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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