Every organization we work with here at Vince is different, and some have unique requirements for their ERP systems that aren’t met either by Infor M3, or by the off-the-shelf solutions we offer including VXL, VBU, VSE, and our newly launched cloud offering, Vince Live. For these customers, we have a service called Vince Solutions, which offers bespoke development and solutions for Infor M3. Through Vince Solutions, we’ve delivered some of our most ambitious projects to date, and over the years we’ve learned a lot about how best to prepare for these most complex of projects.
And in our experience, the ‘secret’ to a pain-free implementation is a bulletproof project plan. The kind of plan that’s rigid enough to act as a framework for your project team, but fluid enough to accommodate the inevitable bumps in the road almost every IT project will come across sooner or later.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Think of your project plan as sharpening that axe. It might not be the most exciting part of your project, and it might take considerable energy to put together. But that time investment will repay you tenfold during delivery.
So, without further ado, here are our top tips on how to hone your project plan to a perfect edge.
Before putting pen to paper on your plan, it’s worth spending some time to truly understand what the project means for your business. It’s natural to think of an IT project as being about technology. But if you begin your project by solely focusing on your IT systems, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and before long you’re likely to find yourself blindsided by unexpected issues and complications.
Remember: when you implement a new IT system, you’re making a fundamental change to your organization, and not just the underlying IT infrastructure that supports it. There will very likely be widespread implications for support teams, users, customers, service managers, finance, reporting, key business processes, and much more. And it’s absolutely vital that you account for those impacts in your project plan.
The best way to understand exactly how your IT project will affect your business is simply to talk to people about it. Which brings me to my next point…
If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this. Because cultivating and maintaining excellent stakeholder relationships both before, during, and after your project will dramatically improve your chances of a smooth and successful implementation.
Effective stakeholder engagement is clearly key to securing widespread buy-in to your project, but it goes far beyond that – extensive input from key stakeholders is vital to understanding the true scope of your project and avoiding the bane of every project: scope creep. It’s notoriously difficult to anticipate the requirements of multiple different departments and teams from within a project, but by involving key stakeholders early and often, they’ll tell you exactly what they need from you up front, meaning you can build a far more robust plan that minimizes the chances of nasty surprises come go-live.
Having said that, there’s no getting around the fact that actively engaging with your stakeholders takes time, which is why you need to build these meetings into your plan from the very beginning. And that’s particularly true for senior stakeholders who may have very limited time to meet with your team – secure meetings with these people weeks or even months in advance if necessary.
By making the effort to truly understand your stakeholders – both internal and external – including their needs and expectations, you set yourself up for a more successful delivery, and you’ll save time down the line.
Understanding who has the authority to make which decisions should be a priority during project startup. There’s no ‘right’ way to do this – it may be that your PM has the power to deliver their project as they see fit, or you may need to go to a board that sits outside the project space to seek approval for every major decision.
Both approaches can work equally well, but the latter will add significant time to your delivery – time you’ll need to account for in your plan. Project board or change board meetings should be key milestones in your plan, and you should include a roadmap of approvals needed at each meeting.
Building a robust communications plan is key to the success of your project, but this is another area of project planning that’s commonly an afterthought at best, and completely overlooked at worst.
Strong communications can do so much for your project, helping you clearly articulate the purpose of your delivery, secure buy-in across the organization, align thinking across different business areas, and act as a kind of mini marketing campaign, all at the same time.
But it’s important to cross reference your communications plan with your stakeholder analysis – your CEO will need different information to the workers in your warehouse. This step takes a little extra time, but it will ensure maximum effectiveness of your communications.
This one goes without saying, but almost no project ever goes quite the way you expect it to. If possible, build contingency time into your plan so you’re able to react to the unexpected without compromising your delivery.
If that isn’t possible, just be prepared to be flexible and pivot when the inevitable challenges arise – because they will!
I Depending on the size of your company, there may exist a certain tension between your project teams and your service organization. This tension stems from differing motivations – project managers focus on timelines and budget, whereas service managers want to receive the most reliable and user-friendly IT service possible, which costs money and takes time.
Exactly how this dynamic plays out will differ from one organization to the next, but one thing every project team can benefit from is a realization that the project doesn’t cease to exist at go-live. Whether you have a period of early life support or some form of project warranty, plan both time and budget for a transition period where project members are available to help out service and support teams.
This will help build trust and make service teams feel more comfortable, ensure thorough knowledge transfer is complete, and expedite the resolution of any teething issues that arise.
Large-scale IT projects are extremely complicated change management challenges that typically have far-reaching implications and consequences. But with a well thought out and detailed project plan, delivery doesn’t have to be a rollercoaster ride.