5 Phase Implementation Process Overview
Most industry consultants believe that CRM software implementation is as much art as it is science. In science, consistent input and efforts can accurately predict and replicate the outcomes of pre-defined actions and events. In art, however, we model the best representation or expression based on the variables and diverse conditions at the time. The outcome is uncertain for we often make adjustments and adapt to new ideas, new information or new human capital as we make progress.
Like our prior discussions regarding HR software, CRM software selection projects should follow a strategic approach and disciplined process in order to maximize the likelihood of successful outcome. The following software selection phases illustrate a proven approach used by many consulting firms.
Phase I: Planning
The implementation planning phase should begin with the end in clear sight. Quality project plans start with proven implementation methodologies and project management best practices. For instance, project plan tasks should not consume less than 4 hours or more than 20 hours (or if one does it should be consolidated with other tasks or segmented into more specific tasks, respectively). All activities should identify task precursors, be effort based (not time or elapsed period based), assigned to responsible resources and lead to specific milestones. With this minimum project planning criteria, you'll be in a position to model the plan, flex resource allocations, identify capacity constraints, view work breakdown structures (WBS) and monitor a the critical path. Microsoft Project is by far the most popular project planning tool and works fine for most CRM software implementations. If you're new to project management or planning, you may want to check out the Project Management Institute (PMI) as a source of good project plan methodology, disciplined processes and best practices.
CRM software implementation engagements generally commence with a project team kick-off meeting. If advanced preparation has been made, by the end of the meeting the implementation scope is clearly defined, the most salient tasks surrounding the project plan are established, administrative procedures are identified, project management guidelines are determined and project monitoring and control processes are agreed upon.
Key project team activities to be completed in the Planning phase are illustrated below:
- Organise the project team; make sure you have a committed executive sponsor, an well versed project manager, credible subject matter experts (SMEs) for each line of business, cross company representation from the user communities and capable Information Technology (IT) staff.
- Establish clear project goals and quantifiable success metrics. I highly recommend discussions with executive management to be certain that implementation objectives are clear, relevant and measurable.
- Craft a detailed project scope. Vague or indefinite scopes make for at-risk projects. Also remember that scope creep is a constant challenge in nearly all CRM projects. A comprehensive and detailed project scope will facilitate the project team in maintaining focus and maximizing the likelihood of project success.
- Thoroughly review existing business processes and keep an open mind to business process re-engineering. Don't repeat flawed or inefficient processes in the new software system simply because it's the way it has always been done. The period when implementing a new CRM software system is often an ideal time to also upgrade business processes for an even more powerful return on investment.
- Solidify your business process workflows. This is a activity helped by process mapping software (visio, mindmap or powerpoint can work fine) or whiteboard sessions. Make sure processes are defined from end to end in order that cross-divisional intersections are included.
- Determine CRM software utilization. Align the process workflow maps with the CRM software system. Chances are the software will accommodate most, but not all, of the process maps. Software voids are sure to be found and adjustments to the process or the software will have to be evaluated.
- If incurring software customization, be sure to create the specification and design documents as early in the process as possible. Software customization is an activity frequently delivered late and often requiring multiple iterations before it is complete. Beginning early can provide some buffer so that this activity doesn't end up on the critical path.
- Like software customization, develop your system integration design documents as early as possible. Also, it is very wise to review a sampling of your existing data to determine its data cleanliness. Most companies possess dirty data and do not know it or don't know the extent of it. Performing an early data sampling will allow you to identify how dirty your data really is and plan the data cleansing process earlier.
A frequently cited mistake made in the planning phase is the creation of incomplete, unclear or immeasurable project goals. To cure this issue, consider using SMART goals which ensure that the CRM implementation's strategic objectives and functional requirements are well planned, managed and realized in the production system. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Bound) is an objectives-focused project management method which outlines the specific steps to define project plan activity items in a manner that controls scope, specifies outcomes and ensures metrics are created by which the success of the activity can be managed and measured. The SMART method begins with objectives and requirements that are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. For example, a goal to 'increase customer satisfaction' is not a SMART objective; however, an objective to 'increase customer satisfaction by the end of the quarter by reducing wait time by 15 percent', is an objective that has now met the ‘Measurable’ and ‘Time-Bound’ criteria to become a SMART objective.
A second common mistake which often contributes to implementation project failure is on-the-fly project management. Too many times we've witnessed so called project managers that were little more than project administrators or meeting planners. To increase the likelihood of implementation success, you should insist on formal project management implemented by experienced project managers. Trying to succeed in an unstructured enterprise software implementation is a predictable disaster. Recognized project management methodologies facilitate consistent, controlled and quality deliverables that meet expectations and deliver results. Disciplined project management should be used at all times to keep a real-time pulse on the project’s progress, time frame and budget, as well as mentor the project team and succeed in the inevitable people, technology and change management challenges. Project management is a professional discipline, with a body of knowledge and specific skills and competencies and should be positioned as your proactive insurance policy to ensure that the engagement is successful and the business objectives realized.