5 Critical Steps for Your Software Implementation Plan
You’re here because you’ve recently purchased a new software system, which is a great step in the right direction for your business.
But implementing software is a daunting task that businesses like yours often struggle with—it’s hard to know how detailed your rollout plan should be without adding unnecessary steps that could delay your timeline.
Not quite ready to implement software?
If you’re still in the process of looking, read "Save Money on Software With These Purchase Secrets" for a comprehensive guide that can help you through the purchasing process, then come back here when you’re ready to implement.
Now it’s time to put a software implementation plan in place. Proper implementation will maximize the value of your new system so that you can quickly take advantage of the process and efficiency improvements software provides.
Businesses that fail to define and achieve a software implementation plan might not realize the full benefits of the tool, risking lost time and money.
That’s why we’ve put together a five-step software implementation plan. Regardless of your industry or what type of software you’re implementing, the following steps will ensure you have a successful implementation and get the most out of your new systems.
1. Keep vendors accountable with a detailed needs document
Your vendor is a key stakeholder in your software implementation plan. The extent to (and cost at) which your vendor will support your implementation varies—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t squeeze as much assistance as possible from them.
Our research shows that getting the most from your vendor and new system actually starts during the selection stage. The process begins by engaging employees that’ll regularly use the new system in order to develop a needs document to share with vendors.
Make a list of every person, team and department that will use the new tool:
Include any day-to-day users, as well as leaders who consume data the tool will produce
Define who your stakeholders are
Go over how those stakeholders will be impacted and the timing of the impact
Work together to develop a must-have list of features that are required for the software to meet the need you’re purchasing it for
Collect all that information from your vested parties into a needs document to share with vendors, to ensure the new system covers all your needs.
This document should then be used again during the implementation stage. The identified pain points will let your vendor know which features your system champions (employees chosen to pilot and get familiar with the system before everyone else) will need the most experience with.
2. Control your scope, or it will control you
Your needs document defines the capabilities your new system needs so that you can focus on what’s most important during your selection stage.
And during the implementation and training stage, your needs document helps you avoid scope creep.
Scope creep is the ever-present danger in any project of adding requirements and objectives until the whole thing becomes an unruly mess that you can’t possibly deliver on.
In the case of your software implementation plan, scope creep will happen when you decide to set up and customize all the features of every capability at once. There’s no denying those bells and whistles make an enticing trap, but you’ve got to stay on task, stay true to your needs, and get the key parts of your new system into use.
To support the long-term implementation of your new system, start by prioritizing those capabilities that need to be mastered first. This will help influence training and provide benchmarks for regular check-ins.
To avoid scope creep, you’ll want to employ some project management tools and best practices to your software implementation plan. There’s a few options here:
Larger businesses (50+ employees) might look to adopt formal project management systems (but that’s ironic as you’d theoretically need to implement that too).
Midsize businesses (11-50 employees) could likely get by with free project management tools to help manage and assign implementation tasks.
Smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees) can stay organized using Google Sheets, Calendars, and other manual digital methods.
Be sure that your capabilities include the top project management functionality we’ve identified from the project management software buyers we work with.
Eventually, these collaborative tools will help implementation team members work together to maximize software adoption and usage for their respective team.
3. Assign realistic teams to drive software implementation plans
The next critical step in your implementation journey is assembling the team(s) necessary for success. The makeup of an implementation team will vary for every business, depending on the unique needs of your business and the scale of implementation.
To determine your needs, identify how many business units will be using the new system and estimate the total number of users. The more business units/users adopting the software, the larger your implementation team should be.
But beware of bringing too many cooks into the kitchen.
Start with a team of two:
Acting administrator for the new system: Probably an IT administrator who’s already been working closely with the vendor. If you don’t have anyone in IT, select someone who spent time talking with the vendor or working with the software during your selection process. Anyone with experience handling prior integrations/relationships with vendors is a great choice.
Training lead for the new system: Point person for the new software. Likely leads the/a team that will use the system on a daily basis and has led the charge for adoption from the beginning.
Depending on the size of your business, this might be the extent of your implementation team. If you’re a solopreneur, well, it’ll just be a team of one.
Larger businesses might need an extended team that can champion the new system for their unique business unit.
The extended team should include an IT lead to handle needs and concerns surrounding configuration and integration with other systems, along with a small sample of end users (e.g., employees, customers, channel partners) for testing and feedback.
Each member of this extended team should assume the position of system champion for their business unit—they’ll be the point person for answering system questions, training on additional features, and onboarding new hires.
It’s also crucial that these champions are aligned with each other and the system administrator. Consider hosting workshops to ensure alignment and keep everyone informed on updates and changes to the software implement plan.
4. Encourage user adoption with a proactive, engaging strategy
No matter how great and intuitive the new system and tools you’ve selected are, implementation doesn’t equal adoption. You must put strategies in place to garner user acceptance and adoption of the new system.
Without positive engagement around the product, you risk the adoption falling flat. You could fall behind on your implementation timeline or see employees not using the software as planned.
There are a few key steps that you can use time and time again to achieve successful organizational changes such as implementing new software:
Adopt a proven methodology to set guidelines for change
Your company might already have a methodology in place to manage change. If not, a software implementation process is a great time to instill one. This methodology provides the steps necessary to ensure sustained user adoption for the newly implemented system.
We recommend using the ADKAR change model:
The steps of the ADKAR model help guide the change, tapping into both hard skills and emotional appeals that foster a smooth transition to a new way of thinking.
ADKAR can boost user adoption for your software implementation and also help manage other organizational changes.
Define clear goals that the newly implemented software will help achieve
You should return to your needs document for this step.
Identify what the pain points are that the new software addresses.
Ask yourself what the optimal business output is if those pain points are removed. Be as specific as possible.
Whatever that best case scenario is should be the goal that this software will help achieve.
For example, instead of saying “eliminating the backlog of work orders,” challenge your organization to “reduce the average backlog of work orders by 50% within six months.” Again, be specific.
A specific goal creates accountability for users and provides a tangible cause for effectively adopting the new software.
Personalize messaging and communication about the implementation for each team
You’ve gone through the trouble of defining pain points, setting a methodology for change, and listing implementation goals.
These need to be properly communicated to the teams adopting the new software, as well as the organization at large.
It’s best to personalize messaging at the team level. Each team will likely have different goals that the new system will help them achieve. Hone in on those team-specific goals when communicating with individual teams. This sense of personalization will go a long way in driving adoption.
5. Focus on continuous improvement
Though you’re probably elated to get running with your new software, you need to master walking with it first. It might take some time to get up to full speed, and that’s fine—just continue working better with the software each day.
Training is a central pillar in continuous improvement. The key is to avoid one-size-fits-all training and, similar to the vendor demos, tailor each session to the needs of your stakeholders. Take into account that not every user group will be able to dedicate the same amount of time, and as such, provide stakeholders with different training options.
Try out different types of training to employ throughout your software implementation plan:
Lunch and learns: Introduce workshop-style training in an informal setup. This is best used for collaborative learning.
Open house: Lead brainstorming sessions where users share success stories and work together to solve issues.
Peer-to-peer: Ask your power users and champions to provide one-on-one coaching to share how the tool has increased their productivity.
Self training: Encourage users to take advantage of free webinars and reference guides offered by the vendor to further their knowledge and understanding of the software.
Just like with monitoring actual adoption and usage rates, you can monitor the training that resonates most with specific teams in your organization. Remember, the end game here is to affect the greatest improvement possible.
You’re ready to successfully customize your implementation plan further
Using the five critical implementation steps above will help ensure you get the most value out of your new software.
Remember that this implementation is a shared process between IT leaders, implementation teams, system champions, your chosen vendor, and the rest of the organization. Maintain engagement and communication throughout the implementation process.
If you want more specific implementation help for certain types of software, check out these additional resources: