October 4, 2013

6 Key Steps to Post-Implementation Tech Project Success

Technology projects succeed or fail at our organizations when staff members choose to use and leverage the system, software, or tool we have so carefully selected, purchased, customized, and implemented. While most of us are familiar with the term user adoption, few of us have a flexibly toolkit of helpful strategies and ideas to turn the success of our technology project launch into a long-term success. This brief article will recap why a little bit of post-implementation project effort can go a long way, give you tools and tactics to make post-implementation efficient and effective, and provide you with resources to make ongoing technology project success more accessible by leveraging your peers and product experts.

Why is post-implementation technology project success so important?

To be blunt, you can’t afford not to make a commitment to your long-term technology success. With just a bit of effort using the strategies outlined below, you will be able to:

  • Become less reliant on consultants and therefore lower your total cost of ownership for the technology tool you implemented.
  • Actually use the new system to accelerate social change, instead of those new laptops or that new operating system becoming an expensive graveyard of waste.
  • Reach your organizational goals faster and more effectively, since staff will be using the time-saving software your team so carefully selected and customized to make their jobs easier.

How is post-implementation different from the launch of a new tech project?

Typically, after you’ve had a launch party (true story: my coworker made amazing ‘cloud cupcakes’ for a Salesforce go-live event), there’s often less budget and time to devote to the project. There may be less support from the management team, as post-launch feels more nebulous&endash;you no longer have the clarity of a ‘go live’ date to point to as a tangible milestone. For example, if you were upgrading from Office 2003 to Office 365, and users did not have a choice but to go along with the upgrade, then technically your project was a success. But if people are not taking advantage of the new features or leveraging it for all the reasons you chose to upgrade, then was the project really a success other than just crossing an item off of your to do list?

What are the six key methods and strategies for post-implementation technology project success?

Here are six key methods you can use to increase user adoption and lower your costs for using the technology you’ve already invested in. I recommend you pick and choose from these tactics like you’re at a Las Vegas buffet line: while one option might be great for one project, another might be best saved for another day.

The methods include:

  • Usability testing: Use a formal, structured process to speak with three to five users and have them show you how they complete specific tasks in the application in real time while you sit next to them, or remotely with screen sharing. Take notes and make changes based on what you do and don’t see. Ask open ended questions and truly listen to frustrations and what further instructions, training, or customizations might be needed.
  • Benchmarking: Have one on one phone calls, read articles about, and meet with other organizations who have paved the way. There is no reason, especially in the social sector, why any of us should re-invent the wheel. Use all of the great forums, support networks, and user groups out there to get your questions answered. Ask how much post-implementation cost, what they would have done differently, what they struggled with the most, and what surprised them. This method is especially useful when you can have program staff speak with other program staff, management speak with management, etc. to get a real picture of what to expect in terms of cost, staff time, and results with the system you’ve implemented.
  • Communicate with Users: Use multiple methods, including joining standing program team meetings, to listen for input and ways to further improve the technology to meet staff needs. Make announcements at all staff meetings if everyone is expected to use the technology, and include a demo every time to drive adoption. Try using posters by the copy machine, twitter, and brown bag lunches in addition to email to share tips and tricks and answer questions.
  • Start an internal user group: Gather together your internal allies and naysayers in an ‘inner circle’ that can then communicate with staff about the technology. A user group is also helpful for delegating tasks, like encouraging user adoption of new features, providing feedback, and making decisions about how to proceed. Saving time on each user group agenda for peer-to-peer training is also an excellent way to uphold a ‘train early and often’ approach.
  • Plan: Talk with each department and map out their needs for the year. Ask for their help in making resource allocations given your limited time and budget. Proactively eliminate questions about why upgrades haven’t yet been made by referring them back to your organization-wide upgrade and release calendar that you made after meeting with all of the department teams. You can use this spreadsheet to help in your conversations and prioritization efforts.
  • Leverage existing resources: Don’t write tip sheets and instructional manuals yourself. Between NTEN, Tech Soup, Twitter, product user groups, online forums, Spiceworks, and more, there are so many great tech community members out there wanting to answer your questions and be of assistance. And don’t forget, almost every product you’ve invested in comes with some level of support. Leverage these resources to serve as your support team to solve problems faster!

When in Doubt, Ask!

Asking others is a great way to get assistance with your project. For example, when I spoke about post-implementation success at the NTC on a snowy day in Minneapolis in April, I did just that (thanks to an amazing, free live audience participation tool called PollEverywhere). Check out our crowdsourced-by-NTEN-ers amazing additional ways you can build your post-implementation success toolkit.

Final Tips

Measure your success by technology project usage and adoption, as well as organization-wide ownership of the technology. I know I’ve succeeded as a consultant who helps nonprofits to manage their data when a true, non-technical champion emerges at the organization, who is excited about leading ongoing training for their team members where I am not needed at all. You can also help yourself be prepared for success after the cupcakes and streamers of the launch party are gone by staying up to date on new releases and updates and by not burning out in the first place by focusing so much on the initial launch. Remember, done is better than perfect!

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Missy Longshore
Missy Longshore, Principal, Longshore Consulting, http://www.longshoreconsulting.com/, Twitter: @missylongshore, Missy has been working in the nonprofit sector since 1999, and has been working with nonprofits and foundations on their Salesforce implementations since 2009. Missy attended Smith College and obtained her MBA in Public and Nonprofit Management from Boston University. She is a certified Salesforce Developer, Sales Cloud Consultant, and Administrator. She lives in the East Bay and enjoys hiking.