No one likes plain vanilla anymore

More and more businesses are seeing the sense of trying to adhere to “plain vanilla” implementations of packaged software applications, without customization to the application code. It’s cheaper on the implementation side, and certainly cheaper to upgrade uncustomized package applications.

This guiding principle is often articulated in the kickoff slides, and all the key stakeholders and executive sponsors nod in agreement.

Here’s what usually happens next.

Analysis begins. Implementation team business analysts work with designated subject matter experts (SMEs) to gather the business requirements that will be used to configure the application.  They are adamant that their job must be performed exactly as it is performed right now. The SMEs are like ravenous foodies, seeking to outdo each other with requests for  ever more exotic ice cream flavors of the day, while your plain vanilla implementation is melting away, because no one really likes plain vanilla anymore.

How can you get this under control?  Intervene early and police ruthlessly during the analysis phase. Add the following expectation-setting statements to your kick-off slides, right after you articulate your plain vanilla guiding principle:

  1.  All customization requests must be reviewed and approved by the steering committee.
  2. Potential process workarounds will be explored before any customization requests can be approved.
  3. There may be more business process changes than there are customizations to this application.
  4. We will provide training on both new business processes and new procedures for working with the new software.

Statement 4 becomes a difficulty if you have not assigned responsibility or budgeted for the effort involved in documenting new business processes, and building and delivering the process training. This is typically not part of the scope of the software implementation vendor’s responsibility.

To prepare for adherence to the full set of guiding principles, you need to develop internal business process/change management capability, or budget  for outside help in support of any major system implementation. Failure to do so puts the success of your software implementation project at significant risk.

Last piece of advice: at your go-live party, serve two flavors of ice cream.

Plain vanilla for the team(s) who favored the process workaround route. If they were really good, give them a choice of toppings. For the others, give them exactly what they craved. They’ll fall into line on the next implementation.

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