5 Critical Steps for Your Software Implementation Plan

Implementing software is a daunting task, and it’s super important—but people/businesses do it every day.

You’ve likely just purchased a new software system, which is a great step in the right direction for your business. Now it’s time to get a software implementation plan in place. Proper implementation will maximize the value of your new system.

Businesses that fail to define and achieve a software implementation plan have wrecked the long-term value of the new system and wasted what resources were spent on the system.

That’s why we’ve put together the following 5-step software implementation plan. Regardless of your industry or your new software, 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.

“Make a list of every person, team and department that will use the new tool. This includes day-to-day users, as well as leaders who consume data the tool will produce. Be sure to not only address who your stakeholders are, but how they will be impacted and the timing of the impact.”

Eileen O’Loughlin, Senior Content Analyst, Software Advice, a Gartner Company

You want to answer critical questions from your vested parties to create a needs document to share with vendors.

The idea is to take this document into your vendor demos to ensure the new system covers all your needs. But the document should then be used again during the implementation stage. You’ll want to be sure your system champions get trained on those features that’ll help them overcome the pain points in the needs document.

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 then again during the implementation and training stage, your needs document helps you avoid doing everything all at once.

“[S]cope creep: the ever-present danger in any project where you keep adding requirements and objectives until the whole thing becomes an unruly mess that you can’t possibly deliver on.”

Brian Westfall, Senior Content Analyst, Software Advice, a Gartner Company

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 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:

  • Midsize businesses (11-50 employees) could likely get by with free project management tools (such as Wunderlist) to help manage and assign implementation tasks.
  • Smaller businesses (10 or fewer employees) could always just 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.

Top-Requested PM Software Functionality
Top requested project management software features for software implementation.

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 of the total number of users. The more business units/users adopting the software, the larger you’ll want your implementation team to be.

But beware of bringing too many cooks into the kitchen.

According to research by Brian Westfall, senior content analyst at Software Advice, you should start small with your implementation team. Westfall’s 7 Best Practices: Avoid Flunking Your LMS Implementation report recommends starting with a team of two:

  • Acting administrator for the new system: Probably an IT administrator who’s already been working closely with the vendor. Likely that this employee has handle prior integrations/relationships with vendors.
  • 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 lead the charge for adoption from the beginning.

Depending on the size of your business, this might be the extent of your implementation team. Smaller organizations might even have an implementation team of one.

Larger businesses might need what Westfall calls 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.”

Brian Westfall, Senior Content Analyst, Software Advice, a Gartner Company

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.

Here’s a template for what this workshop could look like.

4. Generate 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 adoption falling flat and ruining the software implementation plan.

According to Taylor Short, senior content analyst at Software Advice, there are some key steps you can use time and time again to achieve great organizational changes like implementing new software and achieving adoption rates:

Adopt a proven methodology to set guidelines for change

Much like communication and collaboration tools, your company might already have a methodology in place to manage change.

If not, a software implementation is a great time to instill one. Such a methodology provides the steps necessary to ensure sustained user adoption for the newly implemented system.

Short recommends using the ADKAR change model:

ADKAR change management philosphy

“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.”

Taylor Short, Senior Content Analyst, Software Advice, a Gartner Company

Again, 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’ll want to return to your needs document for this step.

  • Identify what the pain points are that the new software address.
  • 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, Short says, “Instead of [saying] ‘eliminating the backlog of work orders,’ challenge your organization to ‘reduce the average backlog of work orders by 50 percent 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 are big deals that need to be properly communicated to those 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. You’ll want to hone in on those team-specific goals when communication with individual teams. This sense of personalization will go a long way in drive adoption.

5. Focus on Continuous Improvement

Though I’m sure you’re elated to get running with your new software, you’re going to want 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.

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.

Training is a central pillar in continuous improvement. But much like implementation, the right kind of training done when needed is better than poor training done often.

“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.”

Eileen O’Loughlin, Senior Content Analyst, Software Advice, a Gartner Company

O’Loughlin recommends some different types of training to employ throughout your software implementation plan.

Training Initiatives Designed to Drive User Engagement and Adoption

Specialized training for your software implementation plan.

Employing training best practices are an obvious, surefire way to instill continuous improvement in your implementation strategy. But don’t settle for just guessing what works.

Just like with monitoring actual adoption and use 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.

What Should You Do Now?

Hopefully, now you’re ready to put together your own software implementation plan.

Keep in mind each of the 5 critical implementation steps listed above to 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, and the rest of the organization. Maintain engagement and communications throughout the implementation process.

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