10 Best Practices for a Fast and Clean Software Implementation

It’s a fact: software implementations often fail. They go over budget, there’s no cross-functional buy-in, go-live deadlines slip, and worse. When you make an investment in a new software platform, it’s in your best interest to ensure that the implementation is fast, clean, and efficient—and can quickly show a return on your investment. In this guide (based on a joint webinar with Riskalyze and Zuora, Software Implementation in 60 Days: Best Practices for a Fast, Clean, Efficient Go Live), we outline the 10 best practices for implementing a mission-critical software platform.

#1 Define Success

With every project, you need to start by defining success, both internally to your teams as well as to a broader audience. We call this phase “vision design implementation,” and use this to kick off every implementation.

When defining success, you want to be crystal clear on what’s in scope and what’s out of scope for this particular project. This shared vision of success will serve to keep everyone “on the rails.” Identify your “North Star”—the point you keep in sight throughout an implementation in order to evaluate scope, timelines, and dependencies.

#2 Establish Requirements Consensus in Advance

The core question in terms of establishing requirements consensus is “What will justify the value proposition of the platform?”

When you’re going into any kind of an acquisitions process and you’re evaluating solutions, salespeople will talk about all the bells and whistles: every feature of the product and what it can do for you. But you don’t need a spaceship to go to the Walmart down the street! It’s a matter of getting the signal through the noise and being able to say, “What is the specific requirement that we need that will make us successful,” and making sure that you build your implementation plan to that.

You want to attack every solution you evaluate to ensure that the one you choose can stand up to your requirements.

Then, to build consensus, start with outreach to all impacted business units, gather objectives across these business units, and then use this input to build out your full requirements. Involving future users to better understand how they will interact with the system in advance and these specific workflows will support business objectives is critical.

#3 Plan!

The planning phase is really about articulating—and distinguishing between—project objectives and business goals. Project objectives are specifically related to the management of the implementation whereas your business goals are what your business hopes to achieve through the implementation. The project objectives should tie back to the business objectives.

Riskalyze sets a good example on this with their relationship-centric business. The heart of their plan goes back to their customers. They always start with their customers—what pain are they trying to alleviate—and then design products around that. It’s critical to bring this kind of long-term, forward-thinking mindset to an implementation project.

#4 Project Structure and Roles

A successful implementation needs to be viewed as a joint project with one team. But within that team, there needs to be clarity around individual’s roles. Delineate what is a responsibility of your internal team and what should be owned by the software partner. The clearer the roles, the faster you can identify key resources as the project moves forward.

#5 Cross-Functional Buy-In, Sponsorship Commitment, and Alignment

Once a deal is closed, everyone’s happy and raring to go, but somewhere around the midpoint of a project, you inevitably discover a dependency that’s out of touch, you lose project resources, other priorities get importance, and you start to see your timeline schedule slip. To avoid this, you need to get the whole team on the same page.

An implementation is too big for one person. You need to distribute the decision making. Senior leadership should be clear from the beginning in giving the autonomy necessary to empower their team to get the implementation done. And buy-in can’t just come from the people who evaluate a solution, but from the people who will use it. Actual users need to see how a solution will be an enabling platform them—and have the opportunity to give feedback (in the early stages, and throughout the implementation process).

“Implementing a software platform like Zuora when you're at this stage, is like switching the engine out of your car when you're going 60MPH down the freeway, Your company is going full speed. Unless you have buy in from team working cross functionally, you're going to be dead in the water.”

Nitin Buty, Senior Director Global Services and Alliance Manager at Zuora

#6 Communication

When you have a cross-functional team working on implementation projects, the most important thing is communication. With an aggressive timeline, quick feedback and direct communication are absolutely critical for success. As a precursor, you need to work to communicate intentionally and to set up a strategy for communication with measures in place to ensure that everybody is communicating.

The team should be encouraged to reach out proactively if they’re facing a roadblock or a new risk or when the situation is changing or a deadline is approaching.

When a large number of people are involved in an initiative, you can’t afford to just do a single weekly meeting where everyone goes around the table and shares an update. You have to use the right strategy to segment the appropriate communication to the appropriate people at the right time.

But you can’t do this if people are too attached to their particular roles. At Riskalyze, they call this “giving up your Legos” which means that you realize that someone else has got it and will communicate if/when necessary. Meanwhile, you just need to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing, and do that well.

When you have a culture of autonomy and direct communication, then everyone feels welcome to raise a flag when necessary.

#7 Dedicated Priority Resources

In terms of resources, early intent is important. It’s important to identify critical dependencies and resources from the get go, and then make sure that these resources are available—and will be for the duration of the implementation.

In identifying resources, teams often just focus on technical resources. While IT resources are certainly essential, keep in mind that development isn’t the only critical resource for implementation. The business configuration side is just as critical for hitting your implementation timeline.

Of course people have their own jobs to do in addition to implementation activities. So it’s critical to stick to your timeline to have the commitment of these people for the right phase of deployment.

#8 Clear Project Governance

It’s important to establish a clear project hierarchy. Project governance includes:

  • Identifying decision makers
  • Timeline calendar for core team with set dates
  • Sign-off on key deliverables and milestones
  • Points of escalation

This governance should serve as your guide with signposts along the way: once one box is checked, the team can agree it’s done and move on to something else. This requires discipline from both sides of the implementation process.

#9 Critical Path Analysis

Any implementation is a balance between scope and timeline. If you have a solid date, you need to be willing to compromise scope. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t boil the ocean.” When you want to get everything done, often you’ll wind up getting nothing done.

Instead, constant prioritizing is the more productive path. Unanimity of mind around what is important gives you the ability to frame all of your decisions in a shared context. Constantly look for risks and how to mitigate them.

We always recommend to our customers to go live first, then stabilize the system, and then start adding on features. It’s a startup mentality, always shooting for the minimum viable product or the appropriate tier of value to investment.

#10 Use Cases and Assumptions

We’ve identified nine success factors that underline every Zuora go live and serve as a framework that runs through our entire customer engagement cycle. We use this same format and methodology to map pretty much everything we do, from sales through implementation to customer success.

1. Price in support of your business goals
2. Acquire customers across any channel
3. Bill with accurate, intuitive invoices
4. Collect fast cash and easy settlements
5. Nurture and develop deeper customer relationships
6. Account for revenue and close books faster
7. Measure to get visibility into the right consumer metrics
8. Iterate and rapidly deploy new pricing
9 Scale with mission-critical infrastructure

Our nine keys give structure to implementation requirements and provide a framework for use cases. They also provide a helpful tool for keeping the team on the same page and for creating an agenda for the implementation, and for all calls and check-ins.

(For more on this, download our free ebook: The 9 Keys to Building Success in the Subscription Economy.)

Final Thoughts

Trust is key. You need to be able to trust the vendor team that has been through this process countless times: trust their recommendations but hold these recommendations accountable to your primary business objectives.

Implementations can be a slog, but it’s helpful to think of them as empowering. Keep focused on what you’re going to be able to accomplish once the implementation is complete. The end goal of any implementation is to, in some way, improve the experience of your employees and customers so keep that top of mind as you work through the intricacies of the implementation process.

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