Major systems implementations have significant impacts on the success of an organization and its employees, vendors and customers. The project can improve transaction speed and accuracy, can elevate customer service, strengthen controls and add value. In previous parts of this series, we discussed the early phase of an implementation project up through executing the implementation plan. In part six, we turn our focus to the period after the system has gone live. This article provides an overview of several key activities for your team to complete post Go-Live. Go-Live is not the last step in a major system implementation project. Don’t fall short!
If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, they are available on my blog: Not for Profit Beyond the Numbers
Ignoring these steps can help you snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
While important throughout the project, communication is critically important just prior to and post go-live. No matter how much training you have provided, prepare for a lot of questions and issues to arise during this period. As part of the project’s Communication Plan make extra resources available to help users.
During this period, communicate any updates on issues or changes to schedules via a previously identified channel. This may be a website, email or a splash page on the new system. Manage messages to users carefully. Do not go ‘radio silent’ for long periods and do not bury users with constant updates.
Users should also have an easy way to provide comments, raise issues and check status.
Individuals from your project team along with trainers and consultants should be available to respond to issues and questions at and post go-live. These resources must have the time to work through issues and the resources to find solutions. These folks are your triage team. They will need to recognize training issues versus system issues and should know how to properly escalate issues.
Issue Logging / Internal Helpdesk
Before go-live, set up a Helpdesk ticket system and resolution process. There are plenty of cost-effective tools available online. Setting up the Helpdesk should be part of your implementation project plan. Depending on the system and your IT infrastructure, you may want to consider establishing a Helpdesk system separate or at least segregated from your company’s regular IT Helpdesk.
Be sure to capture information on the type of issues you are getting and the resolution. Gather metrics, such as; volume, issues by department, etc. Summarize this data and review it with your project steering committee on a regular basis for the first few weeks post go-live. Look for trends, significant issues that required escalation and areas where more training may be needed.
Use information from your help ticket system to identify areas that may require retraining or refreshers. Retraining may be needed at the department level, function level or on a particularly complicated transaction or process.
Also, the time post go-live is a critical time for checking accuracy and completeness of transactions. If you have an internal audit function, they should be helping review transactions. This is the time to fix training issues and solve misunderstanding about process. Remember, you have changed processes to fit functionality of the new system. There will be folks on your team that will try to find ways to do things “the old way,” so be mindful.
If you haven’t already been doing assessments for your implementation team members during the implementation process, this is the time to get caught up. It is also a great time to observe how your team members advocate the new system and how they are at problem solving in real time!
The implementation steering committee members should all assess their team members and should discuss their thoughts with the committee in full to add different perspectives. The project sponsor should also assess the committee members, specifically in the areas of teamwork, complex problem solving and thought leadership.
Reintegration of Project Team
During the implementation process, steering committee members should have been considering the work impacts of the new system and how that it will change the responsibilities of their teams. While all staff members will be impacted by the new system, the project team may feel the impacts more acutely. Their positions may be eliminated or job duties reshuffled. In addition, the project team members may have taken on responsibilities that showed they are ready for new challenges. Simply returning project team members to their old jobs may not be a sound option.
Just because the new system is now active, that doesn’t mean that your change management efforts are finished. Helping the organization adapt to the new system takes time and effort. Once the system is in use, work with staff at all levels to understand their perspectives on the good, the bad and the ugly. Share success stories and issue resolutions in order to reinforce the message that the system is good for the organization.
Know Your Service Agreement
If your implementation is a Software as a Service, review the detailed service level agreement with the steering committee. The agreement will clarify service levels, downtime, support and other critical parameters of your relationship with the service provider. This agreement may be managed by your IT organization, or another functional group. SAAS agreements are often unfamiliar to many IT organizations that focus on infrastructure (equipment and software). The relationship with the provider may operate well under a vendor management approach. Regardless of which functional group owns the relationship with the provider, your IT organization should be part of the process.
If your implementation is an onsite install, review your support provider contract with the steering committee. Most agreement have some level of support included in an annual contract with additional service available at additional cost. As this agreement will likely be managed via your IT organization, establish clear guidelines on who can authorize additional service costs and how the support organization will gain access to the system.
In an extensive system implementation, you will alter a significant number or processes. In addition, you will likely change the look and feel of many of your external facing documents. You will also be retraining on many business procedures. Therefore, you will need to re-document all of your processes and procedures. Some of this may be available from the system provider as they capture system process flows during the implementation. However, you may need to capture and retain many processes and interfaces post Go-Live.
Retest Internal Controls and User Access
Once the system is implemented and documentation is underway, start to retest your internal controls. Since you have changed processes it is critically important that you test controls to ensure that they are still effective and efficient.
Post Go-Live is a good time to check system access matches expectations. With major systems, user access can be very complex. Systems can manage access by position or function (or person) and typically have multiple layers and relationships. Unintended access can only be uncovered by reviewing the system access documentation and testing. It’s not a fun job, but it is a vitally important one.
Financial Audit Prep
Talk to your financial audit firm to determine what additional procedures they will need to perform due to the new system. The auditors will want to review your system documentation, understand your new internal controls and verify transaction processing in the system. Don’t wait until the firm is planning the audit engagement to alert them that you have a new system. Best practice is to engage them early, even during implementation, so that they have time to learn about your new system. They may have other clients on the system that you could network with.
Now that the system is active, you will start to receive requests to make changes. Just as during the implementation, post Go-Live establish a formal review process for changes to the system. Requests should flow through the help-ticket process. This will help decision makers by providing information on the impact of the change requested.
In addition to Change Control, you should establish a system shake-out period. During this time, typically one-three months post Go-Live, make no new system changes or enhancements. This allows the Response Teams time to address training issues and get to the root cause of any system problems.
Celebration and Recognition
A major system implementation is a lot of work. By definition, you will have a team of folks that have gone above and beyond their day jobs to get the project done. You will also have staff members that are keeping the day to day operations going via sweat and tears during the project. You need to have a celebration once the system is up and running. During that celebration, you need to recognize the team members that contributed to the project’s success.
Take the time to work with the steering committee and your organization’s leadership to make the celebration and recognition special and meaningful to those involved. This does not mean that you have to throw a lot of money, but it should be creative and should reflect the organization’s appreciation for the team’s efforts.
- The celebration and recognition should take place as soon after go-live as is practical. Do not wait months, do it within weeks.
- It should be public and inclusive (team members, subject matter experts, testers, trainers, consultants and other external resources)
- All senior leadership should attend and participate
- It should be fun, so involve a couple of your more creative folks in the planning
Post Go-live System Assessments
The organization’s senior management team and perhaps the Board, will want to know how the system is functioning. Prepare an update after the first month, the first month end close, the first quarter end close or at any other significant milestone. This update should be unbiased, so it should include successes and issues (with resolution plans). These updates can also be provided to the organization in general as part of ongoing communications and engagement.
Follow-through after going live is a critical step in surviving a major system implementation with your team and your sanity intact. No system project goes live without some issues. They can be major or they can start out small and become major. Keep lines of communication open. Track and review issues via a help ticket process. Rebuild your process documentation and recheck that your new internal controls are still effective and efficient.
Above all, this is the time for celebration and recognition of the project team.
The final part of the series, coming next week, will be a capstone of the series. It will cover key success factors and best practices.
Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.
For more information on this or other NFP Leadership topics, follow me or connect on LinkedIn and check my blog, Not for Profit Beyond the Numbers, each week for new content.