By Chris Moore
"You're only as good as your weakest player," is a phrase often used by coaches of team sports. This statement also rings true when readying your company for a major software deployment. A few unprepared individuals can result in a costlier and lengthier project, leaving your company with a poor return on investment, a lack of end-user acceptance and the potential for operational mishaps.
To ensure a successful project, everyone involved in a software engagement — from the company's chief executives, business users and IT staff to the software provider and implementation team — must have skin in the game or a stake in the outcome. There must be consensus on overall project vision, and each person should be held accountable for their role and responsibilities at each stage from planning, design and delivery to end-user training and adoption.
My company, JDA Software, has developed the following list of "go-to strategies" to ensure success through a skin-in-the-game implementation. Based on more than 25 years of experience, these strategies have proved to be beneficial for engagements at companies of all sizes and in all industries, with varying budgets, timelines and internal resources to dedicate to the deployment.
1. Confirm a shared understanding of how the software drives your corporate objectives.
First and foremost, ensure that everyone involved in the implementation agrees upon the expected outcome of the project. Failure to do so may result in miscommunication, setbacks and costly measures to get the project back on track. Therefore, it's crucial that everyone understands why the software is important for your company and the impact it will have on customers, employees, vendors and business partners.
Mike McAbee, vice president of merchandise planning and replenishment at Hibbett Sports, has led many successful software rollouts and believes that top-down buy-in is critical. "Before investing in the software, we took a long, hard look at where we needed to be as a company in the next five to 10 years and the software that could support our corporate goals," says McAbee, speaking of the retailer's merchandise planning solution implementation. "From our senior management team to our store managers, we've all got one direction and one vision in terms of a localized market strategy. We all understand that without our new software, we wouldn't be able to maximize that strategy."
2. Build a team with all of the right players.
To capitalize on your investment in technology, make sure you have the right people with the right skills on staff to use the application effectively. An organizational change expert can perform a strategic assessment, ensuring that you have the appropriate roles and levels of experience on your team. You should establish a core set of power users who appreciate the importance of mastering the new software — even becoming certified — and are empowered to knock down any barriers along the way. This team should also include end users; the people who use the business processes and whose tasks will change need to be a part of the program from the beginning.
To support this end-user aspect, companies often recruit staff with prior experience using a software solution to help champion the new capabilities. According to McAbee, enthusiastic buyers and planners were handpicked to help champion new solutions during the software rollout. "We identified an experienced buyer who was excited to use the software," McAbee explains. "As this buyer started to see improvements when he went to market with his assortments, he became a flag carrier and raved about how the new software was improving his planning processes. When we rolled out the software to other areas of the business, we had a long list of people who were eager to use the solution."