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Project Implementation Tips

Project Management Essentials

These implementation best practices will position you for success! 

The most important step in project management is getting your stakeholders aligned on what work is “in scope” and “out of scope” to provide the greatest value to the company.  This effort is foundational for every project, and sets you on the path for a successful implementation. Here are some of the best practices I learned about project implementation through a global payroll project that I led. 

Briefly, this business had acquired several small to medium sized companies around the world over a period of several years. The CFO was particularly concerned about the Payroll department because each acquired company had unique payroll processes, systems and personnel in each country. There was considerable risk if key payroll personnel left the company, including inaccurate payroll, poor benefit provisioning, or a failure to meet legal requirements. Any of these could jeopardize the company’s ability to retain essential employees and deliver on customer commitments. 

To reduce risk, company leadership decided to select a partner to provide a global payroll solution through technology, a provider network or both. Several global payroll providers and technology solutions were evaluated, and ultimately a SAAS partner with a global network was selected. If you are interested in more detail, read this Global Payroll Transformation Case Study

Doesn’t the Solution Partner Lead Implementation?

I’ve experienced many new solution implementations for Finance, Payroll, and Human Resources departments. Finding a good partner that follows through on their commitments is like finding gold!  The best partners do a great job of getting their solutions up and running; others may not execute so well.  However, even with the best of partners, you need an internal project leader who is going to ensure the solution is successfully integrated into the company’s business environment. This global Payroll SAAS/Provider Network project was no different. While the implementation planning, solution configuration, testing, and release was all led by the partner, the internal project leader drove business process and system integration of the solution across the company. 

Understand the Impact of Change

The project leader needs to develop a clear understanding of the current state, the future state, impacted organizations, and key changes that can be expected for major business processes and systems. This exercise is critical for understanding what work is required and the key integration points for internal and external partners. For this payroll project, we used a simple Excel worksheet to capture information about the changes and confirm that all the work was incorporated into the plan. This tool helped us identify and address all of the upstream and downstream dependencies with other organizations. By managing these integration points, we optimized the solution configuration and avoided implementation surprises and business interruptions.  See a Change Assessment sample (below Case Study), and contact me if you want the Excel template.

Build a Team Capable of Executing

One of the greatest challenges with a major system transition is that the teams you have in place today have been hired, trained, and become successful at maintaining the current solution. Often, the processes and systems have been in place for years, or perhaps decades, and team members don’t understand:

  • The underlying data structure
  • The system's data flows
  • The system's processing logic

Some individuals on the team will be capable of investigating how the existing system is structured to make configuration decisions in the new solution, while others on the team will not have the skills to do this. Select people for SME lead roles that are capable of this work and are excited about moving to a new solution. Your internal technology teams are also great resources during a transformation.

However, in my experience and certainly in this payroll transformation, external experts needed to be hired. We looked for experts who had multiple implementation experiences with this specific payroll solution. These experts brought invaluable knowledge, templates, and tools to guide the team in making the best process, data and configuration decisions.

External experts accelerated our implementation.

Lead the Change Process

One of the most important outcomes of conducting the change assessment is a clear understanding of how this transformation will impact different employee populations. Employees resist and struggle with change when they:

  • Don’t know that change is coming (lack of communication)
  • Are directed incorrectly (outdated online content)
  • Don’t know how to do things differently (insufficient training)
  • Perceive that it's just too confusing (poor user experience, support, FAQs)

The internal project leader must drive work in these areas to ensure employees are able to adopt the solution. After building out the change assessment in this payroll project, we assigned a dedicated resource to capture materials from the payroll solution partner and from internal organizations to update the company portal, develop FAQs for employees, create training vignettes, and build out presentation decks. All communication and training efforts leveraged these materials to ensure employees were informed about what they needed to do differently when the solution was released.

Hold the Solution Partner Accountable

Finally, the internal project leader must understand the solution provider contract and hold them accountable to their commitments to ensure the company gets the quality solution it paid for. If you have a good partner, this part of the job isn’t too difficult.  If you don’t have a good partner, you will spend a lot of time negotiating work, managing rework, and conducting escalations.  Find a good partner!

Engaging an internal project leader with a strong project management approach, effective leadership skills, and an understanding of implementation best practices provides your company with the best opportunity for success. No significant transformation effort is executed flawlessly, but we learn from our experience, improve our approach and hopefully share those insights with others along the way. 

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About the Author

Annette Leazer, CMA, PMP, SA, is a business transformation coach working with executives to create more effective operations and greater business value. Both vision and execution are key to motivate people to transform work. She guides leaders to develop transformation vision and strategy, structure implementation projects and roadmaps, and she mentors project teams to be successful. She also shares tips, resources, and leading practices as a PM mentor and through her Transformation Tips blog.

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