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This featured article provides guidance and instruction on how to implement software, including best practices. It focuses on the three core tenets which are the foundation for a successful implementation, concepts that can be applied to all business critical software implementations, especially inventory planning software. As the need to quickly engage and serve your customers is more important than ever, it is essential to take the right steps when implementing software so your business remains manageable, scalable and traceable.
What are the core tenets that lead to a successful implementation?
There are a number of considerations when evaluating what is the best way to implement business critical software, like inventory planning. Similar to resolving any problem, know what your issues and challenges are before you tackle the solution. When implementing a software, the biggest challenges you need to overcome are solution ownership, change management, and user adoption. In fact, these challenges can be applied to almost any business process implementation, not just software implementations.
From the onset of an implementation, take ownership of the software you have purchased. After all, it is yours, you bought it, so own it and the implementation of it. Keep your team informed of all major decisions so the transition from old to new business processes supported by a new system is well received. Lastly, make sure the software is available to users throughout the implementation so user adoption is seamless.
So, how do you proactively address these challenges and take ownership? The answer is simple, apply the three core tenets. The three simple principle that will help you implement your software solution are (1.) selecting the correct project approach, (2.) choosing the right team, and (3.) setting a realistic timeline. Understanding and applying these project fundamentals will prevent typical software implementation challenges from becoming bottlenecks.
What is the best software implementation approach?
There are many tactics for successful implementations, but what is really the best software implementation approach? Regardless of the project management style, focus needs to be on the best way to initiate, plan and execute the implementation. Typically, an implementation is grouped by major phases, which are segmented by milestones, which are further detailed by tasks. Our best practice approach to your software implementation revolves around a simple, four-phased approach: Plan the Work, Work the Plan, Rollout, and Follow Through. It is a simpler doctrine than other methodologies such as Waterfall, Agile or RASCI models. The underlying premise of our four-phased approach is based on the KISS principle, “Keep it Simple Stupid”, developed by the U.S. Navy in 1960. In other words, most projects and implementations work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated, such is our software implementation best practice emphasis.
In our software implementation approach, it should be noted that the first two phases, Plan the Work and Work the Plan, have an emphasis on planning. Proper planning from the onset of an implementation pays dividends throughout the project. Lewis Carroll once said, “If you do not know where you are going any road will take you there”. You want to, therefore, make sure that during the implementation kick-off, you discuss and document implementation goals, scope, risks, budget, timeline, resources, roles, responsibilities, constraints, and assumptions. All of these key elements constitute the implementation charter and need to be addressed and acknowledged. Remember, better to plan now so you are not reacting later as “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on someone else”.
Your software implementation approach also needs to address the following software implementation anatomy – Manage, Design, Build, Test, Release, Support, or some variation thereof. Often times these are referenced or used as project phases since they have been carried over from the days when software would be developed for customers rather than simply implementing a packaged product. In our four-phase best practice implementation approach, these parts are divvied up and conveyed as major milestones but not explicitly referenced so as to distinguish between a packaged-product implementation versus a software development project - an important differentiation and a red flag.
All implementation milestones should have a clear path to success. That path is a list of tasks. Each task should be assigned to someone and have a clear deliverable and due date. As you complete each task, you need to be able to check it off. Think of it as a check list. Ultimately, your entire implementation should be a large checklist consisting of tasks that you check off. If you can not do this, do not start the software implementation no matter how convincingly someone tells you that it is not possible to have a checklist - they are either inexperienced or do not want the accountability.
Lastly, it is important to identify red flags with implementation approaches, especially for packaged-product implementations. If a vendor tries to do the design before you have been trained on the software, beware you may have been duped on just how packaged and easy to use the product actually is. This is a red flag that means they either need to build what you require or configure it for you because it is too difficult for you to do. Either way, this is not the packaged software you may have thought you purchased. Training on the software should always come before the design and represent an out-of-the-box version of the software. How else will you know what you want if you do not know exactly what you have. Get trained first so you are apart of the design and can take ownership early on in the implementation.
How do you pick the right software implementation team?
We have all heard that the right people can make or break a project so selecting the right software implementation team is critical. I would go so far as to say it is the most important aspect of the implementation. There are generally two teams of people that need to be assembled. The Leadership Committee and the Implementation Team.
The Leadership Committee responsibilities include forming the project team, developing business objectives, defining the scope of the project, approving the project budget, and committing resources to the project. The committee also monitors project status and resolves high-level project issues. Leadership Committee meetings usually occur once a month. It is not uncommon for the Implementation Team to participate and contribute to the stated Leadership Committee responsibilities, which include:
Your software provider should (and better) assign a Lead Consultant to work with the Leadership Committee, especially for an enterprise-level implementation. The Lead Consultant will monitor the progress of the project and advise the Leadership Committee if the project appears to be off track. The Lead Consultant may recommend additional resources to be added to the project to stay on schedule, either internal employees or additional consulting resources.
Implementation Team member’s responsibilities include defining existing policies and procedures, and developing new procedures and business processes. The Implementation Team must also develop the project plan and requirements, determine the appropriate system(s) preparation, and oversee the proper and timely completion of the implementation phases and underlying tasks. Time requirements vary throughout the implementation. Members become more active as their areas of knowledge and specialty are required. The Implementation Team typically consists of a Project Manager, Team Leads, and Functional Leads. Ultimately, the Implementation Team is responsible for the success of the implementation that includes the following key activities:
As experts, we love checklists, so here is a simple checklist to use to help identify whether or not you have the right resources and skills to implement a software solution:
Do you have a Project Manager who:
Do you have Business Lead(s) who:
Do you have Technical Lead(s) who?
If you find you are in a situation where you or your team is not in a position to manage and control the implementation, take your time to assemble the right people with the right talent. If, on the other hand, you do have the right team, however your software provider wants to perform all the configuration, get you up and running, train your team after the design, and turn it over to you right before their planned go live, then this is a huge red flag that the software is either immature or not user friendly enough to manage on your own. Chances are, you are going to have extenuating consulting costs associated with implementing and maintaining the system. You and your team need to perform the implementation and take ownership of the software you purchased so by the time you go live, you are not dependent upon the vendor for any of the training, setup, configuration, and/or maintenance. Further, the vendor you select should be pushing this model, if they are not, keep away unless you like large consulting bills.
How long does it take to successfully implement software?
Understanding the core trade-offs when setting your software implementation timeline is the first stepping stone to setting a realistic target to go live. Scope, budget (or cost), timeline (or schedule), and resources (or team) are the four, fundamental project variables sharing the elastic property – if one changes, so does at least one other.
Visualize, for example, each constant as the side of a square. And, the area of the square they create a representation of the project quality or performance. Should you change the scope, budget, timeline and/or resources, thereby lengthening or shortening the side of the square, at least one other variable or side of the square would be lengthened or shortened. Similarly, the quality of the project may have been impacted, since you no longer have your perfect square. We call these factors the four pillars of success.
It is important to manage the interdependence of these pillars as they are often competing against each other. Timeline refers to the amount of time needed to complete a project. Budget refers to the planned cost of the project. Scope refers to what must be done to produce the project's successful outcome. Finally, resources refer to the people needed to work on the project. Increasing scope will typically mean an increase in both time and cost. A tight timeline generally means more resources and reduced scope, and so on. Knowing the four pillars and how they compete, you will be able to manage them for a successful software implementation.
When setting your software implementation timeline and targeting a go live date, it is not the software providers’s job to tell you that a go live date is or is not feasible. It is their job to tell you everything that needs to be done to achieve your go live target. It is up to you to determine whether it is possible by understanding the four project pillars. For example, you know your team better than they ever will. Make sure you communicate their strengths, commitment and weaknesses so an accurate timeline can be achieved. Remember, software providers and consultants can and will do anything for time and money. You need to determine, for example, whether your team can commit the time and resources needed while still performing their current duties. If they can not, what impact will that have on your timeline for a successful software implementation?
What is your takeaway on how to implement software?
Implementing software is simple, right? Well it is if you embrace the three basic tenets discussed here. They are the foundation of best practices when implementing software. It is what we preach and practice when working with you to successfully implement YOUR software, not ours.
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