Rule 1: Only you know about your specific situation and needs. Start from that.
Always start from your own needs. One common mistake is being seduced by a salesperson laying out a grand vision that might not be realistic or desirable for your company!
It often makes sense to document future (improved) processes at the same time as you look at ways existing solution would allow you to work. It is more efficient than working sequentially, and it avoids the trap of excessive customization (see rule 6 below).
Rule 2: You need to define special cases, and then arrange tests with real data.
I found that many managers are not familiar with the way their staff work. When we speak with the people doing the work, they often ask “can it do this?” and “what if that happens?” types of questions. That’s great — they are thinking of special cases and telling you about them!
Rule 3: You need to assign key user(s) and free up some of their time.
Yes, it means you need to pick some of your smartest people and re-assign some of their day-to-day work. In the long run, a well-thought-out system implementation will be worth gold for your company!
The number of hours to devote to this new project will vary. In the case of a standard SynControl onboarding in a midsize company, it is 8 man-days total for office staff, spread over 3 weeks. In case of a heavy ERP such as SAP, it is weeks of work for many employees.
These key users need to get training on how the new solution works in their functional area of the business, they will provide feedback, they will run tests, and then they will show their colleagues how it all works. Count some time in the first few weeks after the new system is in place, too.
Ideally, there is also a ‘champion’ assigned to the project — someone well respected who knows the organization and is highly motivated to succeed.
Rule 4: Think in stages, and beware of ‘big bangs’.
For a simple onboarding such as those we handle, the following sequence often makes sense:
- Company shares their current templates, their current checklists (if any), etc. and describe the way they work. The more details, the better.
- Phase 1 – get 2-5 users to use the new system daily, to do the 1 or 2 types of jobs they do most often. Get that process to work from A to Z (e.g. from data import to statistics and issues management). Work out the kinks, document how it works.
- Phase 2 – ramp up to all other users of those 1 or 2 types of jobs, and handle another type of job. Again, make it work smoothly and document.
- Phase 3 – same as phase 2 on another type of job, as needed.
- Initial planning – workshop for clarifying the needs, getting to know key users, writing and approving the specifications & quotation, etc. This is usually the last phase of vendor selection (which includes some other, preceding, steps).
- Feasibility study – only in case the software vendor promises to (or is requested to) achieve something that is technically challenging.
- Pick the first modules to implement — changing all processes at ones is usually unrealistic. What is important, to keep users engaged, is to avoid any regression (e.g. giving them more manual work) compared to the current process.
- Customization & configuration — a systems integrator and/or the vendor and/or other systems that will have to interface with the new software need to make changes.
- Kick the project off, and make sure all involved parties understand the benefits of the new solution.
- Pilot project in team A – get a few users to run test data in the new system,
- Pilot project in team B, etc.
- Further customization & configuration, as needed,
- Testing – to be repeated in a loop until all basic processes can be run and all the frequent “special cases” can be handled.
- Training and ‘Go Live’ – everybody stops using Excel (for example) and uses the new tools — this often includes some troubleshooting,
- Stage 2 – for other modules to be implemented, start steps 3 through 10 again.
- Stage 3 – same as stage 2.
Rule 5: There is a need for project management.
Don’t underestimate the time this will take, and don’t think the software vendor will do this for free. For example, we allocate some time for this during the onboarding and during a limited period, and after that we still do some work for free but within certain limits and only if the customer is really doing their share.
Rule 6: Avoid heavy customization if possible.
I want to make two points here.
First, when it comes to heavy software implementation (think: ERP system), more customization is more expensive and causes more need for re-work when the underlying code is upgraded. I have seen many companies stuck on an older version because “we paid for a lot of customization that didn’t work with the new version, and we’d have to pay all again and go through the pain of testing etc. again”.
Second, good software usually has a logic — one could call it “an opinion on the way things should be done”. If you are evaluating a solution that will tend to gear you in a direction you don’t like, don’t ask them to accommodate a totally different logic. You have simply looked at the wrong system.
Rule 7: It is process change, and management needs to be involved.
As I wrote above, pick smart people, and if possible people who have gathered experiences in several organizations, as key users.
Also, incentivize the team properly. Make successful adoption one of the users’ KPIs. Congratulate them formally or throw a party. There are many things you can do to motivate people.
You really want to avoid having a mandate come from the top and a team “too busy to work on this”.
Rule 8: Define what is “success”, and measure it (before/after).
- Free up 1 person in the office
- Have much greater control and visibility over daily work
- Ability to pull out data and visualize them in a useful form with minimal effort
When managers are ambitious, they also want to fine-tune their processes and show time savings (and direct cost savings). This is possible too, but the ‘how’ needs to be clear from the start to all parties.
As I wrote above, use these also as KPIs for the internal team. If they are not motivated to hit these results, will they help?