Picture this scene: A new IT project has reached the moment of truth — the go-live. It works! Champagne that’s been waiting in the fridge is popped open in celebration. The business leaders who selected and sponsored the project breathe a sigh of relief. They know this is a bare-bones implementation, and they still have a phase two to complete. But over the next few weeks, they find themselves being sucked back into the day-to-day operational whirlwind. Weeks become months and the drive, and discipline required to get to the full benefit of the new technology are lost.
Having been in the IT business for more than 30 years, I am all too familiar with this kind of scenario. Everybody knows that big IT projects sometimes fail. But perhaps what is less well understood is when they don’t fail but instead disappoint. The software does what it says on the tin, but because it is not fully adopted, the business does not achieve the promised result.
Sometimes this is because the software is not the right fit. But often, it is because the adoption process fizzled out. To anyone considering adopting new technology, I recommend an approach I call going all in. Here are seven steps to successful software implementation:
1. Stay focused on the outcomes you are looking to deliver.
How is this software going to improve business performance? Don’t get distracted by every bell and whistle of what the new software can do. Instead, stay focused on the capabilities that can help people across the organization do their jobs better and, thus, move the performance dial of the business.
2. Have a sense of urgency.
There has to be a sense of urgency. In other words, why do you have to do this now? Point out to people across the organization why you can’t put it off until next month, next year or never. In business, there is generally a cost to doing nothing. For starters, you are failing to take advantage of the potential to do things better. Dynamic and ambitious businesses that are looking to grow and scale have to strive to be one step ahead of the competition.
3. Be ready to improve processes.
There is no point in automating a bad or out-of-date process. Implementing new technology is an opportunity to audit how things are done in the organization and where it is possible to do them differently and better. For example, in services businesses, communication with customers may have been limited to formal interactions with managers in the past. But if new technology provides a way of pushing accurate, real-time information out to clients about how their orders or projects are progressing, that is a way to enhance the closeness of these important relationships.
4. Keep up the momentum.
I am a passionate believer in committing the best people to innovation — the employees you can’t really afford to move. Sometimes organizations commit the time of very senior and trusted people to the implementation team, only to pull them onto other things before the process is complete. But it is vital that the leadership team, executive sponsors and change champions throughout the organization stay involved until the software is fully adopted.
5. Invest in adoption.
Adopting new technology, whether it is upgrading or buying new software, is generally best understood as a change project. We don’t always invest enough time or money over the long term, and the desire to keep costs down can lead to cutting corners in planning and implementation. But the technology alone won’t drive the change organically — there has to be a commitment of time and money from the top.
6. Embed adoption through training, mentoring and leadership.
Training will be required through the implementation and adoption phase. This shouldn’t be generic system training. Instead, it should be specific to each role. And because people tend to forget much of what they learn at an initial training session, they will need to refresh their memories and have easy access to materials when they move roles or join the company. It usually takes time and plenty of positive reinforcement for this to bed in.
7. Hold people accountable for their part in delivering the benefit.
Achieving a successful implementation depends on having a clear vision of what the benefit is and how each area of the business plays a part in it. Communicating that, reviewing it and holding people accountable for delivering the expected benefits in their areas is crucial to getting there.
In short, don’t be afraid to celebrate that initial successful go-live. By all means, crack open the bubbly, and congratulate the team on their great work. But remember to also prepare for the next phase. Implementation and adoption are not over until the benefits that were identified at the planning stage have been achieved.
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