June 11, 2018
If you have been involved in any enterprise software implementations, you know that an Implementation Methodology is not just a series of steps and activities to follow. It has to be an efficient and flexible approach designed on informed analysis, lessons learned, best practices, and corporate culture.
In the past two decades of implementing ELM (Enterprise Legal Management) systems for Corporate Law Departments, I have found that a phase-based methodology that employs iterative cycles within phases is more successful than a traditional waterfall approach. This hybrid methodology enables feedback early and often during the project, resulting in fewer surprises and stronger buy-in among end users.
Depending on the project size and complexity, the number of phases and iterations may vary, but a typical mid-size project can be broken down into the following: plan, define, design, build, deploy, and support.
When developing your project plan, incorporate a phased and iterative strategy that fits into both business culture and IT policies. Breaking down deliverables into smaller segments that build upon each other and working through iterations allows you to keep your client informed with consistent updates and to ensure you’re meeting objectives through regular feedback.
Similarly, by distinguishing phases in your plan, you can define timeline boundaries for activities such as requirement gathering, building, testing, and roll-out. As we all know, open-ended projects often result in missing deadlines, being over budget, and unhappy stakeholders.
Next, you should take time to define your technology, solutions, and capabilities to best support the client’s business goals. An experienced SME (Subject Matter Expert) who knows the specific practice areas your clients operate in will save your time significantly by helping to interview the key business users, review the current processes, share best practices, and articulate the desired user requirements. At the same time, engaging technical SME and IT throughout the definition process will help to make sure the functionalities can be implemented within the scope of selected or candidate systems.
During the design phase, instead of just duplicating existing processes in the new solution, try to understand how the client really wants to work. Often a more effective solution can be found by helping your client rethink their processes through flexible and innovative solutions, which will improve efficiency and reduce operational costs. Take some time to analyze processes, interfaces, data and workflows throughout the project’s life cycle, looking for opportunities to re-engineer less-efficient processes and ensure that the improvements your client is looking for are realized. Again, keep your technical SME and IT engaged, especially as a part of the system specifications documentation, which will be your configuration blueprint. Have regular meetings with business and IT to show and discuss your design; you will find early feedback invaluable down the road.
The build phase includes all of the activities necessary to develop and create the solution components, including mock-ups, configuration, customizations, and integrations. Modern technology solutions tend to provide a high degree of flexibility in configurations to satisfy the needs of various practice areas and their legal processes. At the same time, without experience and knowledge of Design Principals, this flexibility can cause significant complexities in the product, leading to long-term support problems. There are many reasons that you may like to go for customization, but we always encourage the project team to first consider alternative solutions using out-of-the-box functionalities. This can save client time and money in future upgrade projects.
Don’t keep business users and IT in the dark during this phase, schedule regular weekly meetings with them, present the results of your work, and seek feedback. This will be one of the main differences between Hybrid and traditional models.
Deployment encompasses all activities needed to plan for the roll-out, such as pre-production, production go live and training. Coordinate all required tasks with the IT team ahead of time to ensure a smooth deployment. Always stage and test before going live.
Training is vital to the success of any new system implementation. It helps drive user adoption and accelerate your ROI (Return on Investment). It can be a good idea to supplement your standard training curriculum with customized guidance to assist your clients with the development of their own training strategy, approach, and education plans.
Once your system is live, provide floor support, answering questions and addressing any issues that arise. While in many cases training the trainer is advised, you must ensure that clients can still rely on you as a backup resource or supplement to their internal team.
Business evolves and no system will be perfect for handling all future needs. Following best practices in early design and build phases will reduce the client’s cost for maintenance and future enhancements.
As technology advances, adopting methodologies such as this Hybrid one has become easier, efficient and more effective. With proper planning and upfront project team training, not only will you find you enjoy the project with less stress, but that there also won’t be any surprises which will result in increased client satisfaction & loyalty.