What Must You Do to Successfully Implement Your New System?
By Julie Wolfe, BSW Consulting
After selecting a computer system that meets your organization’s requirements, you must plan and schedule the resources necessary for a successful implementation. The process begins with installation of hardware and software and concludes when your system performs to the satisfaction of your company. Responsibility is shared between your company and the system vendor when it comes to managing expectations and accomplishing project goals.
Change is disruptive and requires a long-term commitment. If you advocate change only in the short-term, then you risk your employees falling back into old habits. It’s important to stay on top of issues that arise from change and to help smooth the transition. Long-term success requires that people do things the new way and in the approved manner.
Effective project management requires frequent communication between the system vendor and your company. Cooperation and communication is essential inside your company, too. Implementation success requires taking charge of:
- Prioritizing modules to be implemented, such as Customer Service, Purchasing, and Financials and deciding what comes first, second, and so on. Set dates to review your company’s planned use of the system, data conversion and training needs.
- Defining your company’s needed system changes and then communicating these needs to the system vendor.
- Establishing implementation schedules that show who is responsible for what tasks and when they should be completed.
- Keeping the vendor and key company employees aware of progress and any schedule changes.
- Participating in weekly or monthly status meetings and ensuring that the right people are present to get things done.
- Creating progress reports for management and others in order to keep parties informed of completed objectives.
- Ensuring that both your company and the system vendor are meeting commitments.
- Keeping the lines of communication open.
Your company can create two teams to manage the project: The Management Team and the Project Team. The Management Team consists of one to three members of top management who will direct the project. This team defines the project’s goals, constraints and budget. They also have the final say as to target dates, responsible parties, team members, allocation of resources and major decisions.
The Project Team is selected by the Management Team and does the majority of the project work. It represents the entire company – every department, area, or group must have at least one person on the team. In a small to medium size company they may all be managers. The Project Team creates a Project Plan accepted by top management that reflects the commitment of people, equipment, money and time necessary to carry out the plan.
The Project Plan should take effect at the time your system is purchased. It includes an Implementation Schedule – a timetable for completing each phase. It lists specific tasks with deliverables, days for completion, the assigned party and target completion dates. Sample tasks are hardware and software installation, defining and writing conversion programs, review of conversion data and training. Your company should hold regular project meetings to discuss task completion and to measure progress.
The applications to be implemented should be reviewed by your company’s decision-makers. It’s the ideal time to make procedural changes to improve processes. This review should include technology personnel, persons that can make policy and procedural changes and key people performing daily work on the system. A mixture of people helps minimize internal decision-making delays and facilitates your implementation process. Remember, involved employees take ownership.
After installing and testing hardware and software and documenting disaster recovery and other procedures, conversion of data takes high priority. Determine who is responsible for converting data, whether it is an automated conversion performed by the technology staff or a manual conversion by the users. A combination of these methods is often used.
The quality of the data converted from existing systems affects how soon you can separate from the old system. If the data is incomplete, then your parallel period will be extended and you will experience problems before going live on your new system. In-depth review of master lists, thorough analysis of processing reports and online inquiries can help ensure data accuracy.
Training is crucial for a successful implementation. If it takes place at your company it should be required, uninterrupted and hands on for key people. You may choose a "train the trainer" approach where certain people are trained and then share this knowledge with fellow workers. Available vendor training includes: CDs, videos, online programs, classroom training at your company or at the vendor’s offices, reference manuals and online help that users access while working in a software program.
A limited class size ensures individual attention from the vendor’s trainer. Good training materials outlining processes are important for the user’s learning process and can be used as reference after class ends. Dedicate the necessary time to training and you’ll avoid problems that will continue beyond implementation. Potential problems include hindering expanded use of your system.
Management must be actively committed to the success of the project because some people in the organization may not support accomplishing this goal. Managing employee expectations during this stressful time is essential as they maintain their full-time jobs while they learn a new system and deal with problems that unavoidably arise. Key people can have double the workload while old and new systems are running parallel. They may also have to try things a few different ways before they are successful.
Your company can promote ownership by asking employees how to improve processes in which they are involved. Managers can monitor and solicit feedback on training progress and provide employee practice time. Staff reassignments may be necessary. It’s vital to maintain open lines of communication. Top management can make telephone calls, find out how things are going and if there are any unexpected obstacles. If there are issues to be resolved, they can find ways to help the Project Team succeed.
Employees must buy-in to changes taking place and understand that the new system will make their jobs easier only after additional work to make it happen. What can smooth the transition? Employees like to be recognized and need incentives for their efforts. Rewards can be in the form of bonuses, gifts, and write-ups in company newsletters or acknowledgement during company meetings. It’s important to make it a public celebration of success.
Distributor software modules cover broad areas such as Customer Service, Purchasing, Financial Management, Inventory and Warehouse Management, to name a few. The implementation process resembles a puzzle where the frame is first built and then parts are added that link together and share information. This information becomes a powerful decision-making tool for your company.
At this point, you gain competitive advantage and position your company for growth. This did not happen by accident. It’s the result of planning, carrying out and following up on set goals.