Most business leaders would have been exposed to at least one complex software implementation. More than likely, it has been many. Some succeed but many fail and they often run over budget and under deliver on end user expectations. With this in mind, there are steps you can take if you are embarking on a new business software implementation project to keep things on track and deliver return on investment. Planning properly before acquiring a new system can increase the chances of a successful rollout many times over. These phases are all scalable to the size of the project. If you are implementing a small 5-10 user system, each phase will be completed with considerably less effort than a 100-200 user system.
Step One: Have a Business Case
Having a business case for your reason to change may sound simple enough, but it is all too often overlooked. It should be the very first step before considering the procurement of a new system. Many times organisations will believe their current system is failing them in a specific area. But what needs to be specified is how such a conclusion has been reached. A skilled consultant or system expert should be involved in ruling out the old system before implementing a new one. After all, the cost and time required to improve an existing system may be far less than implementing a completely new one. A business case should consider ROI and internal resources. There should be a clear business benefit to implementing the new system, whether it be better operating efficiencies, better insight and analysis or even a technological advantage such as mobility.
Step Two: Identify the Stakeholders
After a compelling business case has been made, it is important to identify the right people who will be involved with the project. While it’s important to identify the stakeholders, it is most important to directly involve the stakeholders throughout the project and during its implementation. Stakeholders will be the champions of the system. If they are invested in the process, they will nurture the system to success. It is also critical to ensure that one or more of the stakeholders will be an end user of the system - the real measure of business software success are the happy hands of keyboards.
Step Three: Undertake a Requirements Analysis
You are now ready for what I consider the most critical step before implementation can begin - requirements analysis. This is again a phase that is often overlooked or not given enough attention. Properly understanding the requirements of the new system is crucial to implementation success. This may be undertaken by a business analyst consultant, external to your organisation, or by one or more of your internal team. Enough time and focus must be placed on this phase to identify all the critical functionality requirements of the new system. Identifying required functionality is as important as ruling out functionality. A lot of time and money can be invested in delivering requirements that are ultimately not required, or which do not have a specific business need. Throughout the requirements analysis, each functional point should be matched against a real business requirement and the process should involve team members who will be directly affected by the new system implementation.
Step Four: Scoping the Design
This step is very much an extension of the business analysis phase, and the process should be straightforward if the requirements are clear and concise. The objective here is to document what system features and functionality will be delivered for the implementation. It can include ‘future’ or ‘next phase’ features, however it will ultimately needs to clearly outline what features will be delivered immediately as part of the current implementation. Personally, I’m an advocate for documentation that is lighter on content but offers an agile approach so that changes or scope revisions can be made quickly. It is nearly impossible to have a perfect scope that will never require change at some point. Keeping an agile methodology in play ensures changes can be dealt with easily and quickly.
Step Five: Finding the Right Experts
I cannot put enough emphasis on finding and investing in the right minds to get the job done. Implementing complex business systems takes a high degree of focus and expertise. It is critical to ensure you have one or more team members who have had experience implementing modern business systems. They should also possess outstanding business analysis and communication skills. Often, if you are acquiring a system through a software vendor or partner channel you will have access to consultants and technical resources. These people play a key part in facilitating a smooth rollout. However, it is also important have an expert of your side - someone who understands your business and your software goals.