Knowledge Management Portals – Turning Failures into Successes

Industry research shows that a large percentage of portal projects fail after significant delays, cost, and frustration.  Reviewing specific case studies highlights some common pitfalls, including:

  • Selecting the wrong solution
  • Lacking a mature change plan
  • Relying on an immature business plan
  • Suffering buy-in problems
  • Missing accountability

Issue #1 – Selecting the wrong solution
Too often, business owners have a “one size fits all” mentality and fail to identify a solution tailored to their organization.  The size, maturity, and complexity of the organization are all factors that should be considered when selecting a product and defining a governance structure to administer the portal.  A successful solution for Company ABC rarely will be a successful solution for Company XYZ.

A Solution – Selecting the right solution

The first (and most important) step in selecting the right solution is defining the right solution.  This is done by developing a comprehensive list of functional and technical requirements, covering all stakeholder groups and business processes.  These requirements will help identify why the portal is needed and how it will be used.

Issue #2 – Lacking a mature change plan
A common mistake is to develop a solution that meets current demands rather than forecasting future needs.  Failing to anticipate future needs will often result in a product that is outgrown within its first year.

The Solution – Planning for the future

Forecasting future needs is vital to a portal project’s success.  It is important to assess the role a portal will have several years down the road.  It is equally as important to analyze where the organization, as a whole, will be in the next few years – significant changes to certain aspects, such as size, of the organization will have an effect on the requirements of the portal.

Issue #3 – Relying on an immature business plan
Like most IT projects, portal projects require significant monetary and human resources.  In most cases, the investment will be met with resistance unless quantitative benefits are shown.  Failing to articulate the value of the portal weighed against the resources needed to implement it will result in many considering the project to be a “bonus” rather than a necessity for the organization.

The solution – Define clear objectives and measurable goals

Defining clear objectives and measurable goals before implementation begins is essential.  Without clearly defined goals, a portal project will often be met with resistance shortly after the project begins.  The best way to avoid resistance is to perform a return on investment analysis before implementation.  This analysis will detail how much capital the portal project will absorb, and how long it will take until the benefits are realized.  Without a project “roadmap”, it is impossible to measure the project’s success.

Issue #4 – Suffering buy-in problems
In many cases, a portal addresses the daily needs of workers, but top-level executives fail to see its value.  The opposite can also be true – executives may feel that the portal is an integral part of the organization, but workers find it impractical.  The project will not be successful unless all stakeholder groups are committed.

The Solution – Ensure all stakeholder groups are committed

Executive-level sponsorship and buy-in from user communities are both essential to the project’s success.  Executive support is needed for funding and for to gain support from user communities – it is rare to see users buy-in to a project that executives are uncertain about.  Without buy-in from the user communities, it is possible to end up with a multimillion-dollar, technically adept portal that is not accepted by the organization.  To avoid such scenarios, the portal should be heavily marketed to all stakeholder groups before, during, and after implementation.

Issue #5 – Missing Accountability
Most portal projects have a project leader to oversee successful implementation.  After implementation, the project team often dissolves and the portal is left as an orphan without an owner.  Without clear ownership, the portal has nobody to ensure the content is relevant and up-to-date.  Users will grow tired of weeding through the junk to find relevant material and the number of users will begin to dwindle.

The Solution – Designate a portal owner

A portal owner serves three purposes: 1) a point of contact for portal coordination efforts; 2) to monitor and manage the content that exists on the portal; and 3) to monitor user satisfaction within all stakeholder groups by providing a continuous feedback loop. Depending on the nature of the organization, the portal owner can either be internal employee (often in a project management office or central IT function), or an external specialist.