by Thomas Ibbotson
5 fundamental lessons learned from years of software implementations
Read about key considerations for you to think about when initiating your own financial software implementation project.Read more
At VantagePoint, one key aspect of what we do is to implement tailored finance software solutions across multiple industries and within companies of varying size. Our implementation projects are uniquely catered to meet the specific needs of each individual organisation and therefore generally present their own unique set of challenges.
Trends do emerge though, and our experience has informed us with the ability to navigate the most common “dos and don’ts” of software implementation and deliver implementation projects both efficiently and effectively. The following points should highlight the key considerations for you to think about when initiating your own financial software implementation project.
The management of key stakeholders is an essential aspect of software implementation. The role starts with identifying each key stakeholder from the decision-makers through to each end-user and everyone in between on both the partner-side and internally. Starting the implementation process by mapping out all these key roles ensures that each stakeholder’s needs are planned for and equally addressed. When planning in this regard there are a few key areas of focus:
- Develop buy-in before the project starts – This avoids cycling back or investing time and energy in solutions that will eventually be scrapped.
- Identify resource required of the client – Each phase of a project requires involvement from both parties, from scoping out the requirements to testing the delivered software. It’s a priority to ensure the customer understands the time required so they are not surprised with the depth of the project and allocate enough resource for the required involvement and feedback.
- Define client roles for the project – Each role will think their area is a main concern so understanding this ensures everyone’s needs are met and they can refocus on the bigger picture.
Project Management/Agile approach
The unfortunate truth is that most unsuccessful software implementations can trace their eventual demise directly back to the quality of project governance and general project management. Things like “too many cooks in the kitchen” or uncertainty with SOWs can seriously derail a project. When VantagePoint engages with an implementation project we embody an agile approach. The iterative nature of this approach ensures consistent feedback loops and ample opportunity for planning and reassessment.
- Communication plan – Progress can depend on the quality of communication. Things like platforms, frequency, and outlining communication points internally and via consultancy must be mapped out and agreed upon in advance. Your teams should be very clear on the expectations and process for communication before the project starts.
- Change control – During implementation, there may well be change in the teams, scope and understanding of the software. These updates can be costly and if not managed correctly can distract from progress. Often the change is in response to a specific requirement that has been uncovered; these changes add value and avoid future frustrations. Ensure that you have an outline of how to manage additions, updates, and changes to your implementation to mitigate potential damage to the project and deliver maximum value.
- Iterative build/testing – Iterative build means that you start with the key requirements first and you consistently reflect on what you can do better. This ensures that the project progresses and means that you are inserting regular points of reflection to illustrate what can be done better in the next sprint.
Understand user stories and align to scope
Having a holistic understanding of each user story is essential when planning software implementations. Understanding the workflow of each user and their role within the larger day-to-day and overall utilisation of a system means that you can align the scope to reflect priorities.
When scoping out the project, it can be challenging for each stakeholder to grasp the ins and outs; technical features and techniques used by the application to deliver requirements. Capturing user stories is an effective way to bridge the gap of understanding the software and requiring an outcome.
- Stakeholder involvement – All stakeholders should be included when generating user stories. This is a chance to gauge each user’s understanding of the scope of the project and to share the abilities of the application.
- Keep it simple – Simple, “to the point” tasks help to ensure requirements are easy to collate and track.
- Cast requirements – Generate the technical requirements and estimate the effort to meet the user story. This is a valuable exercise to identify if any stories are out of scope or if they require more effort than originally estimated.
Understand systems landscape/real estate
Though many ERP sales teams might want you to think that their solution is a one-stop-shop for all your business system needs, in practice, the reality is often very different. Organisations often have niche needs, value specific business areas more than others, and are often heavily embedded or reluctant to change in certain fields. When VantagePoint engages in an initial transformation, we find that a business' system landscape will inevitably reflect this. Though the ultimate goal is for a single source of truth, the system landscape will be complex, and tools will be layered together. There are important aspects to consider when engaging in your finance software implementation:
- Where does the implementation fit amongst your other tools? – Are there any conflicts that will impact productivity? If so, how can these be addressed?
- Consider scope of data –The data captured and processed by the tool needs to be relevant to the application's requirements
- Source of data – What interaction with other systems is possible and what is the effort required to manage and control the input of this data?
Training and enablement
Though training and enablement will be outlined as part of general project governance, there are some important steps to take to ensure your implementation is utilised to the fullest. If your team is not utilising systems to the fullest, and if there is no plan:
- Knowledge sharing is key - Within training and enablement, providing ample time for knowledge sharing is important. This provides the opportunity for your team to share their specific system-based roles with the wider team. Teaching this information means you gain a deeper understanding of the system and the team gains a more holistic knowledge of the system rather than being pigeon-holed solely within their personal areas.
- Plan for new starters – The implementation team will have extensive knowledge of the system but it is essential to have a plan to help new starters get up to speed as the business expands.
- Documentation – Regularly generating user documentation as the project progresses is a smart idea. These projects will tend to grow quite large and you will find that you will refer to your documentation regularly. The documentation will also be useful for both knowledge sharing and as guides for new joiners as they are needed.
As part of the VantagePoint working methodology, we consistently reflect upon the roadblocks and other challenges that inevitably emerge within the project lifecycle and modify the way we work to mirror this. Over the years and through dozens of finance transformation projects we have grown tremendously and learned to deliver the projects that meet our standards of excellence and provide our partners with the systems and processes they need to meet their goals.
If you are considering upgrading your finance systems and would like some advice on where to start, we would be more than happy to discuss the process with you further.
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