“We almost had to file for bankruptcy,” said Heather, a prospective client, when she called me just two weeks ago. “It was a total disaster,” she said, while continuing to tell me her story of the attempt to implement a new software system for her organization. I am constantly amazed at how agreeable most software vendors are to implement their solutions and have their client up and running overnight. This I believe is a recipe that spells disaster.
It is not surprising to me that most organizations dread the thought of implementing a new solution. The alarming statistics are that the majority of software implementations fail miserably and most companies realize either poor or non-existent ROI. Even more concerning are case studies of companies that settle to use mediocre software or the ones whose existence is threatened.
Below are the five stages to transform your organization from the dream of implementing a new software solution to its final and successful realization:
- Pre-Selection Planning –Start with a review of your current solution. Identify and document what is working well and what is not. Interview your staff to solicit feedback for replacement and improvement ideas. Challenge your business processes to see if there is a better way. The simple question to ask is “why” are we doing it this way. When talking with my customers and finding out that when printing their checks they automatically print a copy for the “file” or 4 copies to the invoice, my question is always “what purpose does this serve?” We often eliminate most copies since today’s solutions allow for easy replication of the original document. Solicit additional feedback from your network of customers and suppliers to find out what they like and dislike about their solution and revise your document accordingly. If done right, this stage is most enjoyable for most companies and introduces many creative and innovative ideas. Consider hiring an expert consultant whose viewpoints are not tainted by your own knowledge of your industry.
- Selection – Unless you are confident of the one and only organization you would select for your software needs, I suggest you meet with no more than three potential business partners to discuss and review their solutions. This is also the perfect opportunity to explore and learn what is available in those solutions that you may not have thought about and what other companies are doing. Make sure to incorporate these ideas into your internal document, which will become your system’s blueprint. Validate that these solutions do not lack the options you grew accustom to and like in your current solution.
- Pre-Implementation Planning – This stage should be dedicated to laying out the “blueprint” for the implementation of your new system. After careful review with your new business partner, this stage should explore items such as:
- Training of staff and who will be involved as well as future additional training requirements
- Realistic time schedules
- Ongoing technical and software support
- Enhancements necessary to the new software and forms
- Automatic conversion of old to new data and manual data entry requirements
- Security of physical system, data and access points
After your blueprint is complete, you should have a clear view of your present state, your future state and how the new system will take you there.
- Implementation – This is the toughest stage of them all. Most organizations downplay this stage or are made unaware by their software business partner. You must plan for additional stress of your staff having to perform the ordinary business tasks while learning and implementing the new system. Challenges will happen and you have to be ready to address them or have to react immediately at times. When challenges occur, some of your staff may have the tendency to give up or walk into your office demanding to either revert back to the old software or make software enhancement to clone your old software. Assuming you have selected the right software, this is a huge mistake. My recommendation is to “force” your staff to use the new software for 30 – 60 days before you will entertain improvement suggestions. Educate your staff so they recognize this stage and are prepared both mentally and physically. Interestingly enough you will find that new staff you hire adjusts to the new system much faster than the staff that has been with you for a while.
- Success – This is the stage when you start hearing statements such as “This is the greatest decision we’ve ever made” or “Why did we wait so long for this?” Client service is great and you are getting compliments as to how “smart” your staff is. Inventory is optimized, orders are shipping on time and business is thriving. Congratulations!
Obviously, the most common reasons for a possible disaster to occur are your software vendor eagerness to get the deal and your desire to use the new system sooner than possible. Assuming you’ve done your homework right, developed a great blueprint, execute the correct implementation steps while practicing the right discipline, you too can arrive to that final stage – SUCCESS.