August 5, 2019

It just takes a little gumption and common sense

By Nancy Appelquist, Director of Operations 

My son’s laptop is getting to that point where it really needs to be replaced, but he’s just not ready to go through the legwork of researching a replacement, purchasing it and setting it up. He’s comfortable with the “devil he knows” even though he knows there is something out there that’s better, faster and has more bells and whistles. 

Companies tend to treat internal platform and other system upgrades the same way. Whether it’s a new CRM system, ERP platform, or simply new billing software, any such project is huge and intimidating for all the same reasons mentioned above and more. So companies put them off, or worse, avoid them entirely because they know the resources it will take, they dread the disruption, and they fear what could go wrong.

In the meantime, they continue using archaic tools and following inefficient processes, even though a more modern platform is just one implementation away. And these modern platforms are critical not only to internal operations, but also more effective integration with partners up and down the value chain.

If you have a technology project that’s been sitting on the back burner for what seems like forever, I’m here to encourage you to stop delaying the inevitable. And, I offer a few rules of thumb to get it done more smoothly and more quickly, and to get it right the first time.

1. Start by building the right team.

Involve people who are actually doing the work (not just managers who aren’t in the thick of it day-to-day). And I’m talking even before the implementation phase…bring these expert minds in from the earliest stages possible so they can influence the project from the ground up. They are, after all, the ones who will be using the technology every day to do their jobs. That could mean you pull someone away from the order desk, in from the field, or off the call center phone line to be part of the design.

I recently had a client working on an ERP installation, which was billed as a supply chain improvement initiative. While there were high level representatives from each business group, their greatest misstep was not inviting some of the key functions from within supply chain to the table on the front end. So, what could have been a transformative tool for the business turned out to be a flop—it just didn’t work properly. Had they involved more of the end users from the beginning they could have built something that actually matched up to their processes. Instead, they wound up doing a lot of re-work after the fact to get what they really needed. 

Involving the right functions ensures you have people in a better position than anyone to advise on what solutions would best fit your daily processes and tasks. They can advise on what features are most important and what are too disruptive, or a waste of time, or take too much time to perform. They can shed light on how to prevent the technology from negatively impacting customer encounters. Without such input, you’re just driving blindly.

Your team should include a mix of frontline and technical experts, and by all means make sure your heaviest users are represented. Doing this keeps a healthy control over the scope of the project so you don’t bite off more than you can chew from a resource bandwidth and cost standpoint. (And, keep in mind that more is not better in this case. There is a sweet spot between having too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough.)

Finally, getting some of the key users involved gives them a sense of empowerment, belonging, value and investment in the project. That way when the inevitable glitches occur, they are more eager to help find a solution, because it’s their system that they helped develop and take pride in. 

2. Understand what you’re getting

Know what’s in the package—what comes standard vs. what is an add-on or has to be customized. Every little addition costs time and money. You may think you’re buying an off-the-shelf system you can plug in and put to work, but it’s never that easy. What you believe to be the answer to all of your problems quickly turns disastrous. By the time you realize the catastrophe you’ve created, you’re too far down the road to turn back. And suddenly, 2/3 of the project gets pushed to phase two.

Being blindsided by customizations required to make it work can make frustrations skyrocket…not to mention creating a huge drain on time and costs.

3. Fit the tool to YOU, not the other way around

Begin with the end in mind. Ask this question: Does this system help X process work better? One of the biggest mistakes companies can make is believing a state-of-the-art system will fix process problems. If a process is broken, a fancy tool won’t be the remedy.

I worked with a client a few years back that happened to have a clunky and inefficient invoicing process. Maybe they felt they were doing the right thing for the customer, but it created a real cash flow problem for the company. They embarked on a major new platform installation that they believed would change everything. The only problem was they kept following the same old process after the system launch. It was an accounts receivable/open order issue that needed repair; a shiny new platform couldn’t resolve those issues.

4. Have realistic expectations about day one.

Even if the platform you’ve chosen seems to be perfectly aligned to your company, it’s very likely not going to work 100 percent seamlessly right out of the gate. This can be addressed in the planning and design phases. Commit to the scope early on and don’t go out of bounds. Make sure to build contingencies into your plan for anything and everything that could go wrong and have a mechanism in place to triage issues in an orderly manner so resolutions can be vetted, prioritized and delegated. This ensures your implementation team doesn’t get overwhelmed and your end-users know you’re listening.

And always, always have a detailed communication plan that includes how to use the system (through both tips and tutorials and full-blown training), clear channels for asking questions, encouragement and positive reinforcement, and recognition of the teams that made it happen.

An absolute must is a weekly team meeting that addresses open issues with a log of those issues that’s published after each meeting. A status of each issue along with the owner of the issue usually helps to keep things moving along. This should be done from the time the project kicks off right through implementation and post implementation as issues are uncovered.  

5. Give customers a heads up.

Companies naturally prefer to keep internal matters under wraps, but a little peek behind the curtain is ok if the changes will be visible to the customer. Customers really can be surprisingly understanding if you’re upfront with them—especially if they know a slight inconvenience now will benefit them in the long run. Kind of like those “pardon our dust” signs you see during remodels at a shop or restaurant, while the goal is to NOT interfere with business as usual, chances are there will be “dust.” Get ahead of this by maintaining steady communication, giving clear instructions about anything they need to do, and having someone on point at all times to answer questions.

Make It Happen

When you overhaul any kind of technological system, whether large or small, there will be pain along the way and you will run into hurdles you didn’t anticipate…but involving the right people as early as possible, planning for every pitfall you can think of, communicating proactively with stakeholders, and having reasonable expectations right out of the gate will result in a much more positive outcome. Resist the urge to keep hitting the snooze button. Plan thoroughly for the change…then take a deep breath and go for it.

If you need to move a systems project to the front burner but aren’t sure where to begin, contact Nancy Appelquist at 845.544.1985 or nappelquist@entira.net.