Let's face it, at the current pace of technological change, you could wear yourself, your IT staff, and your customers out by constantly adapting new and innovative technologies. Even if you could keep a blistering, constant pace of new adoption, would you want to? Would you have any customers left? Probably not.

The short answer to the question is yes. It is absolutely possible to innovate and upgrade too much, too fast, and too soon. Below, we'll show you how to keep that from happening. Note here that while any company can fall victim to the “too much, too soon” problem, you most commonly see it in departments with young, inexperienced managers, so startups tend to suffer from these kinds of woes more often than companies that have been around for a while. Having said that, longevity is no magical cure. The reality is that anyone can become so dazzled by the range of technologies available that they might succumb to the temptation.

The Risks

The chief risks associated with “too much too soon” are two in number, with the first being customer alienation. Customers like knowing what to expect from you. Once they've had a taste of the buyer's experience at your company, they don't want to have to “re-learn” your firm's buying experience next week. Then learn it again the week following. They want consistency from you, and if you must change, they want gradual, incremental changes, not mind-blowing inversions of what they're used to (to cite one recent example: Retail giant JC Penny nearly went bankrupt when they made huge, paradigm shifting changes to the way their stores were laid out because it alienated their customer base.

The second risk is that it will mess up your established processes, and this can throw inventory off, kill productivity, worsen the end to end customer experience, and paralyze your support staff, all of which will directly impact your bottom line. Worse, once you're mired in this kind of mess, it's usually not just a simple matter of “rolling back” the change and re-adopting the old system. Oftentimes, the upgrade will have required changes to your system's architecture that actually make it more painful to march back to where you were than it would be to plow forward until you get it sorted out. Unfortunately, (see the recent Healthcare.gov roll out), continuing forward can be an expensive, messy proposition too. All that to say there's usually no “easy out,” once you're in that mess.

The Way Forward

Think evolutionary, not revolutionary. Revolutionary thinking is for startups, who are unencumbered by legacy systems. They can build a revolutionary system from the ground up without having to worry about compatibility (backwards or otherwise). Established companies can't do that.

It may take longer, but by making small, gradual changes, you'll actually be helping yourself in the long run. The scientific method very definitely applies here. Change one variable. Chart the impacts of the thing you changed, iron out all the difficulties associated with the change, then roll out and replicate across your entire company.

After a suitable adjustment period (check with your support people to see when the number of calls returns to whatever your baseline is), then you're safe to start on the next project. Be thorough and be methodical.