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How to Build the Strongest Implementation Team: Who to Invite and Who to Avoid
You’ve done your homework and chosen new software. The minute you start thinking about moving forward, you should be thinking about your implementation team. Whom you choose to fill key roles and responsibilities can have a major impact on the outcome and ROI. Here are tips for forming the strongest implementation team, based on my experiences working as a project manager on hundreds of software implementations.
Start at the top. While everyone’s input is valuable, every project has to have a major decision-maker. You need a captain of the team, if you will. This person has to be a good communicator who has the respect of co-workers. Not only does this captain need to provide strong leadership, but he or she must also be able to rally the troops and champion the message of why your firm is pursuing this effort.
Around the captain, you're going to have a core group of people, including a project manager, a representative from IT, and managers from each of the major functional areas in the business. For example, if you are implementing new financial system software, this team would include representatives from your billing group, your AP group, your G/L group, your collections group, etc.
This core team has to be able to work well with an extended group of people in the firm to gain their input on how the new system is set up. They've got to do the due diligence and research, so they can communicate back to the captain on the best approach for the firm.
Be objective. When choosing members of the core group, I've seen firms really work hard to not hurt the feelings of co-workers. They’ll choose team members based on longevity rather than who would be the best fit. They’ll say, "Well, this person has been at the company for 25 years, and so they know everything." The reality is, that person may have been working a certain way for so long that they may not have the flexibility to embrace something new. They may not have the energy or desire to try to figure out the best way to make things more efficient. And once the new system goes in, it becomes a level playing field. The people who had all the knowledge for all those years are now on the same level as people who may have been there for a year or two or less, so appointing people based on their history may be of little value.
You want people on your core team who are going to bring fresh energy and perspective to embrace change. If someone’s role in an upcoming project isn’t as large as they expected, it can cause concern and even panic. People will question if they'll have a job at the end of the project. To reduce this anxiety, there has to be clear communication about the purpose of the project and everyone’s roles in it. Be very specific with each group – your core group, your extended group, and your end users. Everyone plays an important role; make sure everyone knows what their role is.
Be clear about expectations. Being a member of an implementation team is not an easy task. It adds another job to an already long and busy day job. Whoever is part of the team needs to know that this can be a big burden. It can mean that vacation days are limited, or certain times of the year are off limits to go on vacation because of the project. Or the person might have to stay extra hours. It's going to be stressful and overwhelming at times. Therefore, choose your team not only for what they bring to the project, but also for their willingness and room in their schedule to own their responsibilities for the life of the project.
Managers need to make sure that they can clear the deck for the team members to allow ample time for the project. It’s important that everyone is on board with the project from the beginning, supporting the implementation team and spending the life of the implementation learning and understanding how it’s going to make life better when the software goes live.
Choose people who can stay positive. One of the most important traits for your team members is the ability to stay positive. The people who are chosen for the core team have to communicate a positive outlook, even when times are tough. They have to say, “We’re making this change, we know it's not easy, but we’re doing this for a reason.” Negativity spreads like wildfire. It's really important that no matter how tough things get, or whatever the roadblocks you encounter, that your core team stays positive.
Pick the ideal number of participants. Is there ever an ideal number of people to have on your team? More hands may make lighter work, but too many can slow the process. The more people on an approval committee, the more time it’s going to take to reach a consensus about decisions. But if the team is too small, it may place too great a burden on each member.
One company I worked with had 15 people on the core team and it was difficult to schedule meetings, stay focused, and make decisions. Yet at another company, 15 people worked just fine. It all depends on how the firm is structured and what makes sense for a given project. The point is, you want to size it perfectly, so everyone is represented, so you can get everyone in the room at the same time, and they are able to focus and make solid decisions.
Your implementation team is really just a piece of the puzzle. The outcome is always dependent on many interrelated contingencies. But when you have the right team in place, all of those other pieces should come together more easily – especially if you do your homework and communication is solid throughout the process.