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Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Deployments and the Lean Project Process

Studies have shown that having a formal project management strategy in place has a direct correlation to successful deployment of enterprise content management system. In a previous post, we explored a Forrester Research study that linked agile enterprise content management (ECM) deployments with high user satisfaction rates. Another iterative project management approach that works well for successful ECM deployments is Lean.

Lean and Toyota: From Product Production to Product Management

Originally, Lean grew out of the Toyota Automatic Loom Works project. When Toyota started developing cars, there was an enormous difference between the Japanese and US car markets.  At the time, Toyota had very few engineers and very little prior experience. The company realized they required specific knowledge and skill sets in order to develop cars for the US market, so they conducted a series of experiments. This acquired knowledge was documented and recapitulated upon.

The term Lean was first coined by Toyota Quality Engineer John Krafcik in 1988. Primarily, Lean is focused on getting the right things, to the right place, at the right time, while minimizing waste and being flexible about change. The Lean toolset was initially used for product production. Later in the 1990’s, it was adapted for product development. Today, innovative IT departments use Lean for internal product deployment/management, which is where we most often encounter it.

Lean and ECM


Lean emphasizes the client experience with the product. This makes it particularly effective for new ECM deployments where companies are replacing legacy ECM systems because they’ve struggled with user adoption and satisfaction issues. There are four key takeaways from the Lean toolset that are especially relevant to ECM deployments:

  1. The main reason deployments fail is because they don’t meet customer needs in a way that is better than the alternatives. With legacy ECM deployments, we see this all of the time. For example, IT departments catch staff using unsanctioned file sharing apps instead of the company sanctioned ECM system. Frankly, these employees use their personal file sharing apps because they’re easy-to-use and the legacy ECM system isn’t. IT should take heed to this message. If the users don’t like your system, they’ll find an alternative – whether it’s provided by the company or not.
  2. Focus on the “what.” The “what” describes the benefits that the deployment gives the client and what these benefits will allow the user to accomplish. With an ECM deployment, the “what” could be the “ability to find an invoice in less than 10 seconds, “ or, “the means to retrieve all of the documents related to the JL Picard project.”
  3. Develop personas. A persona is an exact description of the user and what he or she wishes to accomplish. The purpose of a persona is to create realistic representations of your client. Personas are often referred to as “roles.” A good way to classify personas is by department and hierarchy. For example, an accounting clerk has a very different role than a sales manager. They’ll each view the JL Picard project according to their job function. The accounting clerk is concerned with AR and collections so that person will want to access and participate in workflows using documents like purchase orders, checks and invoices. The sales manager needs access to some of those documents and workflows, but also requires involvement in the quote, RFP and contracting processes. Modern ECM systems allow organizations to easily customize access, security and workflows according to these personas and roles.
  4. Write user stories. While many organizations develop personas, many do not build out user stories. This is a grave mistake. User stories are the single best way to communicate requirements and to tell the product “story” in a way that everyone understands. A well written user story follows this type of format: “As a (type of user), I want to (do something), so that I can (desired result).” Part of the user story for the sales manager might read, “As a sales manager, I want to view and approve RFP responses before they are submitted, so I can prevent errors in pricing.” The IT department would then employ the user story to customize an RFP approval workflow in ECM to accomplish this.

As organizations struggle to manage their information and ECM deployments grow in complexity, it’s important to use a formal project management methodology to ensure successful implementations. Iterative project management methodologies such as Agile and Lean help organizations increase user satisfaction and prevent waste of valuable IT resources.