Tips for a Successful A/E Firm Software Implementation
July 27, 2022
Finding the ideal software solution is an important step in managing your architecture or engineering (A/E) effectively. But it’s just the first step. Next, you’ve got to implement that system, train your people, and get them comfortable using it.
Of course, even with the most intuitive systems, implementations can “go sideways” for various reasons. Fortunately, you can take action to ensure a successful system launch.
Lessons from James Clear’s Atomic Habits
James Clear’s universally acclaimed book Atomic Habits has incredible insights that apply to all areas of life. That includes software implementations. And the book’s subtitle sums up the advice perfectly: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.
One of the concepts that is particularly applicable to A/E firms is conducting what Clear refers to as a “failure pre-mortem.” That exercise involves picturing your firm six months from now with a software implementation that has been a complete failure. The worst-case scenario—whatever you envision that to be—has occurred.
Then, you work backward to imagine all the issues that would have led to that result. Most often, the challenges are related to behaviors. What are they, and what do you have to do to correct them?
Too often, A/E firms (like most companies) look at software implementations in their entirety, focusing primarily on their hoped-for outcome. Clear’s advice is to concentrate on the start of the project. Because software implementations are often large and complex, any number of outcomes are possible.
Consequently, all you control are the baby steps (otherwise known as 1% improvements) you take toward your goal. If you ensure each one is well executed, you significantly increase your chances of success.
Give Yourself Time To Do It Right
Thinking your software implementation will go perfect can set everyone up for disappointment. A much better approach is to give yourself more time than you’ll probably need. It is all too common for time set aside for an implementation to slip away. And soon, people start feeling that the project isn’t going to go well or that deadlines are not being hit.
This frustration can hurt morale, making it even harder to hit an overly optimistic target. If, instead, you start with baby steps, you get “compound interest” on that investment and generate positive forward momentum.
"Often, a lack of motivation in participation is actually a lack of clarity. When people don't understand what is expected, they do less."
Focus on Tasks, Not Timelines
We also advise our customers to think about tasks rather than timelines. Instead of saying, “We’re going to enter all of our projects into the new system by X date,” say, “We’re going to enter five projects a day until we get them all into the system.” It’s the time-tested wisdom that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
The same applies to training your people. Rather than teaching everyone everything in one large session, it is much more effective to break it down into chunks that are very relevant to the group of people that will use it the most. And everyone who has learned the new system is then an expert in that area and can shift to a sort of “software support” role. The onboarding process for the software is most likely already desigined in this way, so it is best if your firm handles internal training the same way.
The result is that firms are less reliant on outside resources like the software trainer or the software company’s support team. As excellent as those resources may be, it’s best for your firm if you don’t have to use them often and means you have a better understanding of the system in general.
Creating Implementation Incentives
You’ll probably never hear an A/E firm team member say, “I love software implementations!” They see these initiatives as a necessary evil. And people tend to give up on things they don’t enjoy.
Consequently, it’s a good idea to come up with ways to encourage them to stay engaged. For instance, if you’ve set aside four hours one afternoon for some aspect of the implementation and your people complete that baby step in 2.5 hours, you can send them home early or take the rest of the time for a social team outing.
It’s also important to acknowledge the effort people are putting into the project and the results they’re achieving. People may outwardly shrug off kudos, but inside, we all appreciate and enjoy pats on the back or an unexpected Friday afternoon celebration.
It’s particularly important to recognize the individual leading your implementation. Most firms have a “point person” for this type of initiative, and that role is stressful. This project owner deserves your thanks and encouragement, especially since their commitment can make all the difference in a successful implementation.
The Upside of Project Clarity
As Clear points out in Atomic Habits, what an observer might perceive as a lack of motivation in project participants often is actually a lack of clarity. When people don’t understand what is expected, they do less. And the responsibility for ensuring clarity is two-fold. First, your onboarding team should be clear about the steps of your onboarding process, but the lead contact in your firm should also be clear in relaying this information along with firm expectations to the rest of the employees in the firm.
A poorly executed software implementation can drag an A/E firm down. But when there are clear plans and expectations—and the work is broken into baby steps—you help ensure that the project goes well and that before long, your team members are empowered to use that software investment to benefit the entire firm, accomplishing the goal you most likely set from the beginning.
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