Integrating a new system, process or tool can already be tough on its own, but doing so in a growing business can prove to be an enormous challenge if you’re not properly prepared. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take – and tools you can use – to ensure you're ready for implementation while minimizing snags along the way.
1. Get all (and we mean all) stakeholders involved
This sounds like basic, Implementation 101 material, but let's take a deeper look: Who are your stakeholders? Immediately you may list board members or C-suite individuals who allocate and sign off on project dollars. Fair enough. But every single process owner and every department whose work is affected by the change should be on that list as well. Figuring out whom to engage, for what purpose and at what stage of the process is essential to assessing a proper fit throughout your organization and preventing major issues later on.
Depending on your role in the organization (and you probably play several), scoping these things out may not legitimately be your job. And that's fair, too. But wrapping your mind around the entire project, including its impacts and potential snags, is an important skill that could save everyone massive amounts of time, money and frustration.
2. Let the change-averse say their piece
Of course, not everyone has veto power. In many cases, you'll be moving forward with implementation despite apprehension from certain parties who have "always done it this way" or are otherwise allergic to change. But it is vital in this stage that each area is spoken for or represented and that all concerns are voiced, documented and addressed.
Involving all stakeholders and process owners from the beginning gets everything out on the table and allows you to identify and mitigate potential issues. It may require several rounds of meetings, but it will help minimize disruption, which is your goal.
3. Be sure what you're implementing works with (not against) current operations
With each area’s requirements and pain points documented (and all stakeholders involved), it's important to take a closer look at what you're implementing to make sure it aligns with how your business currently operates day to day. It’ll take some time to pinpoint on such a granular level. You’re already ahead of the game, though (and can save yourself some time and a few meetings), if you already have a CRM that tracks who uses which systems and how.
The new software, process or tool may seem like the answer to a major problem or need in your business, but it could also create other problems down the line if you're anything less than careful and deliberate in assessing fit before installation.
It's also important to be honest about any limitations, gaps or possible kinks the implementation could have or cause. Be prepared to diplomatically address concerns from others and be available to assist in finding workarounds, developing or updating workflows, or coming up with more detailed staffing plans, if needed.
4. Don't skimp on testing
You're out of the exploration stage. You've moved through the choppiness, frustration and shifting requirements of the installation stage and your developers are now ready to perform QA and UAT. Depending on the methodology your business prefers, you could be working on almost everything at once, testing and deploying things in sprints or completing testing in any other number of ways. However your organization goes about its testing, it’s essential that no step is rushed, no matter how much pressure you're feeling.
Delivering on time and on budget is important, but remember that this new system will be used from here on out and will become the new status quo. Better an implementation that is a little behind schedule with few to no bugs than one delivered on time and plagued with issues that, thorough testing, could’ve been weeded out. And speaking of thorough testing...
5. Consider automation
Testing is, inherently, time-consuming. Luckily, we live in a time where businesses have the option to forgo the usual tedium by using automation test scripts. There are some perceived cons to automation, though, and it's important to weigh them against the obvious pros when considering this option.
Automated test scripts tend to require more developer time up front, which means those hours or points need to have been assigned from the beginning. Automation also means developers may need to be more skilled when it comes to certain tools and that they may need to utilize more critical analysis if and when a test fails.
But in reality, these ‘cons’ are short-term issues that, if planned for from the start, actually mean long term success and strength of your programming team and the projects it handles.
6. Have a post-integration plan (and post-deployment review)
Once testing is completed, you want to present a pristine package to stakeholders, proving it meets all outcome benchmarks and is ready for full integration. When stakeholders have communicated their satisfaction (and given their final approval), you’re ready to deploy. Don't forget to plan how you'll address post-deployment gripes or growing pains. And plan to do a post-deployment review a few months out to ensure what you delivered is still the best thing ever.
Rolling out a new system or process requires extensive planning, consideration and patience. Even neglecting to consider how an implementation could affect a (seemingly) minute task is a surefire way to create user abrasion. You know the basics, and these tips should help you maintain control over your implementation project and deliver exactly what your business needs to keep performing at its best.