You must choose your own systems (and implementation partners)

Choosing a system can be for the long haul, or it can be a steppingstone, knowing that you need to level up to be ready for something bigger. Whether you’re choosing tactically or strategically, it’s important that the decision is made by someone in the business that will own and operate the systems. Paying an external party to guide you and help you assemble the information to make informed decisions is different to getting an external party to make a recommendation (often decision abdication in disguise) and then implement it for you. Abdicating decision making sets you up for failure. It’s a bit like seeing an outfit on somebody else and buying it, assuming it will work for you. Like body types, seasons and end uses are different; every business is unique and needs to choose the system(s) that will work for them.

Fundamentally, there should be more than one software solution that can work for you.

There’s no such thing as perfect software. There’s just software that you’ve worked on and with long enough that you’ve made it work for you—like the off the rack outfit, figuring out the right accessories occasion and seasonality for your ‘dress’ is part of making it yours. The processes and business rules that you implement with the software are just as important as the way the software works. There are gaps in every implementation, and the key is to understand the gaps and figure out what you can to do bridge the gaps or reworks the process so that they’re not there anymore. Software alone doesn’t solve a problem. People and processes need to work with the software and the implementation to set the project up for success. Balance the process with the functional ability of the software. If the process is worthy, a competitive advantage, or drives critical elements of your business, then it’s worth keeping, and that should be clear from the start.

Your teams will inherit the system and work with it once it’s live.

The people who work in the business know more than any external experts ever will. They are on the ground doing the doing of serving customers and delivering your product or service. Their knowledge and understanding of where you are right now, when engaged right, will smooth the path to future systems that work. Do not undervalue the importance of a decision-making agency. How many people do you know who enjoy having choices forced upon them? Most people who are motivated enough to think about new systems and how to improve their business processes are not keen to be told how. Making decisions for people never makes them feel like they own it. So, agency in the decision-making process gives the business team ownership over the choice. This is particularly valuable and useful at points in the implementation process where everyone wants to give up because something is not working. Balance internal knowledge with external experience. No one is an island, and we can all do with a different perspective to allow us to think about how we might tackle a problem or a situation in a new way. External experts can be a great way to get a new point of view or increase the capacity in your team, but external parties don’t work in the business everyday, so final decisions should always be with the client.

The practice of understanding priorities, aligning internal people on these priorities and getting everyone clear on what’s most important is a steppingstone to project delivery work.

In preparation for a new system, the business team should undertake work to confirm understanding of their current processes, document where the pain points are and have a reference point to explain existing processes to external experts. The work of aligning on needs and how those needs work together is excellent preparation for the work needed in project delivery. It’s typical that functional areas in a business have their own perspective and may not have considered the whole flow end to end. Reviewing requirements together and understanding what you need for your business can be a big job, but one that hopefully brings the team closer to shared understanding about what is going on right now, and what are the biggest ticket items to improve. This helps internal teams align and get clarity on all the elements that need to work in harmony. Seek guidance and input from those with experience where you don’t. Balance this with mining internal knowledge and experiences. It’s really tempting to defer to external experience, and I’m a big proponent of asking questions from different people to get a well-rounded perspective on what you should or could do. However, be careful, walk the line and make sure you’re not abdicating the decisions (or opting out and giving yourselves a great scapegoat for later). This is a cheat because it gives you the option to opt out and have somebody else to blame if it doesn’t work and you don’t like it.