Wednesday, August 25, 2010

5 Best Practices for Ensuring a Smooth Software Implementation

You’ve gone through months (possibly years of preparation) and now you’re down to the final stages of your software implementation project. No matter how successfully you have executed the project to date, it can all fall apart if your service provider (software vendor or value added reseller [VAR]) can’t do its job properly!
As a stakeholder in charge of your company’s IT purchasing decisions, you’ll want to be sure that the service provider you choose will be the right one for your needs. It’s no secret that there’s a lot of time and money at stake in such an undertaking and you’ll want to do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition from your legacy system to your new system.
How will you manage change, resolve conflicts, and keep your implementation running as smoothly as your evaluation and selection? here are the five best practices that (I believe) will help ensure a successful and seamless implementation.
• Best Practice #1: Proper Planning
• Best Practice #2: Continuous Monitoring
• Best Practice #3: Updating your Stakeholder
• Best Practice #4: Preventing Scope Creep
• Best Practice #5: Negotiating Additional Products or Services

Software Implementation Best Practice #1: Proper Planning

Make sure that your implementation plan includes specific deliverables for each milestone, a clear definition of the scope of each step, and contingency plans that you can put into action should the schedule begin to slip. Remember, your implementation plan must extend beyond the go-live date. As the organization continues to change, the process must evolve with it.
Some areas of your implementation plan that need to be carefully thought out (but are not limited to) are:
• Data conversion: Conversion of data from the old software system to the new should begins early in the implementation process. Testing should be performed to ensure accurate data is transferred into the new system’s database. If inaccurate data is converted, the erroneous data may have a negative domino effect throughout the organization.
• Disruption of business: Even the most successful implementations can disrupt a company’s business and lead to a reduction in productivity that can temporarily affect the bottom line. Detailed project plans can also contribute to shorter implementation timeframes.
• Training: Every system user must be fully educated so they understand how the new system will be integrated into the overall company operation. All users must be trained to take full advantage of the system’s capabilities. Failure to educate and train all relevant personnel will guarantee implementation problems.

Software Implementation Best Practice #2 - Continuous Monitoring

Monitoring should be integrated into all stages of the implementation project. As the implementation progresses, a careful audit of each milestone will help you ensure that the service provider is providing all of the products and services specified in the contract, and the internal implementation team is performing as it should.
Failure to properly monitor the progress of the implementation can also lead to scope creep (see Best Practice #4)—among other things.

Software Implementation Best Practice #3 –Updating your Stakeholders

Your stakeholders have been part of the project since it first got off the ground (all those months ago), so don’t keep them in the dark at the implementation stage. Ensure that your project champions, subject matter experts (SMEs), and service provider work closely together throughout the implementation so that everyone is on the same page. A poorly managed and maintained project is often a factor in implementation failure. Communication is critical for its success. Audit each implementation milestone and provide detailed briefings and progress reports to your stakeholders on a regular basis.

Software Implementation Best Practice #4 - Preventing Scope Creep

If scope creep happens, it’s often because we’ve allowed it to. Tasks change, deliverables aren’t met, and before we know it, our go-live timeline is shot to hell. Sometimes, scope creep is inevitable, however; a project plan that provides a focused and well-defined scope, and includes the appropriate resources (both human and budgetary) will help keep your implementation project on track—reducing the risk of creep.

Software Implementation Best Practice #5 - Negotiating Additional Products or Services

Remember: The people involved in the original negotiations during a software selection are not the same people assigned to implementing it. Ideally, your goal should be to tie payments to the achievement of milestones in the implementation process, however; be prepared to negotiate the cost of additional products or services as the need arises. While most contracts state the obvious in terms of the license agreement, and ongoing support and maintenance requirements, they often say little about what service levels are to be met in order for the implementation to be considered complete. If you’re uncertain, have the service provider draw up a service level agreement (SLA) or statement of work (SOW) and attach it as an addendum to your contract.


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