Four Team Members to Include When Building Your Software Implementation Dream Team (and Two to Avoid)

Team Implementation
According to a study by Gartner Research, nearly four in ten major software purchases end up as “shelfware,” i.e., software that is purchased and never implemented or only marginally configured and/or deployed. Why? Often, it is because of the application itself or the perceived unresponsiveness of the software vendor’s implementation consultants. Rather than compromise efficiency, or redesign proven processes which took years to develop and implement, an organization will opt to delay or abandon a software rollout, resulting in a significant waste of financial and human resources.

But a complex application and/or poor communication on the part of the provider are not the only factors than can halt or completely derail your implementation. While selecting the right application/vendor is critical, and this is true regardless of the application, whether it’s an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution or a quality management solution (QMS), it’s equally important that the customer organization assign the right people to its internal implementation team.

After nearly 30 years of working with literally hundreds of teams to implement a variety of software applications in highly regulated companies, I have developed a theory about who belongs on the customer’s implementation team—and who doesn’t. First, let’s talk about who doesn’t.

Team Members to Avoid

In a QMS implementation, the size and complexity of an organization’s documentation and quality processes will determine how long it will take to implement the solution. It could take a month; it could take several months. Understandably, some companies are reluctant to devote their most valuable human resources to a lengthy implementation process, so they assign less experienced employees to the core project team. This can be a problem. While junior or staff-level employees often have an excellent grasp of their own jobs, they may lack the ability to understand, or simply may not be privy to, the company’s long-term goals or operations as a whole. As a result, they may take a myopic approach to the project and unwittingly focus on improving their jobs and/or resolving short-term issues at the expense of the organization. In addition, junior team members often lack decision-making authority, which can drag out the implementation considerably.

But don’t load your implementation team up with C-level (e.g., CEO, CFO, CIO) executives just yet; this, too, can be a problem. Senior-level executives will bring the long-term vision and authority, but they rarely know how the company operates on a day-to-day basis. For this reason, it’s difficult for them to discuss, on a granular level, how daily processes and procedures should be executed in the new software. In addition, senior managers simply don’t have the time to devote to a software implementation, which means your project will be starved for resources before it even gets off the ground. 

So Who Does Belong?
So who does belong on your internal software implementation team? In my experience, the most effective implementation teams are comprised of mid-level managers or employees who are knowledgeable about both the company’s strategy as well as its day-to-day processes and procedures.  
I am frequently brought in to work with a one-person customer implementation “team.” If the customer is small enough, this can work simply because of the close internal relationships the employee has within his or her company. However, more times than not, I work with customer implementation teams that consist of only quality or IT team members—neither of which have all of the knowledge, skills or decision-making power necessary to reach the company’s goals.
It has been my experience that an effective, efficient customer implementation team requires at least the following four members:
A Subject Matter Expert: First, you need a subject matter expert (SME) who has intimate knowledge of your current quality processes, procedures, and problems. If you do not have a SME on your team, you will not have a clear picture of where you are and where you need to be. Where you are is the reason or problem that prompted you to pursue the software implementation, for example, to mitigate a regulatory compliance observation or improve inefficient processes. Where you need to be is the position you need to be in to mitigate the problem, that is, to ensure that a particular compliance regulation is met or processes are more streamlined and efficient.
A Quality/Regulatory Guru:Second, if the SME does not have knowledge of the regulatory compliance requirements associated with your industry, you will need a representative from the quality department or regulatory department (or both) on your team. This individual will provide regulatory compliance guidance, particularly when decisions are being made about modifying existing processes to reach your business and compliance goal(s). Frequently, the quality/regulatory representative will also handle the validation effort associated with the project.
A Techie: Third, your team needs a member with technical skills who has the ability to liaise between the implementation team and IT department. This team member should be able to facilitate tasks such as installations, integration into existing systems, electronic data gathering from existing systems, and compiling import data into appropriate formats.
A Decision Maker: Finally, if none of the aforementioned team members have the authority to make decisions, then your team must include a member who does. As we’ve already discussed, this doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) an executive, but if no one on the team has decision-making authority, the implementation timeline will be severely compromised by decision wait time. These decisions will directly impact how and when you attain your goal(s).

Right Team, Unrealistic Timeframe
Once you have your dream team in place, it’s vital that you give them time to work on the implementation. This means making sure that their regular jobs are backfilled, so they have time to concentrate on the implementation—not try to work on it in addition to their normal tasks. I’ve seen this happen and backfire countless times; it’s simply not a viable solution. Not only will you will have overworked, overstressed employees, but your implementation will be forced to move ahead without adequate resources or information, which is sure to produce multiple problems at go-live.
Constructing a core implementation team with representation from these four internal areas/expertise levels—and giving your team adequate time to devote to their implementation responsibilities—will help ensure that your project reaches its goals, meets regulatory compliance requirements, is technically sound, and goes-live on time. In short, it will ensure that your implementation project is a success!
Stephanie Jones, Professional Services Consultant, MasterControl Inc.
Stephanie Jones joined MasterControl in 2011 as a professional services consultant. She has more than three decades of experience working with enterprise systems. Stephanie’s skills include project management, business systems analysis, software implementation, data conversion, and computer system validation and compliance. Stephanie’s real-world expertise, particularly in the pharmaceutical and food manufacturing industries, and exceptional problem-solving and interpersonal skills have helped her complete hundreds of successful implementations for companies both large and small.