5 Critical Steps to a Successful Software Implementation Plan

Updated January 16, 2020

The business landscape nowadays is ultracompetitive, and for small businesses to survive and flourish, they need the right software systems to optimize their workflows, increase team productivity, and bring in more revenue.

Software implementation, however, is no walk in the park. Finding the perfect software platform for your specific business needs requires time and attention — and, in many cases, a significant financial investment.

And then, there’s the human side of the equation. People are creatures of habit, and habits, once ingrained, are extremely difficult to change.

Your employees may already be used to doing things a certain way. If their way works for them just fine, upending their processes may result in their resisting the change, to the detriment of the entire organization.

The solution? Have a system implementation plan in place before embarking on the journey of adopting new software.

Why do you need a software implementation plan?

New software adoption requires serious work, which is why you want to squeeze the most value out of your new system. You want a measurable return for each dollar you spend. That said, a well-thought-out software implementation process will help you succeed.

To further illustrate the value of a solid plan, let’s identify some of the common reasons why software adoptions fail.

Hastily made decisions

Implement a new software system for the right reasons, and not because everyone in your industry has started using this shiny new software. What works for them may not work for you. Do your due diligence and listen to feedback, so you don’t end up with buyer’s remorse.

Involvement of the wrong people in the implementation phase

You don’t want just anyone in your corner during the implementation. You want relevant and capable stakeholders providing their input, assisting with the project plan, and advocating the use of the software.

Improperly configured system

You’ll have to customize or integrate some systems with existing tools to fully maximize them. Be aware of all the options available to you.

Employees not appreciating benefits of the software

If the software’s end users don’t understand what they’re getting out of the new platform, they won’t be keen to adopt it. Chances are they’ll even see it as a hindrance to productivity, instead of a tool they can wield to their advantage. Ensure that the software’s benefits are thoroughly communicated to lessen, if not totally eliminate, friction.

Inadequate software training

Most software vendors provide training, so take advantage of their onboarding programs to train your employees on how to use the new platform.

5 steps to create a successful software implementation plan

In most cases, adopting new software is a big deal. Botch the implementation process, and you’re likely to experience operational downtime and revenue loss.

Conversely, if you do your homework and make the necessary preparations, your organization can enjoy numerous benefits including across-the-board process efficiency, improved visibility, cost savings, and accelerated growth.

Below is a five-step process you can take to make the most of your new software system.

1. Build a business case

No matter the size of your business, software implementation is not something you do just because.

While small businesses are nimbler than their larger counterparts, mistakes can be costly and can cripple any company, especially those on a shoestring budget.

On the other end of the spectrum, larger organizations have difficulty rolling out new software or upgrading existing ones because of the growing complexity of the decision-making process. According to a survey by McKinsey, 72% of senior executives think bad strategic decisions were “about as frequent as good ones or were the prevailing norm in their organization.”

These two scenarios underscore the significance of an airtight business case in any software implementation plan. Moreover, involving your staff early in the process will minimize resistance to change.

So how do you go about making your case?

  1. Highlight the pain points: What challenges is your company facing? What aspects need improvement? The best way to find out is to ask your employees and other relevant stakeholders. If organizational efficiency is at an all-time low, resulting in the company losing money, focus on that. The key is to align business objectives with your goals.
  2. Provide a solution: Outline in detail how a new, say, project management software system can improve team efficiency and productivity, and why it’s critical to addressing the pain points you raised.
  3. Analyze the cost vs. benefits: The main reason you need a strong business case is to justify the software investment. Break down both tangible and intangible costs, as well as the tangible and intangible gains the company is poised to achieve with a successful rollout.
  4. Present a timeline: Set time expectations, specifically how long it takes to evaluate software, implement a new system, and realize ROI (return on investment).
  5. State how you plan to manage change: Research by McKinsey found that 70% of organizational transformation programs fail, so why should executives back your project proposal when it’s less risky to simply turn it down? Number one, by emphasizing the cost of not addressing the company’s nagging pain points. Number two, by making them understand that you know the risks and the steps you plan to undertake to steer clear of the same mistakes other companies have made.

2. Choose a trustworthy vendor partner

Once you have the go-ahead, next on the agenda is finding the most suitable software vendor. This isn’t necessarily easy, considering all the hype surrounding software.

To simplify the selection process, here are a few questions you should be asking:

  • What exactly do you need, e.g., criteria such as price, features, cloud-based vs. on-premise vs. hybrid, etc.?
  • Has the provider been in business long enough? What are their credentials?
  • What are their customers saying about them?
  • Is the software scalable?
  • Are there any hidden costs?
  • Can the software integrate with the systems already in place in your company?
  • Does the vendor provide software training?
  • Is after-sales support included in the implementation cost?
  • Are upgrades and updates cloud-based?

In the case of bespoke software acquisition, keep in mind that developers will deliver exactly what you request of them, which means it’s not enough that you know what you want. You should also be able to articulate it in the most granular way possible.

3. Prevent scope creep

The bells and whistles different software systems provide can set you off track if you’re not careful. Just like in a candy store, the software market offers a whole laundry list of options and customizations.

This is why preparing a needs document that outlines all the features and functionalities of the system you’re looking for is critical when evaluating software. It puts you back on the right path when you start to veer off course.

The needs document should also give vendors a clear picture of your specific needs as an organization.

Scope creep happens the moment you decide to set up the software’s every available functionality or customize every capability all at once. It’s a nice trap to fall into, but it’s still a trap, one that results in:

  • The implementation process dragging out
  • Costs increasing exponentially
  • Stakeholders losing interest

Projects, including software implementation, rarely turn out exactly as expected on day one. Changes during project life cycle are a natural occurrence, but to prevent scope creep, a certain level of control has to be exercised.

Therefore, it’s vital that your implementation team (more on this below) applies project management best practices and that members work together to maximize software usage for their respective departments.

No matter the size of your team, a collaborative project management tool will allow you to flesh out your software implementation process plan. Some well-regarded options include:

  • Asana for worker-centric features, such as workload monitoring and built-in project templates, and a user-friendly interface
  • Basecamp for document storage, task prioritization, and scheduler features
  • Monday.com for customizable budget dashboards and multiple widget types, including calendar and task progress
  • Wrike for project tracking features such as Gantt charts and kanban boards

4. Assemble the right team

The team you put together is crucial to your software implementation success. Its size can range from as few as two to as many as needed.

In general, the more departments needing the software, the bigger the size of the team. Each department’s representative functions as the champion of the new software who will answer questions and help train colleagues.

Your software implementation team may include the following:

  • Project owner: Usually the head of the business or department implementing the new software system, may also be a team of executives instead of just one person for larger organizations
  • Project manager: Responsible for organizing the implementation process, including working out the budget
  • System administrator: Oversees the system’s setup and technical administration
  • Superstar end user: The go-to person who serves as the communication liaison between end users and the project team
  • Members from core departments: The software’s champions from the different departments in your organization

Keep in mind that the type of people you assign to your implementation team reflects how committed you are to the success of the initiative. So include only those who are highly talented, team smart, and equally committed to the project’s success.

5. Drive user adoption

The last thing you want is a software system gathering dust because no one wants to use it.

Then again, if you’re the boss, you can simply instruct your employees to adopt the new system whether they like it or not, right? You’re free to do exactly just that. However, expect employee dissatisfaction and pushback.

Here are some tips to increase the odds of employees actually using the new software:

  • Prepare your teams for the switch as early as possible: The earlier you let employees know of the change, the more accepting they will be.
  • Assign a change manager: Someone has to spearhead the change, and employees must be clear on whom to approach for questions, training, feedback, and other information.
  • Communicate the software’s benefits: When stakeholders understand the good the software will do for them, adoption rates are more likely to increase.
  • Ensure that training is sufficient: For teams to use the software, they have to know how it operates.
  • Provide ongoing support: Expect issues to arise, especially during the early stages of the adoption, so a helpdesk or tech support team is essential during this crucial phase.

Get the most value out of software

Implementing new software is a serious undertaking. A software implementation plan is your best friend to ensure it’s pulled off without a hitch.

The steps and ideas we’ve outlined above should steer you towards the path of successful implementation and smooth transition.

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