I was recently approached for advice on how exactly to lead a software change initiative. I do not claim to be anything but a road warrior when it comes to implementing software. I have never studied change management; I do not have a Masters in anything. I have, however, watched 20k+ of our customers implement eOne software. We also continue to evolve internally and adopt new software, strategies and ways of doing things daily.
Despite seeing implementations by the thousands, I have never been involved in a perfect software transition. Change is difficult; not everyone will think the process was as smooth as they may have dreamed. If you want to manage a smooth project, start with the following tips and then add your own personality and flavors to the process:
Tip 1: Cast & communication your vision early.
Without vision your project is already dead in the water. Your employees and stakeholders need to know the vision you have if this change in software is going to fly. As you make decisions along the way you can hold each one to supporting the vision. (Do not be scared to change your vision when the effort involved is insanely time-consuming for limited upside).
Given you are leading a team – you already know how to sell, or if not sell, then persuade people to your way of thinking. Put that sales hat on. Sell the change right away. Get people excited about how it will change their lives. Paint the picture for them. Don’t count on just playing an enforcer role and trusting everyone will be on board. If you do that, you’ll end up with people still using spreadsheets or notebooks or whatever the process is that you wanted to change, to do their work. They will just pretend they are doing what you’ve asked when you’re around.
Tip 2: Plan and plan some more…with a strategic team.
A successful software change initiative involves planning. Be sure you’ve considered all systems that will be affected by the change, as well as all employees. Consider all the effects the change has. This is also the time you want to bring in your “A, B and C players”. If you only have your IT stars, sales stars, or your best warehouse people involved you will not learn how this change will impact each level of your team. Just like editing an article, you need multiple sets of eyes looking through your plans and adding to them.
In your plans, use the snowball effect – start with small projects. People like to win – even on projects. Move them from small win to bigger win to bigger win. Break your project into pieces so your team doesn’t feel the implementation is never ending.
Tip 3: Incentivize your strategic team.
Don’t be afraid to incentivize your key team members that are responsible for making this all happen. Take the IT manager who is a high performer and make sure he has some skin in the game (not just ‘your job is on the line’). Associate user adoption after 6 months with an incentive that he cares about. If he’s saving to install a pool, let him know you want to give him a “pool bonus” based on the incentive.
Better still, plan to throw a party for the whole team. Those involved and those not involved in this project. Suddenly the whole company has an interest in the success of the rollout.
Tip 4: Seek feedback early and often.
As a leader, you do not know everything with which your employees are dealing – if you did, then you wouldn’t need them. Get feedback and take it seriously. Ask how the install went, how the company providing the software is to work with, where they need help, if they are feeling overwhelmed, etc. Now – a word of caution here – get feedback from those on the project who will share with you both what is going well and what is problematic.
Tip 5: Execute complete and complex use case scenarios.
This tip may be more at home in a project implementation article, but it is important enough to include here. The only way to ensure that the new digital process is going to work, is to run through the scenario step by step and end to end. Do not run through just one scenario. Pick some difficult scenarios and have someone run you through it step by step. Absolutely do not skip a step. Do not say – “we will finish the printout later”, “we will make the screens prettier before go live”, etc. Run through the process to the extent that you walk from location to location and have each person execute the task. How can you ever know that this will go well on ‘go live’ if you have not done it already?
Tip 6: Create a plan for those that will not or cannot change.
I once ran a project for a field service team. The main dispatch manager who looked after the office came in for training and we ran through all new processes. After about 2 hours he stood up and said he was done and declared the new software would never work. When questioned, he kept repeating “where is the piece of paper for each work order? What the hell can I do without a piece of paper? I will never know who is on what job looking at a screen.”
You must have a plan going in:
- Will you change the project process for this guy? If so, how does that effect the vision?
- Are you prepared to fire someone over this?
- Are exceptions ok?
- How much time are you prepared to invest in change therapy and retraining?
Tip 7: Get new processes in place.
Know the old will die hard. As a leader, keep selling the benefit of the software and motivating toward the new process. Take the company’s resources you’ve just spent (both financially and in your people’s time) and make sure it was worth the investment.
User adoption is a key marker that you’ve used your resources wisely. Ensure you have the user adoption you want by investing in training. Depending on the complexity of the software, you may be able to dedicate some online time to your team learning it, send a mixture of people to a dedicated product training or bring the experts right to your site and focus on becoming product experts. Every cent I’ve spent on my team getting trained has paid off.
BONUS: Celebrate the success.
Your team has just worked their tails off, adapted to a process and software change and together are working to make your company more efficient. Celebrate their accomplishments in a way you know they will appreciate.
Follow some of these steps and you’ll see your next software initiative go off without a hitch. Cast your vision, plan like crazy, incentivize your team, seek feedback, test it, create a plan for the nay-sayers, get some training and then party.