Project Management

Eight mantras for a successful software implementation

Working with a team that's implementing high-level software in your organization? What's the best way to organize your group and make the most of everyone's talents? This excerpt from gantthead tells you how.

By Vyom Bhuta

Everyone wants to be successful. Here are eight things to keep in mind when you're starting a software implementation—or any project.

Whether it is e-commerce, customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), or any comparable initiative, if you are taking on a high-impact implementation that could result in organizational shifts, you have eight things to remember. Here they are.

1. Put in place a change management program
Mission-critical initiatives will most likely change an organization's culture. Therefore, it is necessary to include this important aspect in your implementation strategy. Determine how to deal effectively with change. Be prepared for issues such as these:
  • Resistance: People will resist the change for fear of losing some control over their business unit, system, or even their jobs.
  • Fear of failure: On the other hand, people may choose to sit on the sidelines rather than risk project failure. This may foster a low sense of urgency that could result in delay of project initiation and delivery.
  • Nonvisionaries: You will be dealing with people who don't have a clear understanding of the long-term relevance and importance of the project.

The key to any change management program is communication, communication, and communication! Management needs to communicate the importance of the project throughout the organization.
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2. Secure management support and commitment
Secure a "project champion." The champion is usually the visionary with access to various levels of management. Top management commitment can be secured by demonstrating that technological automation enables business strategy to be realized.

A good way to show this is to start with the strategy and then identify the business processes that are or will be in place to fulfill the strategy. The next step is to visualize and outline how the new system will help the organization execute identified processes.

Also include quantitative and qualitative benefits like improved margins, higher sales revenues, higher customer and employee satisfaction, better employee productivity, and reduced costs. Document a business case for automation based on business impact.

Set up a steering committee that includes a senior IT manager, implementation team project manager, and business unit manager. This committee should provide updates to senior management and project sponsors periodically concerning the status of the project.

3. Know your CIO's and the organization's IT priority
One of the key issues organizations run into is the dilemma of deciding between a "best of breed" solution and a "one vendor" solution. For example, let's say your organization implemented a SAP solution for your ERP needs, and now a CRM initiative is on the agenda.

There are several CRM software vendors out there, with Siebel leading the marketplace and SAP making a strong entrance into the CRM market. The dilemma then becomes whether you should choose a known vendor, SAP, which has the benefit of tight ERP and CRM integration ("one vendor"), or whether you should go with Siebel, which has a proven CRM product with rich front-office functionality ("best of breed").

What do you do?

In your recommendation, make sure you show a clear advantage in going with the option you choose. The end result is that you will have to convince top management of your recommendation with cost comparisons, factors that contribute to competitive advantage, and a comparison that shows the degree to which the solution satisfies your business and technical requirements.

4. Develop a road map
The project "road map" is designed to show various phases of the overall initiative. Show what the end result will be and the timescale anticipated to achieve it. Make sure the road map is both blessed by and communicated by management throughout the organization. Include this in your change management communications.

5. Start with a pilot
A phased approach can provide several benefits. Start with business units, functions, and geography that will generate the biggest "bang for your buck."

The success of the project will build confidence and motivate individuals to execute on the rest of the phases outlined in your road map. It is critical not to have an extensive scope for the pilot phase to accommodate "speed to value."

The sooner a solution is rolled out to a business, the faster a company will begin to see a return on investment. However, keep in mind that the scope should encompass enough functionality to provide value to the users. The pilot facilitates the introduction of new technology, testing it with limited risk and cost, and helps bring change to your organization incrementally.

More articles and downloads on gantthead
Related downloads:
"Change Management Series"
"Custom Application Implementation Strategy"
"Application Package Implementation Success Factors"
"Pilot Projects Presentation"
"CRM Implementation Plan"
"Data Warehouse Analysis and Roadmap Plan"

Related content:
Package Selection and Implementation Department
Managing Change
Getting Management Buy-In
Application Solution Process
NOTE: Items in bold are available only to gantthead premium members.

6. Pick your implementation team wisely
Organizations have several options when it comes to choosing the implementation team. Usually, there are three options: internal IT organization, consulting organizations, and package software vendors' client/professional services groups. Internal IT staff are ideal when time is in your favor; however, issues regarding resource availability and a learning curve can propel you to look for assistance outside the organization.

Consulting organizations serve a good purpose, since they can provide unbiased third-party recommendations and insights into prior challenges faced when implementing a similar system. However, consultants may not be exposed to all aspects of the product related to new version upgrades, new features, etc.

The software companies' professional services groups can provide benefits such as intimate product knowledge and vendor's product strategy; however, a bias can still exist when recommending strategies, and sometimes the skills and interest to integrate external systems to the software may be limited. Organizations have their own preference in choosing the implementation team, but I believe that it may be beneficial to have a flavor of all three sources:
  • Include some members of your IT organization to ensure knowledge transfer as well as to provide insights to existing systems and internal resources.
  • Engage consultants to provide implementation expertise, skilled resources, and for unbiased recommendation.
  • Include one or two members from the software vendors' professional services or product development groups.

The challenge should be to decide on the ratio and balance of the implementation team.

7. Choose your angels
Users of the pilot system and/or the end users should be treated as angels, hence the term "Angel Users." Get users involved early to make sure that the automation system addresses their needs.

The process should include documenting a "wish list" of how the new system would improve their work processes. If users and their wish lists are not sufficiently represented on the task force, they can end up revolting against the system.

However, remember to maintain scope balance. Negotiate with the end users. Don't be afraid to hand over "ownership" of the system to the users.

8. Ensure adequate "Angel User" training
If the users are unable to understand and use the system, the project is a failure even if you executed everything else perfectly. That is why it is extremely important that adequate time is allocated to end-user or "Angel User" training.

The best approach is the "train the trainer" approach, where the end users are trained by one of their own, someone within the same business unit. Usually, the trainers are exposed to the system throughout the implementation cycle.

Users should have access to nontechnical user documentation and should be shown how to access and use the new system. It is also good to have telephone support for a few months after the initial rollout of the system.

Vyom Bhuta is the subject matter expert for gantthead's Package Selection and Implementation department.

This article was originally published on gantthead on April 30, 2001.

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