Ready, set, launch! Unfortunately, there’s not a red “easy” button that magically implements your new software.
Too often organizations throw caution to the wind for software rollouts. After months of development, you might be tempted to sprint to the finish line. After all, the software should have a big impact on your business and you want to start using it as soon as possible.
Successful rollouts require intentional planning and communication across your team and development partner. You didn’t take shortcuts during the development process, and you can’t during rollout either.
Rushing your rollout puts you at risk for a botched implementation that frustrates your employees and customers. Your custom-tailored software was built to make people’s jobs easier, but change can be hard.
For a successful rollout, you need to define a game plan and commit to it!
To prepare your organization, this article walks you through our recommended Implementation Checklist with expert tips. It’s based on our experience delivering hundreds of successful projects and knowing what works. You can tweak the details to fit them to your specific needs. By committing to these steps though, you’ll realize the full potential of your new software!
Choose Your Rollout Team and their Responsibilities.
As the new software likely affects multiple departments, you want to ensure there’s a number of rollout leads to help spread out responsibilities and tasks.
Here’s an example list of a rollout team and their responsibilities:
Owner: Oversees overall project success. Delegates responsibilities and sets the bar for what will be measured.
Project Leader: Primary communicator between your company and your development partner for rollout process, feedback, and more. A trusted and influential employee who can help define needed features, product performance metrics or risk analysis.
Product Champions (by Department): Create summaries from employee feedback about new software after each rollout. Keeps teams focused on learning the new software and reenforcing the “why” of the project. Documents mini success stories.
Front Line (like your IT employees or software development team): Help co-workers adopt the new software, document bugs, or mitigate any larger problems. Gather feedback from employees and report the status of the product to all stakeholders.
Set Key Metrics to Define Project Success.
How will your team know if the software is successful? Like any project, you want to define your key metrics upfront to measure the business impact and ROI of your new solution.
First, note where your organization was at the start of this process. This will give you benchmark numbers to compare to later.
Next, gather input from your project stakeholders to define what “success” looks like to them. You should think in terms of “where do you plan the business to be after this project?”.
You can use metrics like:
- Employee Productivity: Measure hours saved on repetitive tasks through automation
- Data Accuracy: Measure effort and money saved by eliminating errors
- Efficiency: Define how your process handles higher data volumes or more complex workflows
- Customer Satisfaction: Can you decrease customer service tickets or returns/refunds? Collect data around your new service methodology or customer-facing deliverables resulting from the new software.
- Revenue: Tie new revenue to improved efficiency and processes
- Competitive Position: How does your custom tool help you differentiate in the market?
- Employee Satisfaction: Measure employee happiness with new processes and/or the ability to attract new talent
- New Business: Identify new opportunities, markets, or partnerships
SPARK Tip: The metrics you choose should align with the business problem you’re solving. Don’t lose sight of what your high-level goals are for the project. Otherwise, your metrics won’t really help determine the project’s success.
Create a Rollout Timeline.
Software launches will disrupt your organization in one way or another. Be considerate when choosing the rollout timeline and how much time you are asking employees to devote to it. For a successful implementation, you will need their full attention and energy.
You should avoid new software rollouts during particularly busy or stressful times like the end of the fiscal year or your holiday season. Whatever time you do choose, be sure to communicate it clearly and give employees time to prepare for it.
Create a Rollout Plan.
With leaders, metrics, and timeline in place, you’re ready to put together your rollout plan. These are the steps you’ll take to introduce your new tools to employees. It can include:
- Project leads and their roles
- What’s expected of employees during the rollout
- Schedule of planned rollout times
- Definition for how the current process will be affected
- How to document bugs found in the software
- How to provide user feedback to rollout leaders
After each rollout phase, product champions can create a summary of employee feedback. Ask questions like: What features did you like most? What worked during the rollout? How was the current process impacted? Were you confused by anything?
Initiating a rollout phase, gathering feedback, and then summarizing it should be an iterative process. Creating a rhythm around these steps allows you to learn from your findings and then build on them for the next phase.
SPARK Tip: Document your rollout process and share it across the organization. Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be a good reference point for all. This will help avoid confusion during the rollout, while instilling confidence in the process. It also helps you better manage and communicate any changes along the way.
Craft your Communication.
No matter how badly employees want better processes and easier tools, transitioning to the “new normal” takes time and energy. It’s also perfectly normal to experience some bumps along the way that cause confusion and frustration.
Offset any problems by reinforcing the “why” of the rollout. Remind employees that it’s a time consuming process and you’re all in this together. To encourage participation, don’t let employees lose focus of the high-level goals and what you’re working towards.
Is there an internal phrase or messaging touchpoint you can use consistently throughout the project to keep up morale? I.e. “Leveling Up Logistics” or “Streamline Sales”
SPARK Tip: Simply opening up the discussion about the amount of time a rollout takes can alleviate employee worries of falling behind while they work through the implementation.
The best way to avoid any rollout missteps is to perform a risk analysis ahead of time. This allows you to look at the project from a variety of angles and try to predict what could go wrong, way before it actually does.
To perform a risk analysis, try conducting a project “pre-mortem.” For this process, stakeholders hypothesize what could lead the project to total failure. By doing a pre-mortem, teams can increase their chances of uncovering potential reasons for failure by as much as 30%!
Using this predictive hindsight, your project leads can coordinate early interventions (like sending out a quick video update to key users) to prevent problems from hindering positive momentum.
Planning for ‘a-ha’ Moments.
SPARK’s proven software development process includes a thorough discovery and planning phase to get as close as possible to the right initial scope. However, it’s normal to experience a few ‘a-ha’ moments during the rollout. It’s not until your whole team gets their hands dirty with the software that they may uncover a feature that needs tweaked or added.
To take advantage of these new insights, it’s best practice to include a ‘contingency budget’ for your project. A rule of thumb is 10-15% of the initial development costs for each phase. This ensures you can capitalize on these ‘a-ha’ moments, instead of them becoming roadblocks.
SPARK Tip: A disciplined development partner and process will ensure these ‘a-ha’ moments are prioritized in your product roadmap so a pet feature doesn’t disrupt the bigger vision.
Implementing in Phases.
It’s recommended to implement your new software in phases. You can stagger rollouts by department, business area, and starting internally before onboarding customers.
Some organizations try to unleash new software to everyone in their organization at once. This tends to open up the process to chaos and confusion.
It can be overwhelming for the whole organization to experience process change without a scaffolded experience. Like most things, change is always easier to adjust to gradually.
Staggering implementation also gives your rollout team more room to breathe. They can focus on one set of users at a time to gather actionable feedback, instead of managing conflicting priorities at once. Most importantly, an iterative process allows you to capitalize on lessons learned along the way.
To determine your own phases, consider how the new solution will impact the different parts of your organization. Similar to picking a rollout timeline, be considerate of daily routines and the processes you will disrupt and when.
SPARK Tip: It can also be helpful to start an implementation phase with a group of employees that are likely to adjust faster to changes. This group of people can help influence others in the organization to follow.
Celebrate the Launch and Keep Momentum.
It’s easy to get caught up in the implementation process and forget to set aside time to reflect on just how far your organization has come. This should be the most rewarding part of the development processes!
Once things are running smoothly, ask employees and your rollout team to share any data or stories about the “new normal.” How have their daily routines changed? Have they talked to a new happy customer?
Daily use of the software should reveal new ‘quick wins’ in your core features and baseline data. Take the time to celebrate these and where your organization is heading!
Celebrating key moments can be as simple as taking screenshots of the tool’s dashboard illustrating your progress or having a team member record a 30 second “hype” video with their phone to share part of a company update.
Planning for the Future.
Just like any other valuable asset (like a house or equipment), custom software requires regular attention and maintenance over time. It’s not something you implement once and never think about again.
After the initial rollout, most companies retain their development partner for additional support and proactive planning for Phase 2 (and beyond). The best part of custom software is that it can continue to evolve as you grow, meaning you can always look for ways to expand your solution!
With the foundation of your custom software in place, you can continue to seek out new insights from your front-line employees executing your new daily processes. Prompt them with questions like:
What’s likely to change in our industry, and how can we prepare for that?
What new and disruptive changes do they see in your industry? How can custom software help you prepare for those changes so that you can be proactive instead of reactive?
What are our organization’s plans for the future?
Do you plan to enter new markets? Offer new product lines? How can you use custom software to make these changes integrate seamlessly with your existing workflows?
SPARK Tip: Allocate a budget that empowers your front line product owners to work with your development partner to add new features and make enhancements beyond standard maintenance.
This fast-tracks small improvements into your employees daily work. Product owners won’t have to go through an entire PO or approval process at every instance and employees don’t have to wait weeks or months for easy value-add features. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Sticking to Your Implementation Plan
Once you meticulously define your game plan, you must stick with it. During the process, other business initiatives might come up that demand time and resources. Things like new business ideas, executive turnover, and mergers and acquisitions can draw attention away from your implementation.
Stay the course!
Be committed to your plan and development partner. It’s the best way to ensure all the hard work, time, and energy put into your new solution is fully realized by your team.
Download our Implementation Checklist PDF
To start your own implementation plan, download our PDF worksheet that follows these 10 steps and create your own custom checklist.