When embarking on a digital transformation of enterprise software, it's important to fully understand what steps that need to be taken to make an implementation successful. I have garnered 7 implementation steps to help form an action plan to support the transformation process.
Before we go into the steps, I would like to note that one of the biggest service offerings we provide to our clients is implementation support and implementation project management. This is a commonly misunderstood aspect of digital transformation because a lot of organizations think about just deploying technologies. Even within the realm of just deploying technologies, there's some misunderstanding where to start.
These 7 major phases are critical to any digital transformation or enterprise software implementation.
The first step in an effective enterprise software implementation is software evaluation and the selection process. Agnostically and objectively considering and evaluating the different technologies in the marketplace is important when going through this first step.
Now, the key thing to keep in mind here is that there's a lot of options in the market. There are hundreds of different systems, ranging from enterprise-wide ERP systems to HR-related human capital management systems, CRM for sales teams, manufacturing execution systems, supply chain management systems, and a lot of different other helpful technologies.
The key is to understand the priorities of the organization. Identify which technologies best fit and a potential short list as soon as possible. Narrow down the field to the one or multiple technologies that are best going to solve the business problems.
Secondly, the key to an effective selection is to not only define what the business processes, requirements, and priorities are, but also to evaluate those in a way that's very agnostic and not biased.
*This is an area where companies that are independent, like Third Stage Consulting, can help you through that process.
Once the selection of the software is complete, now it's time to define the implementation plan and strategy. I'm going to argue that this is the most important part of the entire process. If the appropriate implementation strategy isn't solidified or aligned with the organization, problems will start to arise.
That interim step that happens between selection and before designing software is critical. The more time and money spent on that phase, the more successful the speed up of the process will be and most of all, it will reduce the cost of the overall implementation.
The key to an effective business plan strategy is to ensure the software vendor's plan is realistic for the organization. Oftentimes, software vendors, sales reps, and system integrators will give you a proposed project plan that's completely unrealistic. That's the first step in the implementation planning process, make sure there is a realistic implementation plan from the technical software providers.
Secondly, it is central to make sure the overall implementation plan includes everything else beyond technology and software. Things like process improvement and how long it will take to improve the processes. It is major to also consider what the organizational change strategy is. Moving people from point A to point B, sounds simple but it can be surprising how long the process usually takes. Make sure to pinpoint the current vs. future state of employees. Yes, it takes time and money, but it would be worth it.
Lastly, consider data migration, solution architecture, and integration between systems. Those are technical components of a transformation that oftentimes delay a project. Make sure to have a complete, comprehensive, and realistic implementation plan before bringing in the software vendor and system integrators.
Once the implementation plan including resource mobilization and deployment strategies is solidified, it's time to start the design phase. By now in this design phase, there should be a clearly defined future state business processes, ideally during the planning stage, and better yet during the software evaluation stage.
The future business processes should be defined as a prerequisite to the design phase. Once complete, then it is time to start designing the software, technology, and building based on this design.
In the end, the design phase is extremely important because it connects the dots between business needs and requirements. Here is when the project starts to migrate to the build phase.
The next phase of implementation is the build phase. Now that the business processes has been defined and the software has been designed conceptually, it's time to actually build it. This is where, oftentimes, the technical resources, the outside third-party technical consultants will go to work and start building the software to meet the specifications defined in the design phase.
It's time to test the software and make sure it works properly. To begin, there are a few different phases or a few different iterations of the testing cycle. First is unit testing, which is a bit more technical. The focus is on making sure that the technology itself works.
If evaluating a microcosm of the overall technology, a certain business process, or a function within the technology, you're making sure that that individual aspect works. Confirm configurations and that data is flowing through the system correctly.
The next phase of testing is typically called integration. This is where the individual pieces are taken and tested within the technology. Not only should end-to-end business processes be included within integration testing, but also any third-party systems that the business uses. For example, if a new ERP system is being deployed, and the human capital management system is still active, or manufacturing execution system, both need to tie together.
Once that second phase of testing is complete, then it would be time to move into more of the business or user acceptance testing. This is less focused on technology and more focused on making sure that the business needs are being addressed, and that the business processes will work from a course perspective. In other words, the technology might be working perfectly fine, and the bugs have all been worked out, but it doesn't work for the business.
These are the types of things that should come out during user acceptance testing, which by the way, is oftentimes referred to as conference room pilots. These are two terms to keep in mind. Essentially, how they tie in is more of a business simulation of what it would look like to use this technology within a production setting. The testing is still happening to make sure all looks good and the kinks are worked out before going live.
Once various testing iterations are complete, it's to go live. This is where it's time to turn on the new system and start using it in production. One thing I'll mention is that before go live is most organizations can or should have a go, no go checklist or checkpoint. It's simply a risk mitigation tool to make sure everything is ready to go live because once flipped, oftentimes there's no going back.
Either the project is going to be successful, and production is going to be seamless, or there is going to be some sort of disruption at the time of go live. Obviously, we're trying to avoid that, so it is important to have a checkpoint prior to go live to make sure the team has worked through the risks or that at least considered all the risks of going live.
The final step in the process of implementation is post go live. A lot of organizations think they're done once they hit go live and they move on to the next thing. Well, the reality is that's not true for a couple of reasons.
This phase is extremely important and is often overlooked. Understandably so, when people get to go live, they're so ready to be done with a project, they just want to move back to their day jobs. The problem is looking at all the time and money spent leading up to this point. Allocate a some of extra time to optimize business benefits and ensure a psostive ROI.
These are the seven major phases of any implementation. This can also be viewed as a sequential series of activities that happen throughout implementation, but there's other activities that are happening in parallel with those seven tasks that I did not talk about.
For example, project governance, or making sure the project controls are in place to ensure that all these phases are being executed the way they should be.
There is also risk mitigation and risk management. The management part is meant to proactively identify risks before they become a problem so that the organization can mitigate and address them. That's something that takes a lot of skill and of art from people like outside consultants that specialize in ERP and enterprise software implementations. There needs to be people that can anticipate what the problems are before they become real problems that can't be fixed.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, is organizational change of management. That's something that runs throughout the entire cycle in parallel. Change management should start as early as the software evaluation and selection process and should continue beyond go live. Let's face it, at the end of the day, deploying new technology is going to be the hardest part on the people in the company.
I hope this has helped put the implementation process into perspective. These are just a few tips to keep in mind as you go through these seven cycles for the enterprise software implementation.
I encourage you to check out the 2021 Digital Transformation Report which provides best practices for how to deploy technology, including implementing enterprise technology. If you have any questions regarding these seven steps of the implementation process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. I am happy to be an informal sounding board as you move through your digital transformation journey.