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Lessons learned from large scale software deployments

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

I’ve recently been engaged in a large scale technical rollout for a very large organization. The experience has reinforced some lessons learned from past projects. Any large scale implementation of new technology requires a great deal of up-front planning, training, and communication to achieve success.

Planning and project management are tremendously important in large technology rollouts. There are always numerous tasks that have to occur, many in parallel. While many tasks are technical, many others are not. In my experience, a strong project management leader and team are critical. Trained project managers equipped with tools and authority are necessary to pull off a complex rollout. While committees are great for building consensus, a more dictatorial approach is often more effective for project management. Project managers must be practical, flexible, and focused. No amount of planning will account for every contingency yet as many tasks as possible must be planned with particular concentration on critical path items. Authority and backing by management are critical as well. For a project to be successful, project managers must be able to rely upon upper management to clear road blocks and politics that often arise from middle management squabbling and turf wars. If management is not committed, large scale deployments are unlikely to succeed. As I mentioned before, the tasks involved go beyond the technical and include factors such as logistics, human resources, vendors, holidays, egos, politics, and much more.

While a great technical solution is a wonderful thing, most complex tools require training to operate correctly, and more importantly, to gain user acceptance. The scope of training for a solution is greater than learning how to use new technical tools, it also includes learning new processes. Seldom does a technical solution appear that does not significantly alter a company’s business processes; that aspect of training is as important as learning the intricacies of the tool itself. Finally, the timing of the training is important. Send people to training too early, and they will forget too much material by the time the tools are rolled out. Send them too late and risk lost productivity and possible chaos as processes become dependent on a tool that employees are not familiar with.

Technology rollouts are intended to improve efficiency by providing valuable tools and the new processes that they provide to employees. However, people are generally discomfited by change. It’s important to begin communications with employees at an early stage. They should be informed in a clear and simple way what is being planned and the goals of the solution. They should understand that as the project progresses, they will be called on for input for various processes or for training as the project nears completion. Explanations of how new tools and processes will improve efficiency and productivity assist greatly in user acceptance. If possible, some employees should be involved in pilots and encouraged to become advocates for the new system within the company. Communications must be handled carefully; trumpeting that the new system will solve everyone’s problems will not help. Rumors that tools will eliminate jobs are also sensitive. The right communications are more an art than a science and are dependent on many factors particular to the situation. But the common denominator is that if communications are not well presented and employees develop a distrust or even dislike of the new solution, it will be very difficult indeed to make the overall project a success.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business