This article is about how to succeed with your software implementations. And while it's focused on time, expense and asset tracking software, it applies to any kind of business software.
So let's get in the mindset of implementing software. You're nearing the end of the project. You've been through many steps. You evaluated why you should automate manual paper or Excel-based time and expense tracking system. You did business analysis. Worked hard to develop a consensus on requirements. You searched for solutions. Narrowed vendors down to a shortlist. Held numerous software demo meetings. Found a solution. And made the purchase.
In your bones, you feel it will be a great success that will help your company a lot.
But concerns remain in the back of your mind:
- Did you select the right solution?
- Will your employees embrace it?
- Do you have enough resources to implement it?
- What if it fails?
Global strategy consultant Didier Bonnet noted in the Harvard Business Review three common implementation of these barriers.
1. Lack of Senior Manager Buy-in and Follow Through
Lack of buy-in can create resistance from senior managers. If the financial benefits of new software are not clear, you might not have the right budget for the purchase. You might have been forced to buy a lesser solution. Later, you might not get the dollars needed for proper configuration of the system. You might not have the FTE's required on the company side to ensure that business requirements are met in the software setup. You might not have the necessary resources for training or ongoing adminstration of the system. Ongoing system monitoring, maintenance, configuration updates, and reconfigurations also will require competent resources in the organization with management backing. A CIO or other technical leader, with a so-called “limited ‘tech-implementation’ view,” may not think past the software's deployment. Particularly if they are not responsible for its administration (now often the case for cloud software).
2. Vendors Who Oversell
Generally speaking, software and technology vendors focus more on selling products and less on implementation. As Bonnet notes, vendors can be quite talented at getting customers to fixate on exciting new features that provide the “promise of instant change through digital technology.” In the process, business requirements gathering can be given short shrift while key senior managers swoon over non-essential features that have a lot of sizzle. In addition, important feature gaps, identified early but dismissed by vendors as easy to close later on, might never be addressed.
3. Limited Budgets for Adoption and Implementation
Let's say you've done everything right so far. You've had a very successful business requirements definition, and your setup of the software is like a dream. There is one critical step to port your business processes to the new system. Managers need to be briefed. End users need to be trained to use the new software. Unfortunately, faced with time and budget constraints, you might not be able to focus training and user adoption programs.
How to Successfully Implement New Software
Luckily, there are four things you can do to improve the success of your software implementations.
1. Pick the right solution.
A failed implementation does not always mean that the implementation process is what failed. You might have just picked the wrong software. Remember that 1) the point of software is to make your life easier and 2) it should be able to adapt to the needs of your organization, not the other way around.
Your first step is always to identify the specific problems that you hope to solve and the needs that should be addressed by this new software. This is often referred to as your "requirements." This list of items will also help you narrow down the list software vendors to your "short list." For example, if you are looking to improve time and job tracking for your field crews, it's a bad idea to go with a timesheet software vendor whose architecture does not currently support crew timesheets, no matter what the vendor says.
2. Involve stakeholders and representative end users.
In an MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting study, 63% of managers blamed the slow rate of technological change in their workplaces on “lack of urgency” and failure to communicate the true benefits of adopting new technologies and tools. If adoption is not prioritized and the benefits of new technology not clearly explained, your employees won't see the point of switching to a new tool.
The simple fix to make sure you involve key influencers, i.e. star employees who work horizontally across your organization and have good communication and networking skills, in any software evaluations. If these influencers adopt new software and tools early on in the implementation process, they can act as a positive influence on employees who are more resistant to the change. In addition, before you even begin evaluating software, you should survey managers and employees generally on the major "pain points" of your current processes and systems. Find out what they would like to see improved, changed or gotten rid of altogether. Integrate this information with your requirements documentation. When you start evaluating new systems, have key influencers and representative samples of managers and employees do a test drive. Note their reactions and opinions and feed this information back into the selection process.
Later on, your influencers will be on board early and will help with the general software training and adoption process when you roll out the software.
3. Evaluate vendor support services.
Some software vendors do not just bag the sale and move on. But some do. Be sure to ask questions about what kind of support vendors offer. Insist that the vendor provide a free trial that is fully supported so you can evaluate their support levels. Use their general technical support to ask questions. Are the support representatives highly-trained? Or are they merely reading prompts from their computer screens in a distant call center in India?
For example, at Pacific Timesheet we allow customers to experience or support levels during free trials and evaluations. We support free-trials as we would a paying customer.
4. Set realistic implementation deadlines.
You need to be realistic about your implementation schedule. Remember that your software vendor might tend to under-estimate the amount of time and effort you will need to implement their software. For your part, keep in mind that switching from one system to another is not easy. Poor requirements definition, sloppy evaluations, poor buy in, and inadequate training and implementation resources never speed up your schedule.
5. Budget for adoption programs from the start.
Having an adequate budget for training and implementation is crucial. It’s unrealistic to expect your employees to learn and effectively operate a completely new system without any formal training, especially if are moving from a manual to a software system.
6. Carefully design and schedule your training.
Finally, the end user software training requirement for time and expense tracking software is not very challenging. However, if you want to include changing time and labor policies in your time and expense software training, then your training development will be more challenging. Offer multiple training sessions to accommodate the range of employee schedules. You might also consider differ training content media for different types of employees. In addition to user guides you should consider the production of training videos to on-board new employees later on.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to improve your implementation success is to have a solid plan. Developing your implementation plan should break down the most important phases:
- Phase 1: confirm system requirements.
- Phase 2: configuration of global system settings.
- Phase 3: development of any enhancements.
- Phase 4: pilot testing of major features.
- Phase 5: finalization of third party system integrations.
- Phase 6: development of custom reports.
- Phase 7: software roll out and follow up monitoring.