A successful software rollout doesn’t just happen. It requires methodical planning and precision execution. Much needs to be done early in the planning stages to rally support for the project. “Selling” your plan to all of the firm’s personnel will help things run more smoothly. No, you don’t need to dress up as a cheerleader or paste stickers all over the lunchroom walls. What you do need to do is communicate a clear and consistent message about what you are doing and why.
Let’s take a look at some of the tried and true steps that successful rollouts have in common:
♦ Establish a Clear Mission Within Your Team– Make sure everyone on the planning team is aware of what you are doing and why. This will vary, depending on what is driving this particular rollout. Is it an upgrade of a current piece of software or hardware? Will the old version soon be obsolete and it must be replaced? Is the firm migrating to a completely new platform? Make sure everyone on the team has a clear vision and can articulate it to the end users.
♦ Engage the End Users Early in the Process– People respond differently to change. Some eagerly look forward to new systems and processes. Others fear it. But a universal truth exists: if people are given enough time, they can and will adapt to new situations. Don’t drop a system change on folks like a ticking time bomb on the final countdown. Allow them the chance to grow into the idea; or to at least feel empowered to have some say in the outcome.
♦ Explain WHY the Change is Necessary or Desired– Rather than simply telling someone that the new system will be “better” or that their favorite software is going away, give them some specifics. How is the new system better? Is it faster? More reliable? These are things that have tangible value to an end user. If it makes your job as an IT technician easier and does nothing for the end user, that’s a tougher sell. But, you can explain that it will free you up from routine maintenance tasks and you will now be able to respond more quickly to an emergency. Remember, people respond better when they understand the big picture.
♦ Solicit Feedback from the Users– Law firm staff often have an image of their IT Department as an evil empire that is foisting change upon them and they must submit “or else.” Let’s all agree that the firm is filled with subject matter experts. Who knows more about the day-to-day tasks performed by a legal secretary than the secretary herself? The IT Team does not need to know the intricacies of that secretary’s job. But, it does need to know enough to ask the secretary how the proposed changes might impact that routine. Similarly, the File Clerk and Bookkeeper are the experts on how the rollout will affect their particular departments and job functions.
You should employ a thoughtful approach here and not merely rely on the Office Grapevine. Make a formal announcement about the upcoming change and provide a means for feedback. Conduct a group meeting where the initiative is previewed. Or, if possible, create a simulated “lab” where users can drop by to test drive the system. Creating an on-line survey form where users can give anonymous input may be appropriate. Essentially, you want to make sure the outgoing message is positive and that you have a means for receiving incoming messages. Grumbling in the hall just doesn’t count as productive feedback!
♦ Assemble a Pilot (not Auto-Pilot) Group– This is one of the trickiest steps in a successful rollout. You want a good cross-section of users, but there are some common pitfalls to avoid. Watch out for “Mr. Eager-to-Please.” He’s going to tell you everything is great, even if it isn’t! At the other extreme is “Ms. I Don’t Like It.” You could have done absolutely everything right and it’s the greatest new piece of software or hardware that’s yet to be invented, and Ms. I Don’t Like It will just fold her arms and resist. She can’t give you any concrete reasons; it’s just emotional.
♦ Set Up a Functioning Lab– Plan this in three stages: IT/technology testing; pilot group testing; end user practice. As you can imagine, each of these phases has a very distinct purpose. Your IT team needs to test the hardware and/or software and work out the obvious integration and installation issues. You then need a real-world installation for your pilot group to use. After accumulating their feedback and implementing necessary changes, the lab should be redesigned as a practice area for those end users who want a chance to work on the new system before it goes live.
♦ Prepare a List of Answers to Frequently Asked Questions– As you move through the Pilot Phase, it will become quite obvious what questions will be asked over and over. It is wise to be proactive and prepare a list of answers to those questions. This will convince your users that you have actually thought this through and have plans for handling the anticipated situations that will likely arise. (See Appendix A for a list of suggested issues to address in a FAQ list.)
♦ Create a Training Schedule and Try to Stick to It! – This can be especially tough in the demanding legal field; but try very hard to get the firm’s management to commit to sticking to the schedule. If possible, coordinate with your H.R. group to provide desk coverage. Consult attorneys and their assistants to make sure the training schedule does not conflict with any critical deadlines that are looming.
♦ Avoid Training Interruptions– The last thing you want is people coming in and out of the training room. If possible, conduct training off the main beat of the firm’s operations. Many firms are able to secure empty space in the same building to hold classes. If an attorney has to ride the elevator to ask his assistant for a phone number, he’s less likely to interrupt the class.
♦ Floor Support, Floor Support, Floor Support– One of the most important phases of training is the post-classroom support. Human beings can only absorb so much information during training. When they get back to their desks, those new procedures will just be a blur. Assume that you will need feet on the ground to answer the most basic questions for each new user who returns to his or her desk. Don’t shortchange this step… it can make or break the success of your project.
Possible FAQs to Address Pre-Rollout
Why are we doing this to you?!
What impact will it have on your daily routine? (Is there a file format conflict, or databases that won’t be available, etc.?)
How long will it take?
How can you prepare for the change?
Will you need to check out documents to work on them?
Is there a fallback position in case of an emergency (old setup somewhere?)
Will there be someone to help you?
Will someone be covering for you while you’re in class?
Who will be testing the new system?
Can anyone opt out?
By Terry Aurit, M.S.Ed.
Chief of Instructional Design
Savvy Training & Consulting
copyright: Savvy Training & Consulting