Software Implementation Nirvana

I want that, I need that, why does it cost so much, why didn’t this work, who am I going to blame…

You’ve been there, you’ve heard it. Dominatrix CIO has laid down the law not once, not twice but 3 times…”failure is not an option for this initiative”. The earth shakes and everyone under her cowers. But they still fail…why? Was there lack of motivation? Did she not yell or point her finger enough? I don’t think so.

No matter how much that CIO rants and raves, sometimes people still fail, when implementing business software, web portals, and applications. But all is not lost: There are some strategies to help avoid the perils of a bad software implementation.

It’s true. After a company puts themselves through the rigor of an RFP-driven software selection process, they might think they are on the trail towards software bliss. Committees of users, executive sponsors, line managers, consultants and other miscellaneous bits and pieces have aligned to help select a system via arduous all day demonstrations and PowerPoint decks articulating the benefits and ROI of said system (aka by committee). How could this effective process not result in the right tool for the organization? It’s inconceivable, but maybe they weren’t focusing on the most important things.

When implementing a system there are 3 success factors that will ultimately determine your success or demise. 1 – The Software 2 – The Consultants 3 – You. Hold on there Tiger, did you say me. Yes I did, just keep reading.

Success Factor #1
First, the software. Most people believe the most important factor for success is the actual code and/or platform. If we could only take each of the Christmas ornaments (features) and hang them on our tree (application) then implementation nirvana will ensue. It’s true if an application has features you need, then you logically have a better chance of success, but get ready for success factor #1. Your ability to easily change the software is more important than the features.

Does the software allow you to change or customize it all? If so, how expensive is it to make the changes? Changing a process can at times be much more costly than simply changing an application. Do you own the source code? When the vendor mention’s flexibility to what extent is it flexible? What are the reports like? Regardless of how attractive your software package looks like (even if it looks like Eva Longoria), don’t purchase it if you can’t customize it within reason. You know your business will change.

Success Factor #2
Next consider the consulting firm you work with to implement the system. You might think the consultant’s knowledge of your industry is the most important factor for success and I’ll admit it can be very helpful if a consultant knows your business, but here is success factor #2 – experience in a wide variety of industries may be better than specialized experience. Yes, your industry may have some very specific needs (it’s called self-preservation), but it’s also true your industry has many things in common with other industries. A consultant with broad experience could bring to light some best practices from other industries that may apply to your business that may be overlooked by consultants working in a cookie cutter format. Tying back to success factor #1, the consulting firm should have the ability and flexibility to change the software in a cost-effective way (yes this sometimes means outsourcing). Looking at the consultant’s history should give you an idea on their philosophy and approach to such tasks. Ask for examples and case studies.

Success Factor #3
Let’s talk about you. You are the missing link, assuming you picked a good software package and consultancy. You and your team will tip the project scorecard to red or green. Ask yourself: Is your executive team fully aligned with the change? Are the users aligned with the change? Do you manage internal projects well? If you answered no to any of the later, that’s ok. You’re being honest. So how do you surpass your shortcomings? Plan A – rely heavily on the consultants. That’s expensive and often the consultants don’t have the authority to drive change within your organization. You must do something else, it’s Plan B or success factor #3.

You don’t have to alter the personalities of all your people, send them to desensitizing chamber or try to brainwash them. (Side bar: perhaps water torture would work? Maybe another post?) The key to success here is you need an internal champion A change maven that have the power and desire to make the change happen.

All those nay sayers will come along for the ride if they see real progress occurring starting from the top down. Sometimes this person comes from accounting, sometimes from client services, sometimes from marketing but always they have business savvy, computer skills, and intelligence. They should be very aggressive about learning and have the curiosity and hunger to tackle new challenges. You must find this person within the ranks or hire them. Also you must structure their job so the change maven has time to adequately focus on the new system.

This person will work with users as they are getting started with the new system and be a first line of defense of issues. This person will drive the business processes, training, change control and ultimately a sustainable plan for the solution within your organization. For a small to mid size company this individual can make or break the project. I know what you’re thinking…there are no more Jedi, but try to think creatively. Do you currently have a FTE that is itching to do something new and is well respected professionally within the organization?

So will you achieve Implementation Nirvana? That’s entirely up to you, the team you work with and the key decisions you make along the way. I know I know, that doesn’t tell you anything, but hopefully these 3 success factors will help you avoid common pitfalls.

Oh by the way when you’re done, you’ll be cursing me for not mentioning anything about “waterfall” or “agile” techniques consultants use….stay tuned.

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