How to Tell the CEO that Your Legacy ERP is a Disaster Waiting To Happen

This recent post over on the HBR blogs about a system for speaking IT truths to CEOs is a must read for every CIO and CPO alike. Both the CIO and CPO know that every IT purchase has a life-span and that every piece of legacy software is a ticking time-bomb waiting to detonate and cost the company millions of dollars in a matter of days (or hours, as Comair found out in 2004) if it is not safely disposed of before the clock runs out, but both often have problems conveying the message.

According to the author, who modified a methodology used by medical doctors who often have to deliver bad news on a regular basis, the following seven-step process will often make the process easier.

  1. Understand the CEO’s perceptions
    Does the CEO grasp what a legacy systems issue is?
  2. Hold the calls
    Deliver the bad news in one, uninterrupted, focussed session.
  3. Enlist a business ally
    Make it a business problem, not just a technical one.
  4. Stick to the Facts
    Focus on the risk and the associated loss. CEOs are generally NOT technical.
  5. Don’t Improvise
    Have a set of best-, typical-, and worst-case scenarios prepared in advance and do not deviate.
  6. Insist on Immediate Action
    Infuse a sense of urgency and a time line for corrective action.
  7. Have a Clear Next Step
    Have a specific plan for getting to the goal.

It’s certainly worth a try if you don’t have a better option (and, chances are, you don’t).