Ready for Launch?
It goes like this: You do all the research and put in the time to evaluate and select a new software product. You've done your due diligence: justified your purchase and insured that you get the most value from the product - so that you will receive a return on your investment. You signed the contract, you've paid the first installment. The sales process is done.
The next step is get the software up and running. Since you won't be using it, this is the time to delegate, right? So you shoot an email to the accounting manager who will be the primary user and say something like: "Hi Janice, I got this great new software for you! Why don't you go ahead and get it all set up?"
The funny thing about new software implementation is not how hard it is, but how few organizations actually plan for it. When you have completed the sales process, that is the beginning of your journey, not the end.
Step 1: Assessment
Support From the Top
Janice is a busy woman. Her job is always under a time crunch and she regularly has to stay late to get bills out to the homeowners in time, or make sure all the receipts have been processed correctly. She knows that the company needs new software, but she also cannot afford to have her routine interrupted at this time of the year (it's always something - budgets, taxes, holidays, you name it). So she puts it off.
Implementation of a new software product is nearly always going to result in pushback from your team. They are already stretched thin, so asking them to take on a new project is tough enough, but there's also that fact that people are naturally resistant to change. They have a way to do things that works for them, and learning a new way is never an easy prospect.
It's important that you have complete buy-in and support from the executive team. Be prepared to work to remove barriers, continuously support your team and cheer them on during the transition period, and regularly check in on the status of the project.
Create an Implementation Committee
Since the new software is an all-in-one, Janice and her accounting team won't be the only ones on it. Janice reaches out to the other groups (managers, admins) to determine if there are any specific setup needs that they have for the software.
Select a small group of stakeholders from each department who will work on the implementation project. This will serve several purposes:
- Insures that every group in the company is satisfied with the final setup.
- Spreads the burden of the setup and work they each need to do.
- Serves as a shared knowledge base so you don't have one single person in your company who knows the details of the project.
Your implementation committee will be responsible for developing your transition plan. This is where they work with the software vendor to schedule out all the phases of the transition detailed in this document, set timelines, and determine the launch date.
Set A Launch Date
Once she has full executive support, Janice's first step is to set a "activation date" for when the team will officially begin using the new software. The best practice is to activate the new software the first day of a new period.
Many management companies choose to schedule activation for January 1st. While this sounds great on the books, because it is the start of a new year, in reality, between the holidays, employees on vacation and the rush to catch up, the beginning of the year an incredibly stressful and difficult time to implement new software.
Having done a major software implementation before, Janice knows she needs to schedule the activation date for at least 3-4 months from now (larger organization may need more time if they have a lot of moving parts). Hastily done integrations lead to mistakes and user error. Janice takes a page from Ben Franklin's playbook: "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."
Step 2: Configuration & Data Conversion
The next step for the implementation committee is to begin actually setting up the software to meet the company's needs. During this time, the members of the implementation team will also be training on, and familiarizing themselves with the various features they are setting up in the system. Also during this period, you'll be loading your preferences, setting up the software, and getting your data loaded.
Gather Your Data
Janice knows she has to get her data together, but it's all over the place! The accounting info is in the accounting package, the maintenance info is in another, and some is on the website. She's got dozens of spreadsheets with this or that, and random folders of information about the community sit on a pile on her desk.
Many management companies have their data spread out in silos. The first step to implementing a new software is to gather all the information you need to have in the new program. This is a great opportunity to clean out your filing cabinets and scan your paper documents as well.
You'll also need to determine what data you do NOT want to bring in to the new system (or not right away). For example, if you've got clients that are probably not going to renew their contract, or have a volatile board or major issues going on right now, you may want to wait and let things calm down before introducing another upheaval in the form of new software.
Begin Data Conversion
Once your data is compiled together, you can begin the conversion process. Many software companies will offer an option to convert the data for you, and if you have the option, definitely take advantage, because it can be a real time-saver.
If automatic conversions are not an option for you, or you are trying to save a buck, you should begin immediately the process of reformatting your data to match the import layout of your new software. For some management companies, this process can be a blessing in disguise, because it gives you the opportunity to clean up old or outdated information from your data.
Integrate with Partners
You want to be absolutely sure that your bank, your payment processor, your website, and any other partner you work with is ready to go when you are. Now is a good time to get together with them and start getting your integrations set up. Your partners should be made fully aware of your launch date so they can be ready to go when you are.
Step 3: Onboarding Users
Begin On-boarding Users
Now that you actually have data in your system, it's time to begin setting up your security measures, adding your users, and beginning the on-boarding process. On-boarding means familiarizing your users with the new program before they have to use it in their day to day jobs.
All users learn differently, so it's useful to provide several different methods of training. Some users will prefer classroom or webinar style training where a trainer tells them exactly how to use the system. Busy users may prefer training that can be consumed on their own time, such as videos and pre-recorded classes. Others will prefer a more hands-on approach. For those, it's best to provide them with a login so they can play around, and provide them with access to a subject matter expert (someone on your implementation team) who can answer any questions that come up. Regardless of the learning style of your users, the most important thing is to give them plenty of time to learn, with a clear launch date so they do not procrastinate too much.
During this training period, one way to insure your users get everything they need out of the new system, is to run concurrently with your old system. It's best to do this for 1 to 2 complete cycles or periods for at least one community just to be sure every user is comfortable with how to do their job in the new system. This may slow things down a bit at first, but it will save your organization a ton of time and effort going forward. The last thing you want is to find out on the last day of the month that your team has no idea how to close the month; or on the afternoon before the board meeting to have to figure out how to create the financials package.
Step 4: Launch Day!
Keep Calm and Carry On
You made it to launch day, congratulations! The hard part is almost over, but don't relax just yet. Launch day is when the rubber hits the road. You no longer have a safety net and your team are starting to panic. Stay calm and remind them that this is what you've been training for! There are bound to be some hiccups (there always are!) but there are blue skies ahead. Keep your implementation team available to answer questions and help overcome obstacles.
Automation & Customization
Now that all your users are in the system and live, they can begin setting up the system to best fit their individual needs. They may need help from your implementation team to get automation rules set up or customizations to make it work and look right for them.
Not every issue your team has can be answered by the members of your implementation committee. It's a good idea to set a policy for your users to be able to contact the software provider's support team if they have something they need help with.
Once all your users get into it, there is bound to be some functionality that they wish they had, but isn't currently in the new system. Your software provider should provide a method by which your team can submit their ideas for future improvements.
Implementing a new system, especially one that impacts a large percentage of your business is no picnic. But by being properly prepared, your can insure a smooth transition with minimal upheaval in your organization. It just takes time, and a good plan.
*Image credit: Nikolay Miroshnichenko via flickr