Onboarding a new enterprise software system is an exciting undertaking that will result in tremendous benefits to the organization. That excitement, however, can fade into frustration if the implementation takes longer than expected and is fraught with internal challenges and missteps. It’s not uncommon, for example, to underestimate the ‘people’ angle that gets layered on top of configuring and implementing the software itself. The various interests brought to the table by the many different internal stakeholders and business units that are affected by the new system – especially if they are competing or conflicting interests – can wreak havoc on an otherwise smooth & efficient implementation.
Few organisations are truly prepared for how to go about implementing an enterprise-level software system. Especially a system that touches numerous divisions, roles and business areas of the company. Since this is a thing that we at 4castplus are intimately involved with every day with dozens of companies, we thought it would be helpful to share some of our observations on what works – and doesn’t work – when it comes to successful and productive implementations. So here are 5 key practices that we’ve found are vital to keep things running smoothly and avoid the common pitfalls that many companies descend into when implementing software.
1. Assign an Owner Team with Time and Authority
Easily the most important consideration when planning for a successful software implementation is to ensure that there is a dedicated team. A team that is fully responsible for efficiently completing each task and moving the project along its timeline. This team will work with others in the organization to determine the right processes and solutions for every aspect of the project. They require both high availability along with the authority to independently make decisions. Availability and authority are key elements. If they do not have the cycles to invest the time to do the work, the implementation will stall. Similarly, if they don’t have the authority to make swift decisions, the implementation will again stall. This team will also work directly with the software implementor as the main point of contact. This shared ownership (between client and implementor) creates a productive environment for efficiently completing the project.
2. Avoid Decisions by Committee
Software implementations will have an effect on multiple business units across the organization. With it touching so many people and processes, it’s clearly critical to solicit input from each of these teams to achieve a successful implementation. Understanding the flow of data and workflow as it moves from one place to the next, will all need to be designed for each group. The end result will be to bring about positive change for all, and for information to flow seamlessly and purposefully.
Soliciting input should not, however, result in making decisions by committee. There is rarely a need for everyone to come to a consensus on all decisions that need to be made. Implementation teams that feel the need to build consensus for each decision or inflection point will summarily delay the project. Throughout the life of an implementation there will be 100s if not 1000s of decisions that need to be made. Decisions on process, user roles, dataflow, standards, best practices, coding, structures, ownership, and on and on. If a committee needs to pour over each decision – in meeting rooms full of people representing various interests – the implementation will literally take forever. The owner team therefore, need to have both the authority and the courage to make key decisions quickly and with only the required input from key stakeholders.
3. Don’t Underestimate the Effort
Onboarding enterprise software has a transformative effect on the organization. It can take companies out of a broken and manual process and into a highly connected world that is productive, efficient and enables significant growth potential. It’s important to keep that in mind as the implementation is playing out – because they take more time and effort than is typically imagined. Many individuals approach onboarding software with a bit of a cavalier “how hard could it be?!” perspective and are subsequently shocked at just how much work it takes. The effort is rarely in the software configuration. Rather, the bulk of the time is spent on business processes and data flows. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can truly uncover a wellspring of broken processes and need for standardization. And as issues emerge, the implementation team needs to work with all the various people involved to work out a solution. People can be set in their ways, as we all know.
There are also existing systems in place that have been in place for ages. They’re hardened and familiar and aren’t necessarily broken. In many cases, the implementors need to determine ways to work with existing systems and all their quirks to derive a working process. This can be an arduous undertaking that’s a combination of diligence and tricky negotiation.
4. Change is Hard for Many People
Change is hard. Organizational change management is an entire discipline that’s intended to aid in helping people adjust to the process and structural changes that companies go through during their growth. While some people embrace change and advocate for the good things that come with it, most people are fundamentally resistant to change. They will fear the impact to them on their job: it makes them very uncomfortable around their ability to cope with it. “What’s wrong with how things are?” they’ll ask. “It’s worked for years, why change what’s not broken?”
This resistance is very common, and it needs to be managed carefully. These individuals can be the most steady and loyal employees and it’s important to get their buy-in on the need for the new system. Otherwise, if they’re not on board, they will disengage, and may invest their energy in derailing the success of the implementation and rollout. Although necessary, change like this can be disruptive, growth can be painful.
On top of the fear element of change, the new software system may favor one particular business unit that is in the highest need for a solution. It will nevertheless impact other business units and require their input and participation. Given that there’s less in it for them, they may not be inclined to give it their full attention and not feel the urgency to meet their deadlines. Therefore, delaying the implementation.
5. Focus on Good Process
Even though a software implementation is theoretically focused on the software itself, what’s really happening during the implementation is that the organization is going through many fundamental changes in core processes. The software is merely a platform onto which these processes are mapped. It is exceedingly common for inefficient and unplanned processes that are built-up in an ad-hoc manner over time, to get hardened and entrenched, regardless of whether they make sense or not. The implementation becomes an opportunity to examine these processes – along with data flows, workflows, roles, reporting, communication, etc. – and streamline them or remove them altogether. The greater focus in an implementation is always about process.
Think of it like this. If we decouple the idea of Language versus Communication: the language (i.e. English) is a tool that is used for communication. The process of communication requires rules and style of how to get the right message across to those listening. Language is a tool used to communicate. The concept of communication is a complex process of narratives, storytelling, weaving ideas, imparting concepts, teaching and on and on. The language itself is just the tool.
Similar to the software (the tool) and business process (communication), these two things need each other to efficiently achieve the end result.