The decision to go full throttle with your new IT project will likely have been borne out of frustration at the shortcomings of your legacy systems, a welcome budgetary scope for new investment or as the result of a tireless quest to finally get your systems in order. Whatever the reason for change, the decision has been made and your next step should be to secure the support of your stakeholders because, when it comes to IT project implementation, relationships are everything.
IT projects are invariably fraught with complexity and even with the most meticulous of planning, the demands on resources and skills can be overwhelming. But there is a greater challenge at play and that’s the need to secure the buy-in of the stakeholders who will be responsible for implementing the project. Without it, the success of the new solution could be as vulnerable as the relationships of the teams tasked with using it.
Consider the implementation of an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) platform, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, which comes with an all-embracing capability to effect radical transformational change that will impact teams across your organisation. Without a seamless engagement of the key individuals who will be responsible for delivering the message, and ultimately deploying the system, the interests, values and the fears of those affected by such an organisation-wide deployment may well be overlooked.
The stakeholders you need onside
Having researched and nominated your game-changing platform of choice, the time comes to place your trust in your implementation partner – who you’ll have researched and nominated based on their track record, support credentials and knowledge of your sector. They’ll be quick to advise you to convene your internal stakeholders in readiness for engagement and, contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about the money. Whilst those with their hands on the budget will play their part, you’ll need to garner the unfailing support of the end users, the communicators, the project managers tasked with the integration, and those responsible for maintaining the new system.
The project lead
For top-down stakeholder engagement you’ll first assemble the project lead, i.e. the steering committee composed of senior leaders and management from CEOs, COOs, CFOs to VPs, directors and the project champion who will define and manage the key objectives for the implementation project and liaise with the vendor.
The project managers
The project management team may involve VPs and directors from IT, financial, production and facilities departments and could even be represented by a single project manager in a smaller organisation. In any event, the resources of an internal PM who can deliver the vital project management and liaise with the implementation partner will ensure clear focus is maintained and the all-important schedule stays on course.
Communicators are vital stakeholders; they’re responsible for delivering the before, during and after messaging. It has to be a two-way street, i.e. it must take account of everyone’s comments and feedback ensuring it is considered and valued.
The IT team
The IT department’s mission will be to consider the impact on the organisation’s IT infrastructure, its other systems, workflows, data management and its users – and they’ll be an integral component of the implementation methodology too. This is also the team whose buy-in is potentially most delicate. Whilst the reality of such change will open up more time for them to focus on improving systems in other areas of the business, do not ignore any scepticism of how increased automation and productivity will diminish the need for their business function.
The first-line support team who will keep the new platform running at optimum efficiency are there to work alongside the vendor’s consultant, learning the system inside and out and then training the trainers. They’ll carry out user acceptance testing and typical administrative tasks and provide first-line user support when needed.
The basic principles of stakeholder engagement
In an ideal world, this stakeholder element of your project will move stealth-like from engagement, to the buy-in and onto the business end of stakeholder management. Since getting everyone on board and having them swearing their wholehearted allegiance to the plan is what will lead everyone to the land of project plenty, aka the buy-in, it’s worth following these basic principles to ensure you engage effectively from the start.
- Engage early – the earlier engagement takes place, the sooner you can address concerns and counteract any fear of change. This is also the time you’re likely to ease off objections from those who might otherwise have felt excluded from the process.
- Communicate and listen – your stakeholders are the people you’ll be relying on throughout the project lifecycle, so you need to be in a position to understand their opinions and values and reveal any potential personal agendas. On a more practical level, you’d be advised to adopt a communication style and method that works for everyone – ask for preferences on recurring formal meetings, ad-hoc updates, calls, etc. Beware of overwhelming stakeholders with too much information.
- Speak the same language as your stakeholder groups – different departments use different jargon and require different information to get the job done.
- Take time to develop relationships – build relationships effectively now and you’ll be building trust. That will increase everyone’s confidence and make problem-solving and decision-making a far less stressful experience.
- Set a clear rationale and be explicit about the benefits – everyone needs to know the whys and the wherefores of the project. Set out the drivers and potential challenges, and explain how the business case sits within your corporate strategy so you can achieve the backing you seek from the key decision makers.
- Plan, but keep it simple – planning carefully and taking a measured approach will always help to secure stakeholder engagement, but it’s the simplicity and timeliness of your actions that will optimise your chances of a seamless project delivery.
- Identify the risks and manage them carefully – if your project is going to deploy successfully, every risk has to be identified, controlled and managed meticulously. By virtue of the fact you’re assessing risk, you’ll be demonstrating your project diligence to those who count and showing you have covered all angles. Always remember your stakeholders are powerful resources and can serve as potential risk factors within the project too.
- Be prepared to compromise – IT projects like any other are susceptible to change. It happens. Set a baseline for expectations and priorities and remain flexible and ready to meet your stakeholders halfway if a credible argument for change arises. Bear in mind also that project success will often mean different things to different stakeholders so understanding what the project looks like from the perspective of others will help to establish why some elements might need to be revisited.
Your implementation partner brings your stakeholder community together
Regardless of the scale or scope of your proposed IT project, by the far the most important relationship you develop will be with the implementation consultant you appoint. You’ll be bestowing an almost god-like status upon this leader of projects who will be the purveyor of transformational change and guardian of deployment success.
This is the partner who’ll guide you through your journey… from your justification for change to platform choice, and to the drilling down of specification. Indeed, the process of customising your options and ensuring your organisation is equipped to undergo the requisite integration would be a voyage into the abyss without a specialist who knows your market sector, business model, its fiscal requirements and accounting conventions inside out.
When it comes to ERP deployment, Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Business Central and its suite of financial, management, supply chain, purchasing, inventory, sales and CRM features, it’s your implementation partner who’ll hold your hand and help you build a solution to suit what you need now and future-proof your business for growth.
Whether you’re implementing a new platform to replace an ill-fitting legacy system or enhancing an existing deployment to encourage growth, your relationship with your stakeholders and the confidence with which they’ll buy into it will largely be dependent on the experience and integrity of your consulting partner.
TVision is one of the most respected Microsoft ERP platform partners in the UK. Our track record is built on 270 years’ in-house experience, 169 successfully implemented projects and a team of 25 dedicated Microsoft professionals who have expertise covering every market sector. TVision is also a Microsoft Gold Partner, which assures you that your internal implementation team and your stakeholders are working with a credible, competent supplier that’s committed to supporting Microsoft’s all-embracing Dynamics 365 Business Central platforms.
If you’ve decided the time is right for change and you’re considering an ERP platform, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, talk to us about forging an alliance with an implementation partner who’ll give you the peace of mind that your investment is in safe hands. Contact the TVision team today and we’ll show you how to make it happen.