Saturday, 21 December 2013

System Implementation 2

In part 1 I covered the key activities to be completed before you start an implementation project.

Now we start!
  1. MONITOR PROGRESS REGULARLY
Once you have started implementation it is vital that you have regular, minuted, progress meetings (usually at least monthly) with a formal agenda. (See my article on meetings for more detail.)

At a minimum you should cover the following items: 
  • Work that should have been done since the last meeting 
  • Work actually done since the last meeting (which will usually be quite different) 
  • The effect this has on the schedule and budget (so you become aware of delays and over-runs as soon as possible) 
  • What needs to be done about this? (Usually something needs re-scheduled, or additional resources are required.) 
  • Who should be told (i.e. who does it affect)? 
  • Work to be done by the next meeting 
The questions in bold must not be neglected. A lesson that all project managers learn only too painfully is that any slippage must be identified as early as possible, and appropriate action taken quickly. 
  1. MAKE SURE THE SYSTEM IS PHYSICALLY INSTALLED AND WORKS
This area deserves a separate section of its own. Ensure the system is physically installed and, no matter how many other people are involved, make sure you actually see it running in some kind of test mode. Once installed, check that any technical issues have been resolved, and - crucially - get signatures from all the technical people involved that they are happy with the situation – or identify why they are not.
  1. HAVE A COMPREHENSIVE TRAINING PLAN
A major part of the implementation plan must cover training. This should be discussed and agreed at an early stage. Be clear about who is to be trained, how long the training will take and when it should be provided. People who receive training must know beforehand why are being trained, and they must have time available immediately after the training when they can apply what they have learned to real project work.

One of the worst shortcomings about a system is often the lack of adequate training. Users typically feel that the training they received was inappropriate or not put in context. This often happens because the supplier does not understand your own situation. Make sure they are adequately briefed, and give training specific to the needs of those they are training.
  1. ENSURE THE CORRECT DATA HAS BEEN INPUT
The data required for the valid operation of the new system must be available somewhere in people’s heads, on paper, or elsewhere. There needs to be a process which ensures that the appropriate data gets into your new system, within a reasonable timescale. Planning for this can be the largest part of the implementation. 

Nowadays much of the data you require may be converted from older systems. But even then it needs to be thoroughly validated (see the next section). 

Also, as soon as data is in the new system it needs to be kept up-to-date, and of course old systems cannot just be abandoned. They must be kept going until the new system is accepted, and then they should no longer be used except (possibly) for historical enquiries.
  1. ENSURE YOUR NEW DATA IS VALID
Any data put into a new system has to be validated. This can be done in several ways. It can be checked by a senior person; accounting-style data can be parallel run (see below); or reports can be replicated. 

Whatever happens, it is crucial that the data really is checked, and its validation signed off. This process, like most of the others, should involve all those affected by the project, so no-one can feel their opinion was ignored. Once data has been validated, it should be verified once or twice over the succeeding months. 

Systems often fail because users do not believe the data is valid. 

[Everyone knows that "Old Bill" has the correct information locked in his head, or the only way to check how much material there really is in the stores is to go and look...] 

Concluded in part 3

Saturday, 7 December 2013

System Implementation 1

The process of implementing a new system can be extremely stressful for all those involved. There might be a great atmosphere at project initiation, but after a few setbacks the initial enthusiasm can fade away. As a result of this, some systems never get properly implemented. What a terrible waste of resources! 

It is tough, getting a new system up and running, but I believe that following a careful plan (as outlined here) can ensure you achieve the intended results. 

This first article starts with the pre-project planning.
  1. KNOW WHAT IS EXPECTED FROM THE SYSTEM
Even before you have purchased your new system (if it is a package), or specified your requirements to the developers (in the case of a bespoke system), decide exactly which features you want to implement, and in what sequence. 

In the case of a large system you might want to carry out a phased implementation. In this case, do ensure that this is discussed fully with all those affected, so there are no surprises. 

The key to successful implementation is good communication!
  1. MAKE SURE THAT THOSE INVOLVED KNOW WHAT IS INTENDED
You must ensure that all those involved understand the intended timescale, what is expected of them, and how they will benefit. After all, if they don’t benefit, why should they help? Clients often ask me to look at “failed” systems: ones which have perhaps only achieved 10% of the benefits expected when the system was purchased. Most often, the issues that need to be addressed are “political” – the involved people are just not committed to the system working, usually because they see no benefit in it. 

It is crucial that your project has the backing of the appropriate senior managers and that they really understand what resources will be required. New systems soak up resources, often for several months (if not years). Like a new by-pass they can take a long time to get going, with a lot of disruption to the lives of those involved, but once they are fully functional everyone can benefit.
  1. PREPARE A DETAILED PLAN AND ENSURE OTHERS “BUY-IN” TO YOUR PLAN
The initial planning sessions are vital. Draw up a detailed implementation plan and share it with everyone who might be affected. Actively seek opinions: ask if new problems might arise as side effects of the plan. Be open to the responses and ensure you incorporate any recommendations. This process means that later on, when you need support, no-one is unclear about the issues, and you don’t have people waiting to sabotage you. 

[I know of several companies where package software was bought against the wishes of some staff, where the opponents did everything they could to hinder its implementation.]
  1. UNDERSTAND CLEARLY THE DATA AND THE RESOURCES REQUIRED
Be clear about the information required for the reports the system must produce. Also look at any systems which have to be linked in and work out the data which they will need. From this you can decide the data which has to be input into the new system. Realise that it must be kept up-to-date and decide exactly whose responsibility this will be. (This is covered later.) 

Decide who is going to collect (or convert) and then verify your data. Guesstimate how long this will take, by looking at a sample set of records and working out how long it will take to (a) find the data and (b) input it for the full set of records. 

[One company I spoke to were still collecting data for a system they had purchased three years earlier.] 

Doing such a detailed assessment at an early stage will allow the development of a realistic view of the total time and resources required.
  1. HANDLE THE TECHNICAL ISSUES
Take time to find out what technical hoops have to be gone through to get the system working. And make sure that the appropriate IT people are involved at all stages of the project, from selection right through to final implementation.
  1. IDENTIFY THE PROJECT END POINT – AND THE PROJECT LEADER
Agree how to identify (at the end of implementation) whether the finished system actually meets your organisation’s needs. It needs to be “Fit for Purpose” (in other words, do what you decided it should in 1. above) and also “Fit for Use” (in other words, do it in a way that is acceptable to the users). 

Also, decide who is going to manage the project internally. This is a key position, and should be a person who is not going to be pulled away on other projects, or be swamped by work on this one. Ensure the project manager is committed and has adequate clout to get things done. The software supplier should also appoint a project manager. 

Now you are ready to start! 

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