With the emergence of SaaS and PaaS technologies over the last decade, organizations and companies in a variety of fields and industries have been given access to tools that increase their productivity, simplify their record keeping, and expand their reach to their clients. That is, they have these capabilities once they have overcome the twin hurdles of implementation and transition.
The bread and butter of good sales teams is the ability to show their prospective clients all of the advantages that these new software program can provide. What they are not always as effective at communicating is the steps that it takes to get there.
The exact pieces involved in a change to new software will vary greatly based on a myriad of factors that range from the purpose of the software to the previous procedures of the client. Despite these variables, all successful software implementations and transitions have a few things in common.
The biggest enemy to smooth implementation is unrealistic expectations. When clients don’t understand what is required of them, or how long vendor configuration can take, it creates frustration and conflict. This problem is confounded by the fact that any sales cycles will promise a client that they will be up and running in a set amount of days or weeks. As experience often shows, how realistic those expectations are depends on the available resources of both the vendors and the clients, as well as any third party that may need to be involved. My recommendation is that before any final dates are set, salespersons, implementation specialists, and client representatives sit down and look at what needs to happen on all sides and how long those actions are reasonably going to take. Having this conversation before the process starts will make a smoother experience for everyone involved.
Planning to Succeed
As the saying goes, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Setting realistic expectations is part of the planning process, but not all of it. An implementation process, particularly in a large company or complex software system, has an enormous number of moving parts. This is true for both the vendor that is preparing and configuring the product, as well as the client that must plan for change management details such as internal documentation, process changes, and employee training. Both parties need to layout all of the items that need to happen, which ones are dependent on each other, and who is responsible for what pieces. Putting these plans into place ahead of time will increase the chances of hitting milestones and staying on target.
No matter how well you plan, there will always be unexpected surprises during the process of implementation. The best, really the only, way to handle these issues is open and honest communication. This is true both between vendor and client and within the teams on either side. Making excuses, placing blame, or hiding problems will always come back to haunt you. It takes honest communication to identify the problems, and find solutions that will accommodate everyone’s needs.
This same honest communication will also build trust, which is always important in any cooperative project.
Having the Right People
Setting expectations, successful planning, and effective communication takes having the right people in the right jobs. As an implementation project manager, I found it extremely frustrating to have a client contact who had either too little or too much authority. When a client contact has too little authority, they lack the ability to make decisions or the influence to pull strings on their side. When they have too much authority, they usually don’t have time to manage the day to day details of the ongoing project. This situation is particularly common in large companies. The solution is often to have the executive team officially appoint a project lead. This person then has the influence needed, but still has the time to focus on the details.
The need for having the right person on the project applies to the vendor as well. Sales people are not always great project managers and software developers are not always great communicators and so it is important to have someone who knows the products, but is also capable of tracking the details and communicating with the client. Having a well trained implementation project manager who is focused on building a relationship with the client as well as checking off all of the line items on the list is a valuable asset in any implementation.
Access to innovative software tools is changing our jobs and shaping our economy. But if the setup process is painful or the change management steps incomplete, these same tools become a barrier instead of an asset.