Executive Briefings

Seven Best Practices to Follow for Smoother Software Implementations

Across my career, I've participated in scores of software implementations for companies ranging from SMBs to industry giants. Some have gone exceptionally well, while others have encountered delays. Each effort has served as a learning experience, offering insights and lessons learned about the characteristics "smooth" projects share – and the pitfalls to avoid.

Seven Best Practices to Follow for Smoother Software Implementations

My takeaways are not revolutionary in any sense of the word. However, these commonsense “best practices” form essential prerequisites to every software implementation effort I undertake. Follow these seven recommendations and you’ll experience smoother implementations as well. 

1. Set the ground rules. From the start, management must communicate to staff that the decision to implement a new system is final and irrevocable. Leaders must convey a sense of optimism and a willingness to help every employee learn and master the functionality of the new system. At the same time, they must make it clear that there is no room for negativity. A constant revisiting of how the old system did this or that is neither healthy nor conducive to change. If employees understand that management is totally committed and there is no going back, they will realize that they must either accept the change or seek alternate employment.

 2. Appoint a project lead. A single point of contact who participates in everything from user setup to operations to accounting is critical. The project lead need not be fully immersed in everything – or possess in-depth knowledge about technology. This individual simply needs to be someone who can encourage internal stakeholders, keep the project on the rails and help move it forward.  This person should possess a diverse background in order to interface easily with operations staff, IT personnel, vendor implementers and software trainers.

3. Assign “super” users. Businesses and their processes are complex. Thus, any system implementation will reflect this complexity to some degree. Yet, general end-users need to view things as clearly and simply as possible. For this reason, “super” users are key personnel contributing to an implementation’s success. The ideal “super” user is a management-level individual, and the general rule of thumb is one “super” user for every 10 operators.

These individuals receive direct, intensive software training from the vendor, allowing them to serve as the first line of support when other staff members have questions or issues. Their advanced level of knowledge makes them the ideal persons to communicate with the vendor’s help desk personnel should questions rise to that level. Due to their intensive training, they have the ability to converse easily with vendor personnel and “translate” technical answers into vernacular end-users will understand. Further, “super” users play a key role in disseminating systems-related information and assuring that day-to-day users are all on the same page.

4. Hold weekly meetings. Set a day and time for weekly meetings and strive to keep these appointments. These meetings should comprise open forums where stakeholders, such as “super” users, IT staff and project leads, communicate freely. Topics discussed at these gatherings could include training, setup, quality assurance, milestones and their attainment, and other items. Often it is helpful to develop a basic agenda to ensure known issues are addressed. However, open discussion of topics should predominate.

5. Make it fun. Let’s face it, “work” is a four-letter word. Any change will make work a bit harder at first, even if ultimately the job becomes easier.  To the extent possible, incorporate ways to make the effort less stressful and more enjoyable.

For example, challenge each department to complete implementation-related tasks in a timely manner by turning the effort into a company-wide competition where the department successfully completing all assignments first wins. Then, award prizes to the winning department such as a pizza lunch for its employees or some other reward. Firms that have injected an element of fun, especially on such unglamorous tasks as cleaning up data prior to transfer to the new system, have been thrilled with both the speed and quality of the effort and the increased level of employee engagement the competition created.

6. Practice, practice, practice. Ten minutes of practice can trump an hour of training. Why? It is like learning to ride a bike. You can read a book or watch a video, but until you climb aboard and fall down a couple of times you really don’t get the “feel” for it. Enter some test clients into the system. Take out a random old file and try to plug it into the system. Click the buttons and see what they do. Ultimately, the system is a tool and the best way to see what the tool can do is to try it yourself.

It is sometimes helpful to set up a lab where employees can practice what they have learned in training sessions. It should be a structured experience where they must complete weekly assignments that test and reinforce the knowledge conveyed in class. Establishing a practice lab reaps many benefits. It will highlight before the system goes live those employees who may be struggling and need more training. It also will identify those employees who have difficulty accepting change. They will be the ones who ignore the lab assignments completely or who go but spend the entire time complaining about the new system. Capturing this kind of advance feedback is invaluable in terms of implementation success by offering more training to those who need it and working with employees on accepting inevitable change.

7. Set a realistic “go live” date and communicate it often and widely. Keeping the date in the forefront adds a sense of urgency and lends reality to the impending change. Otherwise, stakeholders run a greater risk of watching their investment in technology collect dust on a shelf. Of course, unforeseen issues may arise that could necessitate adjusting the implementation date. To the extent possible, wait to readjust the end date until the project has advanced enough that most issues are known and addressed. Stakeholders will be more accepting of one date change than many – and one adjustment will not affect their long-term confidence in the implementation.

Source: QuestaWeb Inc.

My takeaways are not revolutionary in any sense of the word. However, these commonsense “best practices” form essential prerequisites to every software implementation effort I undertake. Follow these seven recommendations and you’ll experience smoother implementations as well. 

1. Set the ground rules. From the start, management must communicate to staff that the decision to implement a new system is final and irrevocable. Leaders must convey a sense of optimism and a willingness to help every employee learn and master the functionality of the new system. At the same time, they must make it clear that there is no room for negativity. A constant revisiting of how the old system did this or that is neither healthy nor conducive to change. If employees understand that management is totally committed and there is no going back, they will realize that they must either accept the change or seek alternate employment.

 2. Appoint a project lead. A single point of contact who participates in everything from user setup to operations to accounting is critical. The project lead need not be fully immersed in everything – or possess in-depth knowledge about technology. This individual simply needs to be someone who can encourage internal stakeholders, keep the project on the rails and help move it forward.  This person should possess a diverse background in order to interface easily with operations staff, IT personnel, vendor implementers and software trainers.

3. Assign “super” users. Businesses and their processes are complex. Thus, any system implementation will reflect this complexity to some degree. Yet, general end-users need to view things as clearly and simply as possible. For this reason, “super” users are key personnel contributing to an implementation’s success. The ideal “super” user is a management-level individual, and the general rule of thumb is one “super” user for every 10 operators.

These individuals receive direct, intensive software training from the vendor, allowing them to serve as the first line of support when other staff members have questions or issues. Their advanced level of knowledge makes them the ideal persons to communicate with the vendor’s help desk personnel should questions rise to that level. Due to their intensive training, they have the ability to converse easily with vendor personnel and “translate” technical answers into vernacular end-users will understand. Further, “super” users play a key role in disseminating systems-related information and assuring that day-to-day users are all on the same page.

4. Hold weekly meetings. Set a day and time for weekly meetings and strive to keep these appointments. These meetings should comprise open forums where stakeholders, such as “super” users, IT staff and project leads, communicate freely. Topics discussed at these gatherings could include training, setup, quality assurance, milestones and their attainment, and other items. Often it is helpful to develop a basic agenda to ensure known issues are addressed. However, open discussion of topics should predominate.

5. Make it fun. Let’s face it, “work” is a four-letter word. Any change will make work a bit harder at first, even if ultimately the job becomes easier.  To the extent possible, incorporate ways to make the effort less stressful and more enjoyable.

For example, challenge each department to complete implementation-related tasks in a timely manner by turning the effort into a company-wide competition where the department successfully completing all assignments first wins. Then, award prizes to the winning department such as a pizza lunch for its employees or some other reward. Firms that have injected an element of fun, especially on such unglamorous tasks as cleaning up data prior to transfer to the new system, have been thrilled with both the speed and quality of the effort and the increased level of employee engagement the competition created.

6. Practice, practice, practice. Ten minutes of practice can trump an hour of training. Why? It is like learning to ride a bike. You can read a book or watch a video, but until you climb aboard and fall down a couple of times you really don’t get the “feel” for it. Enter some test clients into the system. Take out a random old file and try to plug it into the system. Click the buttons and see what they do. Ultimately, the system is a tool and the best way to see what the tool can do is to try it yourself.

It is sometimes helpful to set up a lab where employees can practice what they have learned in training sessions. It should be a structured experience where they must complete weekly assignments that test and reinforce the knowledge conveyed in class. Establishing a practice lab reaps many benefits. It will highlight before the system goes live those employees who may be struggling and need more training. It also will identify those employees who have difficulty accepting change. They will be the ones who ignore the lab assignments completely or who go but spend the entire time complaining about the new system. Capturing this kind of advance feedback is invaluable in terms of implementation success by offering more training to those who need it and working with employees on accepting inevitable change.

7. Set a realistic “go live” date and communicate it often and widely. Keeping the date in the forefront adds a sense of urgency and lends reality to the impending change. Otherwise, stakeholders run a greater risk of watching their investment in technology collect dust on a shelf. Of course, unforeseen issues may arise that could necessitate adjusting the implementation date. To the extent possible, wait to readjust the end date until the project has advanced enough that most issues are known and addressed. Stakeholders will be more accepting of one date change than many – and one adjustment will not affect their long-term confidence in the implementation.

Source: QuestaWeb Inc.

Seven Best Practices to Follow for Smoother Software Implementations