How to avoid a software implementation disaster

By Glenn Saunders

Implementing a software package, whether it’s for accounting, inventory management, manufacturing resource planning or any business area, is always a challenge for even the best organizations.  The result of a software implementation should not just be new technology, but must also be better processes, improved efficiencies and a reduction of business risk.  However, the prospect of an implementation itself is risky.

I am consistently asked by companies and business owners for tips on how they can reduce the risk associated with a software deployment.  Are there some suggested best practices   a company can implement to ensure a successful project?  While nothing can guarantee success, there are certainly some steps that can mitigate risk and improve the likeliness of a positive outcome for the project.

Define the requirements

First, company leaders have to define and document the objective, outcome or process they are trying to achieve with the project.  This process should be undertaken without consideration to what they know about software.  This exercise is similar to a business analysis that will determine what is needed to solve particular challenges within the organization.  For instance, a company might need a solution to manage a current paper process that relates to client service.  What elements are missing from the current process that need to be addressed?  Perhaps, communication and status tracking are critical elements as well as effective evaluation of the timeliness in which a project is completed.  Project leaders should meet with their internal teams and document what would be necessary to improve the process.

Embrace the change

One of the single biggest risk factors in a project is people and their aversion to change.   Effective leaders will ensure that team members fully understand the reasons for the recommended system and process changes.   Team leaders will earn acceptance by listening to and addressing the concerns of the affected employees.  When concerns are addressed and benefits are stressed, the fear of change will quickly diminish.  As the organization commits to the project, the next key step in embracing change is to ensure the key users have the necessary knowledge to implement the change.

Invest in training

The value of training in the process of implementing a new software package should never be minimized.  Training users to make sure they understand the whole process, not just the nuts and bolts of data entry, is important so that they can think critically and solve future business challenges.  Proper user training is as important as selecting the right product.  Users who understand how things are supposed to flow through a software package can help to improve the system as well as ensure successful adoption within the organization.  An employee who is properly trained can respond to customer or supervisor requests without having to consult other resources, thereby improving responsiveness.  Company leaders should not try to save money by cutting the training budget.  Skimping on training can become an expensive problem, for instance when an entire month’s worth of data is keyed improperly.  Trust me.

Communicate, communicate and communicate some more.

Communication, both internal and external, are extremely important tasks during a software project.  Being concise, clear and following up with internal team members to ensure deadlines are met are vitally important.  Equally imperative is effective communication with the software partner team.  Making sure that objectives, requirements and other factors in the project are clearly communicated, documented and understood by all involved will help to ensure a smooth and effective implementation.  Nevertheless, something will not go as planned; but if a communication plan is in place, it is easier to address the situation and move forward.

The items mentioned above should help organizations navigate the implementation of a new software package, regardless of what challenge it might solve for your business.  There are other steps that can contribute to the success of the project, but these are just a few of the items that we find are the most important from an internal perspective.

At Kraft Enterprise Systems, we specialize in implementing business management systems, as well as budgeting and forecasting solutions for mid-size companies.