Are You Prepared For These 5 Common Software Implementation Challenges?
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Having been involved in hundreds of software implementations in a wide variety of businesses over the past 20 years, I’ve seen it all. And as a result, I’ve believe I have a very clear picture as to what can be done to set a firm up for success, but equally, a solid understanding as to what, in most instances, will lead to failure. If you’re about to begin your own implementation journey, I hope these insights can offer some helpful guidance.
Firstly, What’s The Point Of Implementing Software?
There are a few reasons why a business chooses to implement new software into the business:
1. The existing solution is no longer fit for their business: Usually these are small, downloadable packages that only cover a section of the business (Timesheets/Expenses for example). The most common solution is Microsoft Excel, which is often being used for a wide range of processes. Once your business grows to a certain size (in our experience 20+) then there are just too many spreadsheets to handle as well as a lot of manual processes sucking up everyone’s time to patch the growing problem.
2. The internal processes are growing more complex: As your business grows you need more and more support for each area of the business and individual employees. Things can get out of control fast so defining business processes is key to ensuring standardisation and control.
3. There could be multiple solutions that do not talk to each other, again requiring a lot of manual intervention, so you want to bring everything into one place.
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What Does A Failed Implementation Look Like?
This is a complex topic of its own, but for our purposes, we’ll consider any implementation project a failure when it doesn’t to meet the core objective, or is perceived to not be meeting the core objective. In a worst case scenario, the users reject the new software and the business either moves onto new software immediately, or goes back to the same software as before. Most likely when an implementation fails the business carries out the same processes/routines as before but with the new software, having expended time, money and resources for no substantial gain.
What Are The Main Causes Of Failed Implementation And How Can You Avoid Them?
1. Unclear Objectives\Unrealistic Budget: “I Need Everything”
Most people who are starting the process of looking for new software have a rough idea of what they are looking for. The trouble is, that there is often no clear definition of what they are trying to achieve, and what it is worth to the business to achieve it. Most companies have an IT budget for annual spend of around 5-10% of annual turnover, but if your objective is to increase revenue by 15% p.a. is it worth investing more than the allowed annual budget? Additionally, if you have no clear objective when you get the project team in a room, the process starts to fall apart as requirements gathering becomes a frenzy of wants and needs.
Once the frenzy starts, the possibilities become endless, and so does the list of add-ons, custom features and therefore the time frame and bill increase dramatically. I can remember a very serious request from an IT director to install and integrate a retinal scanning system with the ERP timesheets, so that the (less than a dozen) factory workers, being paid award wages, could not clock each other in on the half a dozen Saturdays that they were requested to work overtime for each year.
The key here, is to be realistic about what you need. Start the process by defining that foundation goal of what you want to solve by getting a new solution. This could be anything from reinforcing best practice, relieving manual processes or reducing working capital. Once you have identified the core objective (s), document them. If it’s written down, you can always refer to it later (and I can promise you, you will!).
Functionality can always be added later down the line, but you need to get the foundations right before you can expand. If the project you are evaluating can meet all of these nice to have’s, but not the core requirement, you are not setting yourself up for success. Concentrating on your objective means you won’t suffer scope creep (see point 3 below) during the project as you’re not constantly adding bits on that may not have as big an impact to the business as you think, but have a big impact on the cost and time frame.
2. Unrealistic Time Frame “I Need Everything…Now”
Most people we speak to want the software ASAP. And while that’s a good thing, people often forget rule 1 on this list. And they want everything right now.
For example, we often talk to companies that use Excel to run their business. They have got to the point where they need a solution and have started their research. Soon they come across slick, really intense dashboards that look great. They think to themselves that they must have this now. But you can’t simply go from Excel straight to full business reporting from one place, there needs to be a step in-between where you get all your information from Excel and into one place before you can report on it.
If you go for everything, the chances are, the implementation time frame will be longer. People will try and do too much at once, putting strain on the implementation team and internal team overseeing the project from your side. Remember that software implementation is not just a single “big bang” project. Continuous improvement, both within your business, and of the software functions means that long after the initial project completion, incremental changes and gains can continue to be made.
If you start small and fix what is impacting your business right now, and add extra bits on after, it puts much less strain on your business than doing everything at once. But more importantly, telling yourself and your team that getting the foundation right first, with a focus on the top 3 objectives, leads to a much more achievable project. You can then focus on the next 3 priorities once everything is bedded in.
This seems like an non-intuitive approach but think about your work life, have you ever been set more tasks in a day than you can handle? You end up spreading your focus on all of them, not doing any of them particularly well and you finish the day feeling good that you’ve done it all, but you’ve sacrificed quality. The same is true with software.
"If you start small and fix what is impacting your business right now, and add extra bits on after, it puts much less strain on your business than doing everything at once."
3. Changes “We Need To Do It This Way, Because That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It”
Time and time again we see requirements born from existing processes… When undertaking any implementation project the natural instinct is to look at the software critically. But are you also doing the same to your processes? Rebuilding the exact same business processes you have now, but within a new technology is not going to achieve change within your organisation. Is forcing a new system to suit users really achieving your prime objective? Examine what you do critically, as well as the new software that you are implementing. Keep in mind that the “system” is a combination of your people, processes, the new software, and existing or new hardware to support it. You wouldn’t require a new computer to continue printing on your old dot matrix printers, so why would you want it to support processes that may be just as old and outdated. So when we’re referring to changes, we’re referring to changes you need to make to your own business processes, as well as changes that you need to make to any software, or hardware that you are installing and using. The reason for this is to prevent what we refer to as scope creep. This is when a lot of minor changes that are made to meet small user requirements end up having a big impact on the project, and the budget. It’s why we recommended writing down your objectives in point 1 above. It then becomes easier to manage these requests.
Subject everything to the following scrutiny:
1. Does doing it help meet our main objectives, or does not doing it prevent us from hitting them?
2. What is the benefit and cost of doing it?
3. How long will it take?
If the person driving the change insists that your new system has intelligent auto-matching capabilities for matching bank transactions imported, as they’ve seen something like that before, put it through scrutiny:
1. Our objective is to increase project profitability. This isn’t helping that.
2. Finance have 20 transactions a week to reconcile. It takes them 15 minutes. This isn’t freeing up much of their time.
3. The solution has auto-matching capabilities, but to add machine learning algorithms is 6 months work.
4. Change Management “How Do We Make Sure We Fix It For Real?”
You need buy-in from all areas of the business and to ensure that the challenges you want to overcome and the new processes you want to put in place are clear and recognised by the different levels of the business. Often we find that only one person will oversee the procurement of the new system, which is fine, however, once the solution reaches the areas of the business that the person procuring the solution doesn’t work in, it becomes guess work which will inevitably end up wrong and will need to be fixed.
If you have a team of people who all recognise the same issues need to be fixed, then get them all in the same room and make sure they understand the new process, are happy with it and know their role during the implementation. These are the implementations that we see working the best across the business as this minimises the risk of changes being made to the solution during implementation. This isn’t an I.T. project, it’s a business project, so treat it that way.
The saddest experience for us when implementing new software for a company, is when it does the job it was supposed to do, but no one in the company is using it... A business may have spent time and money giving people this new flashy solution, but 6 months after implementation people begin making comments like “I can’t see my data, this new solution doesn’t work”.
The main cause of this is that you’ve implemented the system but haven’t had buy-in from all areas of the business. Therefore when people get the new system, the benefits of using it aren’t clear so they go back to using Excel or doing things the way they’ve always done it. Then you have to either spend money to adjust the solution to meet their requirements, in the hope that they will use it, or go through the whole process again.
There is no point in implementing a system if your people aren’t going to use it or are just going to work the same way they did before, but just with a new system. Instead you need to focus on the key challenges facing your business, make sure everyone who is facing these issues realise they are issues and want to fix them and realise the benefits of fixing them. Once you know that your team is behind you, you’ll be more confident about the solution you choose, and confident that once you map out the new process, it’ll become the norm across the business, and not just for a couple of weeks.
Communication is the key. Even for those not involved in decision making, keep them informed on the progress.
We’ve seen many different ways to create a buzz about a new system:
1. Name it. It’s corny, but even having a competition for naming it across the company starts people buying in
2. Advertise it. Put up posters, even in toilet cubicles if you have to. Send out weekly or fortnightly updates. Included it in a corporate newsletter (or start one if you don’t have one). Make sure people know change is coming
3. Hold taster sessions: Put on a lunch where the business can get a sneak peek at what you’re doing
4. Make it fun: Don’t expect that people pulled away from their day jobs are going to enjoy mundane training on new systems and processes. Run many short sessions covering simple functions. Make them a weekly event.
5. Show the benefit. Make sure everyone knows your original core objectives and communicate how well you’re meeting them.
"Communication is the key. Even for those not involved in decision making, keep them informed on the progress."
5. Data Management “Why Can’t I See My Data?”
People often ask me, how long does it take to implement your software? That question has a variety of factors affecting it, from the range of functionality you need, to the number of adjustments you want to make.
Often, the biggest impact to the time frame is getting your data in one place and in a format that a solution can understand. This requires work, whether you choose to do it yourself or want a supplier to do it.
The quickest and most successful implementations happen after someone in the business has gone through the current data, whether it be contact lists or project information, and made sure that what you’re putting into the new system is good data.
This requires you to go through your current data and perform a data cleanse. The new solution will only be as good as the data you put into it.
As well as this, you need to decide how much data you’re going to put into it. For example, when considering a new finance solution, most people want transaction level data from the past few years. But occasionally we see requests for complete transactional history. This is honestly not necessary - you will only require the opening and closing balances and the rest is past data and therefore not crucial for your organisation moving forward. Think about how much your business has changed in the last 5 years, or even 10 years. Is having transaction detailed data from that long ago really useful today?
If you can gather the data yourself and perform a data cleanse, then you will lower the cost of the implementation by cutting out the first step. Do it early. Waiting to the very last minute introduces risk as it always takes longer than you expect. And do a test run of data import -this makes sure the format is acceptable.
Setting Your Business Up For Success
In summary, if you’re about to go through a change in the way your business functions, start small, make sure you know what you want and be clear on what the benefits are to ensure a successful implementation that sets you up to win. If you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Best of luck with your implementation journey!
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