During my career as a senior manager in a large public sector organisation I experienced a number of new IT launches in my business area. Some were real success stories whilst others were a real struggle. Now, in my new career as a technology provider, I’ve been reflecting on what can be learnt from my past experience in order to help ensure that Abavus / My Council Services installations always fall into the success story category.

In this blog post I want to focus on the installation and launch phase of the IT journey, and talk about happens after the deal is signed in order to actually get the technology up and running and working effectively for everyone who needs to use it. I’ve got five key bits of advice to help ensure success.

1. Make sure you know what you’re getting

IT sales people will demonstrate the best elements of the technology for you as part of the sales process but generally won’t be around after the sale is complete. Don’t be under the illusion that a) you are getting everything that was demonstrated or that b) technology elements that were not demonstrated but which you need will be available ‘as standard’ on Day 1! The devil is often in the detail. Make sure that there’s no disconnect between what you thought you bought and what you’ve actually been sold.

My two tips here would be:

  • Ensure that you are clear about exactly what you viewed and what you have bought. This does not mean that you have to spend six months trying to detail every component part of the technology, but it does mean that it’s important to be thorough in your assessment of the product and not make assumptions about what is and isn’t included.
  • Work on the assumption that if you were not shown particular functionality it is most likely not available ‘as standard’. Therefore be clear on the cost of additional functionality or required support to avoid costly shocks once a deal is signed.

2. Have a good team and a clear project plan.

The best teams to work on successful IT product launches are those that include a broad range of skills, knowledge, experience and influence. But it’s not enough just to have a good team. You also need a clear project plan for them to work from.

My two tips here would be:

  • Whilst roles and responsibilities may vary, it’s a good idea to have a team that includes members from all the specific business application areas that are likely to be impacted by the launch. This is almost always going to include IT and Marketing, as well as more application-specific departments, depending on the nature of the technology.
  • From the outset draw up a project plan that is flexible but that sets out clearly the roles and responsibilities, key deliverables, timescales and risks. Once the plan is in place make sure that you regularly review how things are progressing with the relevant team members to ensure that you stay on track, or that when delays happen you know about them and can adapt accordingly.

3. Don’t ignore the users

Launching and deploying new IT is real change and has cultural as well as technological implications. In my experience managers can be so focused on ensuring the technology works technically that they fail to fully consider the people for whom it needs to work practically – generally members of staff or the public. Failure to consider those individuals often makes for a bumpy launch period with users feeling resentment or even refusing to use the new system altogether.

My two tips here would be:

  • Get your key stakeholders engaged and involved in the project from the start (pre sales) and throughout the deployment lifecycle. These individuals know their business better than anyone else.
  • Sell them the benefits of the new technology and support them through the process. Listen to their feedback and advice. Get them to cascade the positive messages.

4. The importance of the testing cycle

Everyone who is involved in the project needs to be committed to the testing phase and clear about what’s involved, specifically when it starts, what it constitutes and, particularly importantly, how long it will last. It’s easy for customers to get too comfortable in the testing phase to the extent that they often don’t want to move out of it. Whether that’s because they simply want to be perfectionists, or whether they fear ‘going live’, remaining in a testing phase can quickly become counter productive.

My two tips here would be:

  • Have agreed testing criteria that both vendor and customer agree to. There needs to be some flexibility built in, but once the criteria have been agreed and the system has been tested successfully against them, then testing should cease.
  • The testing team should include personnel who have the seniority and experience to agree that testing is complete. Don’t allow other managers (often senior) to arrive on scene after testing to demand  additional changes. It will simply delay the go live and cost the you money, resources and time.

5. Start with a soft launch

Whilst you may want to build a critical mass of users quickly or you may want to positively publicise transformational IT messages, don’t set yourself up on Day 1 of the project by having some big launch planned and penciled in. It will only stress you out and not be achievable.

My two tips here would be.

  • Take the product live in the first instance without fanfare. Once live and when you are satisfied that the product is fully stable then have your ‘official launch’ a few weeks later.
  • When you do officially launch make sure that you have some key organisational sponsors on board. If they are supporting the product from the outset it will go a long way to ensure that it gets embedded in the organisation in the long term.