5 Critical Steps to a Successful Software Implementation Plan

By: Mabh Savage on April 18, 2024
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Implementing software is a daunting task that small businesses often struggle with. Leaders and IT professionals could be aware that it's time to put a software implementation plan in place, but not how detailed that rollout plan should be. You want to cover all the essentials from the software purchase to the project's go-live date. However, you need to avoid unnecessary steps that could delay your timeline.

To help you out, we've compiled a five-step guide to creating a successful software implementation plan. Regardless of your industry or what type of software you're implementing, the following steps will ensure you have a practical software implementation project plan in place to get the most out of your new system.

What is a software implementation plan?

A software implementation plan is a detailed, step-by-step document that outlines the crucial milestones of the software implementation process. It serves as a roadmap for the entire implementation, clearly defining the tasks to be accomplished by project managers, IT staff, and company stakeholders. Following all the system implementation steps ensures a successful rollout that maximizes your company's investment in the new software.

Why is a software implementation plan important?

Proper implementation planning helps mitigate the potential risks and challenges of any software implementation. Detailed project plans help allocate time and people resources effectively and ensure timely completion of timelines and milestones.

Planning also helps reduce software purchase regret. Software Advice’s 2024 Tech Trends Survey* indicates that 58% of U.S. companies end up regretting a purchase decision. While a driving factor of this statistic is the ability to source suitable software, a lack of planning during implementation can also contribute to software dissatisfaction.

Steps to create a software implementation plan

Managing your implementation project is easier when you prepare properly beforehand. Here are five steps you can follow to create a successful software implementation plan.

1. Select your implementation team

The most successful software implementations start with the best teams. Consider every department, internal team, and employee who will use your new software and select appropriate stakeholders to be on your implementation team.

Schedule regular meetings for your implementation team. At the first team meeting, solicit feedback from each stakeholder about their requirements for the new software. Use this information as the foundation of your software project implementation plan.

2. Avoid scope creep

Scope creep refers to project requirements growing beyond the initial parameters throughout the project lifecycle. Accommodating this expanded scope always means project delays, additional costs, or unsatisfied stakeholders.

As you develop your plan, be clear about the limits of the implementation project. You can consider implementing some features later, in a separate project, if it helps keep the implementation project on task. The final software implementation plan should only include deliverables that can be feasibly reached within the project timeline.

Focusing on "needs" rather than "nice-to-haves" keeps your implementation process agile and adaptable.

3. Include development and testing phases

Software features can be customized to an organization's requirements. However, take care when choosing custom capabilities. Implementing features that affect core business processes should be done carefully, ensuring minimal disruption to business continuity.

Make sure you include development and testing phases in your system implementation step. Development activities include configuring new software features based on the needs of the end users. The testing phase will see those end users actually try out the new system in a controlled environment. Include ample time in your software implementation process for these steps, because they can be incredibly difficult to achieve after going live.

4. Do project marketing to make change easier

Change management is one of the most challenging aspects of any project. It can be especially tricky in software implementation projects, as new software can disrupt current business processes. To make change easier, consider adopting the ADKAR change model:

ADKAR model breakdown

The ADKAR methodology serves as an effective way to do project marketing. Creating awareness and desire for your new software can actually make end users excited for change instead of dreading it.

5. Adopt a continuous improvement mindset

Most software implementation projects don't end at the go-live date. As much as you try to anticipate and test everything, there will undoubtedly be some bugs and hiccups after employees start using the new software. To account for this, adopt a mindset of continuous improvement.

In practice, this means including post-implementation team meetings in your project plan. By setting up these catch-ups, you create a forum for each stakeholder to share bug reports and feature requests. Allow time in your expanded software implementation process to work on any issues and help ensure end-user satisfaction.

Software implementation challenges and how to overcome them

Following these five steps will help you overcome most software implementation challenges. Remember that every software implementation is a shared responsibility between IT leaders, key stakeholders, your software vendor, and end users. With everyone playing their part, the usual challenges of rolling out new software are much easier to manage.

For example, understanding who is involved in the implementation project and ho​​​​w to contact them prevents potential data silos. Likewise, engaging end users mitigates user experience (UX) issues later down the line. Creating an effective implementation plan for new software helps prevent software purchase regret and improves user satisfaction across your business.

Don't stop now. Continue to improve the workflow and productivity of your team with the help of these related resources:

Survey methodology

*Software Advice's 2024 Tech Trends Survey was designed to understand the timeline, organizational challenges, adoption and budget, vendor research behaviors, ROI expectations, satisfaction levels for software buyers, and how they relate to buyer's regret.

The survey was conducted online in July 2023 among 3,484 respondents from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, France, India, Germany, Brazil, and Japan, with businesses across multiple industries and company sizes (five or more employees). Respondents were screened to ensure their involvement in software purchasing decisions. This report focuses on the 700 respondents from the U.S. Respondents were screened to ensure their involvement in software purchasing decisions.