There are several important things to "know" about the process of implementing software across a group. In plain English, there are ways to be smart about this, and then there are the other options.
The interesting thing is that getting to the "knowing" part often means letting go of something that you already "know". It seems that software roll-out parallels transitions in general, and William Bridge's work on the topic consistently finds that the first step is one of "letting go." The image comes to mind of not being able to grab something new until you can let go of what's currently in your hand. The great thing about what we are going to discuss is that letting go of these beliefs actually lightens the load, frees you up, and increases your chances at success.
Four key concepts follow, with some of the opposing assumptions that are at the heart of most unsuccessful software implementations.
Myth 1: Most people use software because it improves their productivity.
Reality: No, most people aren't driven by a need to be more productive.
Most people use software for one or more of three reasons:
1. It's a required tool where they work, or
2. It makes something easier, or
3. It helps them avoid something unpleasant.
Why do you think so many people still work from a paper and pencil and list mentality (whether it is an actual word product or the electronic version)?
Aspiring to high performance is not a universal motivation, whereas having things easier or avoiding something unpleasant is.
This is a difficult concept for many software missionaries to get, because their personal motivators are often quite different from the norm, and different than at least some of their workgroup members. Proceeding ahead as if others will be motivated as you are is a position fraught with difficulty and is usually an erroneous assumption. Don't do it! Be kind to yourself; plan your software rollout based upon the three real reasons for adopting new software, not the productivity myth. You will be happier and so will your team.
Myth 2: People will use new software to create value if you purchase it for them.
Reality: No, most people will use software if it solves a problem for them relatively directly.
In fact, if it solves their problems very directly and relatively easily, they may use the software even if you don't purchase it for them. They may even purchase it themselves -- can you hear the concern in your IT department yet?
Purchasing software, no matter how good it is, is not a necessary precursor for your staff using the software.
It is a guaranteed cost factor however.
Myth 3: People will use new software that changes the way they work if you purchase it and train them. In fact, in no time they will figure out how to configure and apply it to solve the business problems it best addresses.
Reality: No, most people derive only the most apparent solutions out of software.
Configuring software to solve business problems is usually one or more abstractions beyond what the program does at face value for us. So don't expect that.
Rolling out new software is a change management process.
People don't change very quickly most of the time, so be prepared for a process. That means planning, and you should make sure that you have enough resources (time, momentum, intention, and power) to complete the journey.
John Kenneth Galbraith described some of the mental gymnastics we all go through when facing change, "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof." Be prepared for people to push back in active or passive ways. This means accepting the fact that two-thirds of the population does not particularly enjoy change (using new software), and will certainly test you to see if you really mean it. Do you?
The three step process you can expect is:
1. Some will get inspired and change readily(1st step),
2. Many will struggle with letting go of the old tools and expending the energy and discipline to adopt the new ones (2nd step),
3. And, if coached and guided, most will reorganize their work efforts with significantly improved deliverables (3rd step).
Myth 4: Once people have started using a productivity-enhancing tool, they will continue. "Get 'em over the initial hump and its down-hill from there."
Reality: No, most people will do their work in the "easiest" way.
However you phrase it, "higher performance", "improved productivity", or "raising the level of the game" is counter to the laws of both entropy and business (disorder in a system will increase without the infusion of external energy).
That means that higher performance is not self-sustaining. Great sports teams don't occur without a coach and an adversary (motivation). Furthermore, they have a difficult time repeating a really successful year. It takes as much and perhaps more work in the following year.
Reaching higher performance through use of new software tools will not likely be self-sustaining, and will instead need ongoing SELLING, support, recognition, and incentives.
People might aspire to or be interested in the change brought about by adopting new software and the associated work patterns, but change usually requires a serious dose of motivation and of someone exercising leadership towards the new destination and to continue selling it as a worthwhile objective. There's actually a component of both push and pull to effective leadership. But that's what we are going to look at in the next article.
So what do you do with all of this?
First, you avoid starting the process with denial or myths in place. That's a very good thing, as they will generate frustration and pain. And you don't need reminding that everyone would like to avoid pain. Knowledge is awareness of the playing field. It is seeking to operate with a minimum of surprises and to make plans and decisions based upon the facts of reality, not preference, history, or habit. Why? -- because it's easier that way.
Second, you realize that you need to plan this process out and work that plan, because there are obstacles in place that founder many eager but unaware software missionaries. The planning process starts with an important set of leadership activities. That's where we will pick up in the next section.