The Secret to Successful System Implementations

March 13, 2017

work processesI’m in the middle of helping a client implement a companywide system and the challenges and issues we are facing in this effort remind me of the importance of the basics I’ve written about before. As I have said in earlier articles, large scale implementations are complex undertakings whose success is by no means ensured. Studies have shown implementations fail almost as often as they succeed. The secret of ¬†success is understanding that there are two major deliverables in every system implementation: Getting the solution ready for the business, and Getting the business ready for the solution.

Companies usually spend most of their effort on getting the solution ready, but only by giving equal weight to both deliverables does an implementation have a chance of success. Obviously these two deliverables are too high level to be actionable so I will define the details that go into both.

Getting the solution ready for the business includes three major elements: Hardware, Software, and the associate Business Processes. Each of those elements breaks down into another level of deliverables. Hardware consists of servers, network devices like routers, and input devices like desktop machines or handheld scanners. Software consists of the application itself, interfaces with other systems, and the data inside the application. Business Process include the human activities it takes to provide the input and, utilize the output. Business processes also include any input forms and, output reports and metrics.

Getting the solution ready for the business is most the obvious focus of implementations. The hardware and software are normally what people think of when they think about an implementation. They are the concrete deliverables, the things you can see and touch. Hardware and software are indeed the critical basics but they, in themselves, are not sufficient. The hardware and software will not work without documenting business processes that define the human interaction with the hardware and software.

Getting the business ready for the solution also includes three major elements: Ownership, Knowledge and Support. Ownership means getting the users to take responsibility for the solution. Ownership is fostered through getting the users involved early in the process of getting the solution ready for them. Knowledge means getting the users to understand how to use the solution. Knowledge comes from education, training (there is a big difference between the two), and hands on experience. Support consists of providing experts who can guide the users until they become familiar with what needs to be done in all the varied situations that will arise in using the solution. Written users guides are also critical to effective support.

Getting the business ready for the solution is the second half of a successful system implementation, and yet far too often it is overlooked or neglected entirely. People will talk about the importance of user ownership then do little or nothing address the issue. Everyone professes to know how important user training is but if there have been challenges in other parts of the project, they will reduce the training to make up cost and schedule. Getting the solution ready for the business must be given as much attention as getting the solution ready.

An experienced project manager knows the secret of system implementation success is to get the solution ready for the business, AND to get the business ready for the solution.

If you would like help making sure your system implementations are a success, email the ACA Group or call us at 626-836-6261

Doug Howardell is a consultant who specializes in helping clients improve their business practices and processes. During the past twenty-five years, he has designed new processes and tools, selected and implemented new business systems, and managed business process improvement projects. Contact Doug at

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