No one starts a project expecting to fail. Or... do they?
Three quarters of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects may be doomed from the start, according to a study published by software development firm Geneca.
While it’s true that large-scale software implementations require a significant investment of time and resources, and there are plenty of opportunities for setbacks, there’s no reason your next software implementation shouldn’t be an unequivocal success.
After guiding our customers through well over 100 successful software implementations, we’ve identified seven factors that can make — or break — a project.
Keep the following questions in mind when discussing implementation with potential vendors, and you’ll stop yourself from becoming just another bad statistic.
7 boxes to check for software implementation success
1. Is there a specialized implementation team, including an experienced implementation project manager?
A successful software implementation always starts with the right people. No matter how good your software is, not having a specialized implementation team and project manager will cause your implementation to suffer — and fast.
In order to be effective, the implementation team needs to know your organization, your project, and your objectives inside and out. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time bringing a new person up to speed every time you encounter a problem and need to ask a question.
One easy thing to check for — does your implementation team have a background that makes sense for the project at hand? Are there people on the team with a background in research and science, and do they have a number of successful implementations already under their belt? Do they provide best practices based on success in previous implementations?
2. Are success criteria defined from the start?
Ever heard the saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”? Without a clear picture of your end goals, it will be very difficult to know whether your implementation is headed for success.
Success looks different for everyone, so it’s important to define what matters to your organization specifically. While the overarching goal of licensing software is to increase productivity and reduce costs, that can mean different things to different organizations. For example, it could mean decreasing the time researchers spend on administrative tasks, increasing the number of on-time reports, or shortening the duration of inspection and audit preparation.
Finally, visualizing success shouldn’t be a one-time thing. For the same reason that a good pep talk can bring life to a tired team, talking with your implementation team to review what success will look like can help give you that extra boost when you need it.
By taking the time to define what’s important for each role and user persona — not just for the leadership team — you can ensure that everyone involved in the project is bought in. And since this may be a new exercise for you, your implementation team should serve as a valuable guide while you set these goals.
3. Is there a clear implementation plan and timeline from the outset?
One in three project schedules don’t have a baseline plan, according to Wellingtone’s State of Project Management survey.
That’s a bit like driving to an unfamiliar place without a GPS. It’s impossible to know how far you are from your destination, or if you’re even headed in the right direction.
Think of the implementation plan as the roadmap for your software journey. It should lay out all the tasks, action items, and milestones that need to be completed, along with their associated deadlines. For example, the plan should include near- and far-off items such as holding a project kickoff call, providing data collection sheets, delivery of the site, sign-off on acceptance criteria, and holding end-user training. In short, nothing should be left to chance, and nothing critical should be left undefined.
4. Do you have enough internal resources lined up to do the necessary work?
While a good project manager and implementation team are key to a successful implementation, even the best ones cannot handle everything alone.
Large-scale implementations take effort from both sides, and many organizations underestimate the amount of internal resources needed to complete a software implementation. As a result, 78% of IT and business leaders feel the business is usually or always out of sync with project requirements and business stakeholders need to be more involved and engaged in the requirements process. (Source: Geneca)
Before starting any implementation, your implementation team should assess your internal resources and ensure you’ve allocated adequate time and personnel. Throughout the project, they should help coordinate, distribute, and share the workload so no one feels like they’re drowning in work.
5. Are there clear channels for communication?
Keeping your project on track requires constant communication between your team and your vendor’s team. The best project managers know this, and make sure to prioritize their customers’ requests, concerns, and questions.
How your project manager handles your first few interactions will give you a good idea of how responsive they’ll be throughout your project. Is the person dependable, on-time, and prepared for meetings? Do they respond quickly to emails without your needing to follow up? Perhaps most importantly, do they make you feel comfortable reaching out if you have a question?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, it’s a clear sign that you, your implementation, and your time aren’t a priority.
6. Is there a plan to ensure adoption and rollout are successful?
A software implementation counts as a success only when the software is used widely, consistently, and effectively. To that end, there should be a clear plan in place to ensure adoption and rollout are successful.
You wouldn’t hand your teenager the keys to a new car and expect them to know how to drive. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to expect your employees to start using a new software just because they just got their login information.
Each type of user — scientists, team leads, safety specialists, upper management, etc. — should know how the software fits into their daily workflow, so stay focused on transparency and open communication around expectations (What’s coming when? How will learning be managed? Are all IT requirements understood and accounted for?)
Additionally, using an Early Adopter Model will give you a chance to foster a skilled, enthusiastic group of users before bringing the rest of your organization into the fold. Remember — the most important thing here is long term success.
We’ve found that internal emails are a great way to introduce the system both to early adopters as well as the larger research community upon rollout of the system.
Some sample topics to consider:
- A brief overview of the system
- Expected features and functionality
- The benefits users will experience
- How to get started with the system
- The importance of the system to support your organization’s specific mission
Your implementation team should be able to listen to early adopter feedback and adapt their approach as necessary. Often times, the rollout phase gets overlooked, so try to work through the process in your head and you’ll be able to tell whether your vendor is prepared or just winging it.
Last, but certainly not least:
7. Does the implementation team make this feel exciting, or are you dreading implementation?
The first time you use your new software, you’ll feel a rush of excitement when you see all your hard work start to pay off. But that excitement can quickly change to frustration and disappointment when you run into an unexpected delay or setback. That could be anything from the loss of a key team member to a lag in providing data to upload to the system. In any case, these problems can disrupt the momentum your team has built.
Throughout the implementation, the implementation team and project manager should drive the implementation forward while anticipating potential issues. Sometimes, delays are totally avoidable or easily manageable. Other times, delays are inevitable — but a skilled implementation team will help you navigate them and minimize the impact to your project.
One frequently overlooked part of success in keeping a project going forward is simply maintaining that feeling of excitement for all parties involved. When a roadblock happens for a project you love, you’re that much more motivated to get through it quickly, or have more resilience in waiting it out. Alternatively, if you view the project as a waste of time and effort, roadblocks tend to have a way of dragging out even longer than they need to.
While these kinds of large software implementations can feel overwhelming, just remember that your implementation team should always be there to make it feel like a more approachable and winnable project.
- A successful software implementation comes down to the people on your and your vendor’s teams, as well as the process put in place.
- By having a clear direction and understanding of the steps and resources needed to get there, you can avoid many of the setbacks that plague software implementations.
- Having the implementation conversation with your vendor early on will give you the best chance of success.