You’ve finally chosen a new software platform for your hire or rental business. It’s been a major decision – after all, your business will depend on the solution for many years to come – but you’ve done your homework and are confident of having selected the right product from the right provider. So, job well done and you can heave a sigh of relief. Sorry to be a kill-joy, but you're not there yet...
This is actually when the real work begins of implementing the solution and aligning it to your business. It can be a complex process and you'll want to minimise disruption to day-to-day operations, while meeting the project milestones and achieving your objectives. With over 25 years’ implementation experience, we’d like to share with you our five top tips for keeping software projects on track. They should help you to avoid some of the potential pitfalls. So why do some projects fail? Here are the most common reasons:
- Insufficient research
- No clearly defined project objectives
- No single person with authority to take decisions
- Internal resistance from people reluctant to change
- Insufficient time
- Changing requirements
MCS recommends five key points to help your project go smoothly:
- Establish clear objectives for the transition to a new system
Remember the old saying “Measure twice and cut once”? Software projects are a bit like that and time is well spent in defining the project scope and identifying the key benefits, metrics and/or KPIs you expect to see in moving to a new system. Set your targets and measure the progress towards achieving them. Clarify at the outset the issues and opportunities the software solution needs to address and keep these goals firmly in view as the project proceeds.
- Appoint a project manager to take ownership of the project
Choose your internal project manager wisely – your decision will directly affect the outcome. He or she will be your primary liaison with the software vendor and/or consultant and can be the key to ensuring the project deadlines are met.
The project manager will require:
- The authority to make decisions on the project without always deferring to others
- Management backing – they are the project champion and you need to empower and support them
- Sufficient time and resources, which may include forming a project team
If the project manager cannot devote sufficient time to the project, consider assigning responsibility for the project to an outside consultant.
- Train your users to make a fast effective start on your new system
Don’t forget your user community, who may be regarding the approaching transition to a new system with something akin to dread. Who will train your users at the coalface? Will this be the software company or your project manager? Who will be the super-user who will promote the software internally and provide first-line support for your users? Think, too, about the additional technical skills you might need: does your team have sufficient IT skills to be able to do tasks such as creating any unique reports your business needs? Would it be safer, a better use of resources and even more cost-effective to outsource this work to others?
- Plan the stages of the implementation process in accordance with your business priorities
From the outset, set realistic targets for achieving a timely ‘go-live’, including any intermediate stages. Decide if there are any key dates to coincide with or to avoid. Frequently, companies make the mistake of timing the launch of their new software to coincide with their financial year end. They think this makes for a nice, clean cut-off point. However, it’s not always a good idea as it imposes an extra pressure to deliver a new solution during a naturally busy time of the year. Plan what you will do with your data. Decide whether you want to:
- Import data from a legacy software solution or...
- Key in data from scratch, so that you dispense with poor historic data accumulated from old systems
Will you go for the big bang or a phased roll-out? On larger projects, it may be wise to roll out the solution in stages, particularly when the project will affect several departments, to minimise disruption. Whichever you choose, appoint a person or small team to test the system fully. It can be advantageous if they bring a fresh eye to the task, rather than someone who is already very familiar with the system’s workings. Don’t forget to review the software project status regularly, as this will highlight early on any deviation from the plan, and address any emerging issues before they turn into show-stoppers.
- Managing change in the business and internal marketing
A new software solution may introduce different processes that inevitably will have an impact on staff. Be prepared for how this might affect people’s comfort zones, their self-confidence and also their trust in you. It might be useful to keep a reminder of the business benefits that the system is set to address and refer to this to achieve user acceptance. Above all, highlight the ways in which the new system will make their lives easier. As you can see, any project is likely to involve a complex and challenging interplay of people, processes, cultures and technology. Although many of the above points seem like commonsense, it’s easy to overlook the obvious when the pressure is on. When embarking on a software project, review this list first to remind yourself of the essentials that can help to ensure your success. I think you'll be surprised at the difference it makes.