by Mark McElroy
The key to a successful technology implementation is a thorough understanding of the potential pitfalls of that same implementation. Knowing your company’s objectives before the installation is critical.
Is it the gun or the person who pulls the trigger that kills people? A strange question related to technology isn’t it? Well, in many ways it’s the same for technology. Is it the technology or the people using the technology that cause frustration and unsuccessful implementations? With over 23 years experience both developing and implementing technology in a wide variety of industries, I can say without a doubt that it’s not the technology. So what is it? It’s not just one thing but a mix of culture and a philosophy. >>
Companies all over the world view technology incorrectly. You cannot expect a piece of software to work for you if you aren’t willing to make a very strong commitment to it and use some sort of structure on an ongoing basis to control it.
After reading this article you will have a different perspective on, and approach to, how you view, operate, and implement your technology choice.
A Prescription for Failure
People treat software badly, and it, in turn, treats them badly! The typical scenario in the selection of title production software is that an application is chosen by someone because they liked the way it looked, felt, or because of the involvement or influence of a particular underwriter. A technology project like this is doomed from the beginning because no one took the time to verify that the application would work for their particular business and meet whatever expectations they may have had for this software. Then you try to implement a technology that was not appropriately selected and that will inevitably affect your entire company. As busy executives you don’t have time to fully learn the new system. So you implement the software and you never test it - you just go! And what happens? You get out of the software exactly what you put into it - not very much and not at all what you need or expected. At this point, many companies blame the software vendor.
The Correct Way
Now let’s assume that you have done your due diligence and have chosen a good product that fits a high percentage of your requirements. How do you implement it successfully? I am going to discuss two things to consider with regard to any implementation. The first is to understand that you are dealing with people with their own perspectives and expectations. And the second is that you will need to follow specific steps to help you be successful and avoid costly mistakes.
The Correct Way
Setting & Measuring Objectives A key element in determining success or failure of any implementation is the ability to measure specific objectives throughout the company. One of the most common mistakes that I have seen in my years of software implementation is that companies neglect to set objectives, at all levels of corporate structure, and then track those objectives for success. Did you realize that software replacement should make or save money, not just perform tasks or create reports? But for this to happen, you first have to accomplish a successful implementation. It is imperative that in preparation for a successful implementation of any software or new business process, the following three-tiered level of perspectives and objectives are carefully considered:
At the executive level each implementation is likely to have financial objectives associated with it. You will need to define those objectives prior to beginning the project and measure them afterward to determine the success. In many cases the objectives are fairly simple and are related to financial reporting and the ability to measure the performance of your company and the changes you will be making.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Those in middle management typically have a two-fold perspective, financial and operational. The key here is to understand not only what they need financially but also what operational metrics or specific operational functionality they require. If you fail to understand these items or leave them to “status quo,” the project will be perceived as a failure.
Each individual in this category typically only understands his/her world. They will be most concerned about how an implementation will affect their day-to-day activities. If you fail to capture their ideas or give them a voice in determining what will work the best, you are likely to have a very unhappy staff, and the project will fail.
In almost every unsuccessful implementation the revolution starts at this level and compounds as it moves upward. The complaints about change, and there will be some, begin here and then are perceived as issues and roadblocks by the leaders in your organization. The leaders become uneasy and feel they have made a mistake with this software decision when, in fact, these occurrences are very normal and should be expected. This is easily countered early in the project. The leaders of the company must explain why they are implementing the new technology and what they hope to achieve. The focus at this level needs to be on encouraging your people and allowing them to get involved. There will still be issues that arise; the key is to have a method and plan for resolution of these issues.
Knowing the Pitfalls
In a recent article, Implementation Consultant Dolien Nicolasen called out seven “deadly sins” of software implementation and provided a catalyst for the following discussion. Additionally, I think that there is an eighth “deadly sin” that merits mention. If you are aware of these pitfalls and their potential causes, you can head them off before they occur and lead your operation to a successful implementation.
Deadly Sin #1
Set an Unrealistic Budget and Time Frame
Most projects are doomed from the beginning because of unrealistic expectations about the expense, the time frame, and the resources required for the project. This happens because the planning is typically done by people who have no real understanding of the implementation process. Nor do these planners understand the responsibilities of either the software vendor or the company itself. The solution is very simple. Ensure that you take the time to understand not only what it takes to implement the software but also the overall impact of the implementation on your business. Know what the time frame is to complete the implementation and understand the responsibilities of everyone involved in the process. Set yourself up to succeed!
Deadly Sin #2
Treat Implementation as a Low Priority or Technical Project
If your organization perceives the implementation as a “necessary evil” or simply as a technical project, there is no reason to even begin the implementation process. This project cannot be something that gets in the way of business. This technology must be embraced as an integral part of your business now and into the future.
It is critical that your company leaders let staff know their thoughts on implementing this technology - that it is a business project, what the business will gain from it, and what the individuals in your organization will gain from it. If your people don’t understand this, issues will turn into complaints that will create doubt, deadlines will be missed, and you will be calling your vendor trying to understand where it all went wrong.
If you are not willing to put your best people on the project, how will the software be appropriately molded to meet the needs of your business? It is the people that understand your business the best that need to make the decisions about how the software is to perform for your business. This will result in your business’s increased capability and success in the marketplace once the implementation is complete. If your management team isn’t publicly and actively committed, how will the rest of your staff know that this implementation is important? How can you expect them to rally around this project with a can-do attitude if you are not willing to do the same?
Even the smallest and easiest projects run into issues. It is how you handle the issues that will make the difference in your organization. The reality is that every issue can be an opportunity to prevent, fix, or improve something in your business - integrate this thinking into your business philosophy and you set your organization up for success.
Deadly Sin #3
Have No Strategy to Manage Change
The best way to kill enthusiasm and incite a revolt is to announce to your team that a new software product will be implemented soon and that they will be told about training in due time! It can’t be stressed enough that staff needs to know that there is a purpose behind change.
Change is difficult for anyone. The best way to instill a positive attitude and have everyone welcome change is to include them in the process. Give your people a voice and encourage them to be involved by reviewing business processes and procedures. Help them see benefits of the new software in the future. Encourage them to take ownership in the initial stages of the project and you will elicit their ownership for the technology project’s ultimate success.
Deadly Sin # 4
Give No Priority to Business Process Change
Your new software will support any process you currently have in place - good or bad. If you have bad business processes in your organization today, you must fix them. Fail to fix them and your new software is only going to make those bad processes more apparent and make them operate faster! Take the time to understand how you operate today. Look for ways to improve your operation through your business processes. Make these changes to your business before you begin using the software; plan for it during the implementation. With the best business processes in place, your new software will only strengthen your organization.
Deadly Sin #5
Neglect to Test the Software
You cannot expect software vendors to understand “how” you perform your business. Nor can you expect them to know the expectations and the business requirements that you have for the software. Once your business solution is defined and architected, it is imperative that you test, test, and test some more. It is likely that once you perform the initial architecture and setup of the software, you will discover that a series of bad assumptions have been made. You must test the software and be prepared to change the original configuration before going live with it. Ask yourself if the solution that has been configured will support and enhance your business and make changes accordingly.
Deadly Sin #6
Have No Provisions for Support and Continued Business Process Change
Going live with your new product is not the end of the process; in fact, it is only the beginning of your continued business improvement. I can almost guarantee that 30 to 90 days into any implementation you will experience issues, have suggestions about how something could have been better implemented, or see a need for simple tweaks in the software configuration. Your software implementation is a business lifestyle change - not a one-time event. The day you stop considering change or assume that change isn’t going to happen is the beginning of your slow but eventual downfall. Rather, look forward to and embrace the opportunity that change brings for your business.
I would recommend three business reviews with all of your staff after 30, 60, and 90 days. This is an opportunity to understand how the system is working for your operation and how both the process and the software supporting that process could be better. I would also recommend continuing these business reviews periodically to ensure fresh ideas and constant positive change in your business.
Deadly Sin # 7
Have No Relationship with Your Software Vendor
It is easy to blame software for everything. It is just as easy to make your software vendor the scapegoat for everything. This is completely counter-productive and will not only sabotage your success but also result in adversarial relationships with a valuable business resource. Your software is the enabler of your business; your software vendor is your lifeline and is very likely to have answers to questions and possible solutions for business issues that might arise.
With this technology you are making a long-term investment. You should view the relationship with the technology vendor in the same way. The ability to rely on your software vendor is critical to your long-term success. Your goal should be to have long-lasting relationships with your software vendor and to be able to partner on issue resolution, custom software projects, networking, and product development.
Additionally, I would encourage you to develop and maintain a strong relationship with the support personnel of your technology vendor; they will be your active, engaged partners in this business relationship. We also recommend participation in your software vendor’s User Group to access an invaluable network of other users and, in some cases, a voice in strategic direction and product development of your business software.
Deadly Sin # 8
Modify Software Too Much
We understand that many companies have unique requirements that may require modification of business software solutions. However, it is imperative that you have a full understanding of these modifications - which ones are acceptable and how they will impact your upgrade path in the future. Your software vendor is likely to understand what is risky and what may cause problems.
I know it seems complicated. You are probably wondering why this can’t just be simple, like a refrigerator for instance. Plug it in and go. As nice as this would be, I doubt we will ever see the software that reads your mind and knows exactly what you want it to do! But if you pay attention to these points and follow the processes that I have defined, a couple of things will happen; you will have increased your chance of being extremely successful and your company culture and view of technology will forever be changed! And lastly, you may never have to buy another software package. Wouldn’t that be a great thing?
|Mark McElroy is president of RamQuest Software, Inc., in Plano, TX. He can be reached at or 800-542-5503. MMcElroy@ramquest.com|