one. I am the so-called technology consultant, so at one point they turned to me and asked, “How do your other clients do this? This seems impossible!”

And it was impossible, the way they were doing it. They assumed that they had to fix every problem before they could launch. They assumed they needed to make everyone happy. But they actually couldn’t.

I have a lot of experience as a software product manager, and each time a product seems ready to release there are several quarters heard from. The marketing people insist that the product needs one more feature to be sellable. The technology team insists that these four bugs must be fixed or else customers will hate it. The executives insist that it must be launched on time or else the third quarter revenue target will be missed. The beta customers insist that they need the product to be launched so that they can get the support they need inside their organization to roll it out.

No matter what you decide, all of them will end up thinking you decided the wrong thing. I used to say that when all of them are equally upset with you, then it is time to ship.

It’s that kind of cold-hearted thinking that my client needed for its marketing automation rollout. I went to the whiteboard and drew a table with three columns:

  • Who we do this with: These are the adopters for marketing automation that are so critical that they have a veto. If they aren’t happy, it doesn’t roll out.
  • Who we do this for: These are the groups that we really need to win over so that the business value of the project meets expectations. We need to satisfy most of their requirements, train them, and support them to be successful.
  • Who we do this to: This is the hard part. Some of the folks who are happily using the current system (or no system) won’t be happy with the new system, for various reasons. And that’s the problem–the reasons are various, so you need to solve these problems one at a time. So, you might have do things that these groups clearly don’t like.

There was a lot of debate over which groups fell into which categories. And no one agreed on everything, but these were exactly the hard decisions that had to be made. And you can bet that the groups being “done to” will scream to high heaven, but the truth is that you never roll anything out because everyone agrees. You need to decide which groups really matter and which have to sacrifice for the larger goal.

I don’t know if my client will successfully roll this out–time will tell. But I know that they now at least have a chance, where before they had none.