In our last issue I talked about determining your requirements for a corporate project management system. This month we’ll talk about creating your plan for the deployment of your project management system.

What?! You don’t have a plan? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, you’re not alone, many project managers have attempted to deploy their project management system without a plan. The bad news? You’re not alone, many project managers attempt to deploy a project management system without a plan! I think it’s the ‘shoemaker whose children are barefoot’ syndrome. We tend to apply our skills last to our own projects.

The first step in making for a successful deployment of your project management system is in looking at the exercise as a project with everything that entails. Does this project have a sponsor? Who is the client? What is the schedule? What are the conditions for success? Here are a few elements you should be looking at when you are planning out the deployment of your new project management system:

Management Support
First of all, does this plan have management support. Problems with deploying project management software suffer most often from a lack of a product champion in the executive suite. Sometimes, decisions about implementing pm software come from management as a reaction to some problem (either real or perceived) about a particular project or projects in general. This might look like executive support but the support is very short term. Does management understand the scope and duration of the plan or are they hoping for an overnight fix? (You know what I mean – “As soon as that new software’s here, all our projects will be back on schedule”)

Look for management support that will last long term – It may be a year or two before the final effects of this implementation are felt. Is your project champion ready for the usual backlash that comes with a change in culture?

Also, what about funding. In this day of $300 project management software it’s easy to overlook the overall costs of implementing a change in a corporate system. Will you have the funding required for training? How about consultants to help tie your pm system to other legacy systems in the company? Has the I/T department set aside funds for technical support or people to help with the implementation?

Getting a product champion identified at the highest levels can be the most significant factor in overcoming the problem with all projects: Murphy’s Law.

Degree of deployment
While you’re assembling your plan, one of the most significant elements will be its scope. Implementation of a project management system if often thought of in one of only two camps: 1) Let every project manager do what they want or; 2) Choose a corporate-wide system and implement it everywhere. The problem of course with either plan is that few organizations benefit from them. The most common structure is one where some projects warrant a high-end project scheduling system, other projects warrant some kind of desktop planning system and yet other projects are so simple they warrant no project scheduling system at all. While you’re deciding who will and won’t be using your newfound package, think about what the payback will be for project managers at different levels. It is sometimes easier to leave small, low-risk projects out of the plan altogether. They’re numerous, they’re often very unique, very different from each other and the payback of having them in the central system is often very low.

Deciding on your level of penetration in the organization will be critical element of success. Pick your battles. If the small-project project managers want to do their own thing, it may be worth your while to get them off your list by letting them.

PM Process
Have you thought of where you’re going to gather the data for this new and improved software? Is the company ready to provide it or are you looking at cultural changes in the way they operate. One of our clients recently was working on implementing the corporate timekeeping system we publish. Management committed the company to move to a weekly time collection from the bi-monthly payroll-oriented collection they used to use in order to properly implement activity-based-costing. “No problem,” said management. Well, it has taken an enormous effort to get that message out to the rank and file who were so used to doing the work on the 1st and the 15th. Some resist doing the timesheet weekly despite the obvious advantages for the company. You need to look at what your new system requires and plan for it in advance.

Implementing a new package is also a perfect time for implementing process changes that may have been long-delayed. People will be changing anyway. You might as well take advantage to have them change to more productive ways of working.

Can I say this enough: training, training, training. Not just in product functionality. Make sure you put aside enough funding and time to get people trained in the new way they’ll need to do business in order to support your new system. Make sure people know long in advance how much time will be required for users to come up to speed and make both an incentive to get trained and a penalty for avoiding it. It doesn’t matter if you spend $300, $30,000 or $3,000,000 on your new system; either get your people trained or plan to use the new CD for a coffee coaster.

Legacy Data
It’s a category that too many people forget. Unless you’re a start-up, you’ve got projects in progress. What will you do with all the legacy data from you existing system? That system may have been automated, may have been database-based, it may have been manual. You’ve still got to consider the value of the data in that system (or systems) and arrange the resources required to get it translated into the new system. Data conversions are often a tricky business. Get your new software supplier to check on the data and give a firm-price bid on converting it. You may need to pay them a day or two of investigative time but the back-end savings will make it well worth it.

Legacy Systems
Finally, don’t be too quick to throw those legacy systems in the trash bin. If you’ve got projects in progress, it may be less disruptive for everyone to let some projects wind down with the software that is being used on it. Make sure you’re going to give the project manager some benefit by switching his in-progress project data from one system to another before you mandate the change. If you’re keeping those legacy systems for awhile (and many do) then make sure there’s a firm plan to retire them once they’ve fulfilled their function and make allowances for moving their data and training the personnel working on them at a later date.

All in all, deploying a project management system can be an exciting time as the new features and functions start to impact the way you do business. It’s an opportunity for an organization to become much more effective but it’s also not risk-free. Make sure you take the time to plan before you leap.

In our next issue, I’ll be looking at how to weave your way through the myriad categories of project-oriented software in order to choose the one that’s right for you.