Knowledge Center

Common Pitfalls When Deploying a Document Management (DM) System



At EIM International, we hear a wide range of expectations from our clients. Some think that a successful DM deployment will be easy: simply load the software and we are done! Some anticipate a difficult road, with technology hurdles, a huge expense or, worst of all, major cultural upheaval.

From our perspective, a DM deployment does not have to be overwhelming, and you can embrace the implementation as an opportunity rather than approach it with fear. You will enjoy the flavor of success by seasoning your recipe with careful forethought and planning. 

Here, we share some common-sense insights to avoid pitfalls as you embark on your journey. If you think about committing to a DM system as a marriage, these tips will ensure that you escape Frank Sinatra’s maxim about marriage: “A man doesn't know what happiness is until he's married. By then it's too late.”

Pitfall #1:  Neglect your users

Even though much of a document management deployment occurs behind the scenes, at the end of the project, its success is ultimately tied to adoption by your users.  The best strategy for avoiding this pitfall depends on your culture, but both are rooted in the same philosophy: Be deeply intimate with your users’ needs. Some clients take an inclusive approach: enlist users in an advisory panel, and document the consensus of the majority. Others apply the Steve Jobs approach: start with excellent research, know and predict your users’ needs, and deliver excellence above and beyond their expectations.

Next, invest in a killer promotional campaign.  Ensure that people know what is coming, and why, and most importantly how they will benefit from using the new DM system. Build it on a catchy theme like “Take a New Look” and elaborate with a tagline like “A fresh face with unprecedented document control!” Let them know specifically how it will be better than what they’ve used over the last 20 years. Seriously, Promote Enthusiasm! 

Pitfall #2:  Ignore the Details

“We think in generalities, but we live in detail.” (Alfred North Whitehead).  To deliver a useful, intuitive DM, it must address the details.

Expect your integrator to elicit information and foster good dialogue that helps them best hit the mark.  Prioritize the features that are most critical, and plan for how you will handle details behind areas such as:

  • Metadata to drive document organization
  • Simplified retrieval [consider “Recent Documents,” “Recent Emails,” or “Recent Matters”]
  • Advanced search [Google-like and Boolean search]
  • Integrated applications
  • Security model
  • Sharing [internal sharing, external publication, external collaboration]

At every step, consider what you can simplify. Can you reduce the number steps to save a document?  Can you show search results with fewer clicks? Think about the details, organize the results, and then review them again to make sure that you have it right.

Pitfall #3:  Under-Estimate the Effort

At EIM International, we met a CIO shortly after he completed a firm-wide rollout of a new DM system.  He was now under tremendous pressure, and he asked us to assist with extensive troubleshooting, user training, ethical wall automation, and document migration from their old system. In other words, there were large categories of tasks that weren’t part of the initial rollout, now causing user dissatisfaction. We helped him with the Sisyphean task of changing people’s negative perceptions - all of which could have been avoided had the effort been scoped properly in the first place.

DM deployment projects can range in scope depending on a number of factors, and your commitment to a well-defined project plan will avoid misaligned expectations.  Ensure that you have the proper resources not just available on staff, but prepared and dedicated to the project. Validate that your timeframe makes sense based on other concurrent initiatives which may require attention from overlapping personnel.

Pitfall #4:  Neglect to Hire the Right Expertise

We know that there are some pretty savvy people on your team, and you might be inclined to try to go it alone.  In-house teams are absolutely the best specialists for keeping the current systems optimized and ensuring high client satisfaction. Outside consultants, however, are the ultimate specialists in implementing systems.  We find that the most successful projects are those that meld the best of each team in a true partnership, combining the integrator who has the product expertise with your staff who has the user-facing expertise.

Of course there will always be surprises that just cannot be avoided. Remember, When you come to a roadblock, take a detour. Knowing the most common pitfalls in advance can make the difference between a successful project embraced by the community and one that haunts you painfully with one bump in the road after another.  Here’s to your success!