Smart retailers recognize that implementing new software can supercharge their businesses. But they also dread doing it, because they know that the devil is in the details when it comes to introducing unfamiliar technology to their teams and making it part of their infrastructure.
Change is a journey, but a retailer that prepares properly before embarking on it can make sure that the implementation ultimately achieves what it wants. That may mean being able to make in-season adjustments to address new trends or it might be optimizing assortments to improve sales. Therefore, retailers must start by asking them the following questions: What kind of outcomes do you want to see the software implementation achieve? How small or large in scope should this project be, initially? Do have the right resources — meaning budget, time, and people — to make this happen right now? Finally, data can’t be disregarded. Software and systems run on it, and either a lack of access to data or a misunderstanding about that data can create a big setback.
It’s clear that implementations are complex. Here are six tips to help companies navigate a software implementation:
1. Choose a change champion. The company must be mindful, from the start, of how the new software will affect the people using it. For a successful software implementation, a retailer must choose an in-house project leader to drive change management. This “change champion” molds the vision of what the software will achieve, persuades the impacted teams to jump aboard and stay aligned, and makes sure the right resources are in place. Before implementation, all the necessary data must be clean and ready so that the new system runs optimally. After implementation, there must be funding for proper training. Treat the project as not just a technical deployment but as a new, transformational capability to optimize the business. The lack of a well-defined scope or a key strategic person appointed to the project are telltale signs of problems ahead. The change champion will be paramount because this is someone who can help motivate the masses to adopt new processes and technology. Choose wisely. Trust and credibility are key. Avoid the executive “pet” and focus on finding someone who most users respect to bring about positive change.
2. Create a roadmap. Remember, your company is not only doing a software implementation, but defining and creating a whole new process. That inherently will raise questions, including who will be impacted. Without a roadmap addressing people and processes, you’ll aimlessly wander into a new tech implementation that may, ultimately, not address the key concerns. So, build a roadmap that centers around people: Who will be using the new system? Are these users all in the same location, or are they spread out? Next is the technology piece. The implementation process is linear, but it also has many iterations. Again, start with what you want to achieve, including why the current systems need to change, to define the process. Next, talk about the impacted team members and how the technology will support the new business objectives. Building that roadmap will entail making hard decisions, including defining those objectives and process changes. But these decisions in combination with a well-defined project scope will lead to a thoughtful, pragmatic implementation. That doesn’t mean immediate perfection, nor does it mean every question or issue gets addressed immediately. The solution design phase of the implementation can grow tentacles, ultimately postponing the project. Keep in mind the saying that bureaucracy kills process and innovation. Leaving some questions unanswered at the beginning gives the process room to improve and evolve. Let’s face it, you’ll likely have different ideas at the six-month and 12-month mark of a multi-year project, so making too many decisions before seeing what the technology can achieve may be counterproductive.
3. Prepare for a smooth partnership. Some preliminary work may be required before the implementation starts. Start with clearly defining the scope of the project. Dive deep into the data: understand its source, make sure it’s clean, and pinpoint potential gaps. For bigger implementations, we suggest clients undergo pre-design work, putting their own lens against some of the questions we will ask during the design phase. This puts some of the ownership on them to know what they’re working with and to set realistic expectations. During the best implementations, the client provides state-of-the-business playback from the start. The best way to start a project with a third-party provider and implementation partner and ensure it goes smoothly is to think of it as a partnership.
4. Beware of hurdles along the way. One of the biggest hurdles arises if the actual users, those living and breathing the software, are excluded from the solution design session. Bring an appropriate blend of strategic and tactical people together to determine what the software’s future capability will be. This creates a roadmap that prioritizes what needs to happen and when.
But other insufficiencies ― namely in IT and communication – can create unnecessary obstacles during the implementation phase. On the IT side, teams often are limited in size and are juggling multiple strategic initiatives. Delays within IT make getting and understanding the data needed for the implementation more complicated and can quickly take a project off course.
Another commonly overlooked aspect is communication. In nearly every situation, more communication is always better. Provide early-on opportunities for people to weigh in on what type of transformation the new software will bring and what the process will be to get there. Change management always creates challenges, but having the right viewpoint and approach early on is pivotal. Think equally about the end results and the way the users will interact with the new software. Communication must be two way and happening at various levels. The change champions must be kept engaged and committed, so that they can communicate downward to the masses of users they represent and upward to the executives or the board. Who’s responsible for funneling the feedback and suggestions? In larger transformation projects, a change manager takes the lead, but in absence of that, it’s a business lead. The upward communication usually comes from the project manager up to the executives or board.
5. Avoid scope creep. Scope creep is an industry term for when new projects and capabilities get added to the initial project along the way. It is the number-one reason a project is prolonged. It goes back to the critical step of creating a well-defined project scope from the start that identifies various asks or ad hoc functionality and either chooses to address and implement them or set them aside. It’s not that change won’t or can’t happen along the way, but there must be a process for addressing topics outside the initial scope. Your team will fall easily into a framework when you are crystal clear about the scope from the very start.
6. Monitor after implementation. After the implementation is done, it’s all about ongoing, post-implementation monitoring and continued support — starting with the client and the change champion. Don’t assume every user who took the training course got it. They need ongoing support. The other piece is engaging the technology partners and giving helpful feedback on what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing. But that can’t be done in the first week: it takes longer to make an accurate assessment. Are people using the new technology, and if not, why aren’t they using it? Is the process better? Be objective about what you hear, and remember, change culture must be there from the very beginning.
John Avon is the Vice President of Professional Services at JustEnough Software, a leading worldwide provider of omni-channel retail planning solutions.
At JustEnough Software, we leverage implementation best practices and build on them to ensure our clients experience a smooth, seamless experience with as little interruption to the business as possible. We are inspired by what we have learned about the importance of the data and the idea that there might be times clients need to do pre-work before we begin, as much as we and they want to get started immediately. The lesson for us and our clients: if we can close any understanding gaps of the data early on, the more successful the adoption and use of the technology will be.