Implementing an enterprise IT system is like buying a treadmill to get in shape. You have this picture of the end goal in mind – how good you’re going to look and feel once you get in shape – then quickly realize that pain, sweat, and a few tears may be involved in actually getting there. Having the discipline to stick to something that, frankly, is boring and not so fun, is difficult. Really difficult. Fast-forward a few months and, without a solid strategy for getting in shape, many of us find we have nothing more to show for our efforts than an expensive clothes rack. This same fate can (and does) easily befall us when we approach an enterprise system without a strategy.Everyone, myself included, loves to see technology in action, so taking in the impressive features and functions of software during a demo can be pretty fun. But the truth is, most enterprise tool implementations fail, usually because we aren’t prepared to do the not-so-fun work of laying the necessary foundation beforehand. Just like buying a treadmill doesn’t do the work of mapping your workout schedule or forcing you to put on your sneakers, implementing an enterprise tool won’t automatically solve all of your people and process issues or provide you with a strategy. Here are two things you should do prior to implementing an IT enterprise platform that will help make it work. I don’t know many people in the market for a new clothes rack, anyway.
1. Document and Fix How You Work
This step takes a while, but is absolutely worth it. The first thing you should do is get different people from a variety of groups in a room to talk through and make decisions about how everyone needs and wants things to run. It can be boring and painful, but it’s necessary. Beyond just talking, this process can involve making decisions with which not everyone agrees (at least seemingly), or that may have to be walked back, further refined, or changed later – and that’s okay.
There will be many meetings, potentially filling people’s calendars for weeks on end. You will have to take even more time to prepare for these meetings, write up meeting minutes, incorporate feedback from tons of different groups, and make sure everyone is on board. I repeat: This part can be quite painful, but you must not skip it. If you don’t make time for it, you’ll end up with a system that at best, you hate, and at worst, is no better than your previous platform. I’ve seen organizations spend tons of time (though, frankly, not enough) to “get the system live”, only to hear grumblings thereafter from people who claim to actually prefer the old, terrible, manual way of working. NOTE: It’s not only time lost in these scenarios; it’s money, too.
Outside consultants can help with this issue to an extent. They can give recommendations, facilitate conversation, ask good questions to drive you to think about things in new ways, and speed up the design and documentation of your processes. However, they cannot and should not tell you how to run your business. You have to do that for yourself. If you take the lazy route and expect outside consultants to tell you how to run your organization, you will not get what you want out of an enterprise system. You can certainly ask for their input, but this is your system, one for which you need to take the time to do much of the heavy lifting. For example, if an outside consultant asks you for your list of IT services, and you ask them, “What services do you recommend we offer to our customers?”, they should have the right to slap you (unless they're helping you with your Service Catalog, but even then, you may not be completely safe). You need to do the work and decide how you want your organization to run. No one else can or should do it for you. You, not them, are responsible for your organization. Take the time needed and actively own the process of fixing the way you work.
2. Get Yourselves Educated
In order for an enterprise system to work and work well, you must make a commitment in terms of time and money for long-term education and learning. Make sure you have someone full-time to administer your system and that they become the expert early on. Send them to training. Make sure those who will be involved in the design and implementation of the system become medium-level experts. Make sure everyone who is going to use the system becomes a beginner-level expert. If you are going to spend a metric ton of time and effort on a new system – again – don’t let someone from the outside come in and do everything for you. Make sure you are shadowing what they are doing, writing everything down, and studying topics on your own.
This goes for leadership, too. They need some level of expertise to ensure they understand how to communicate the importance of the undertaking and motivate folks to keep with it, even when change becomes uncomfortable, confusing, and difficult. If your leadership team isn’t equipped with the knowledge to communicate the why we’re doing this in the first place and why it’s so darn important we’re successful to staff, the project will suffer tremendously.
Education doesn’t stop with staff learning how to use the system, though. It includes an understanding of the theory and Best Practice concepts behind the system. When implementing an enterprise IT Service Management system, for example, everyone must understand ITIL basics (eg: the difference between and a clear understanding of when and how to log an Incident vs. a Problem vs. a Request, the importance of various Change classifications). In implementing an enterprise Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) system, you must educate yourself and the organization on project management concepts (eg: the importance of and how to do proper project planning, what to communicate to team members and when, how to properly close out projects and why this is so critical). Developing a training plan for both Best Practice and the system itself – then customizing that plan for the different roles that will interact with the system – is key.
Years ago, when I worked in the Biopharma industry, I sat on a conference panel about implementing PPM systems. I heard a sage piece of advice from another panelist there: “When you do training, be prepared to train folks well – then train them again. And then, train them again.” Don’t ever stop educating those around you. There are always opportunities to learn and get better. Don’t get complacent and thinking telling people once will do the trick. It won’t.
If you stick with these two not-so-fun, but oh-so-important steps in rolling out an enterprise system, you will be far more successful and create the kind of change in your organization that makes lives easier, bonds your teams and your customers, improves the way everyone works, and, ultimately, brings a bit more fun to the organization. But, just like with your fancy new and expensive treadmill, you must go through some pain to get to the gain.
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