The decision to purchase new software or a new system for your organization is significant. However, the purchase, in many ways, is the easiest part of the process. Now the new investment must be integrated and used efficiently.
The process of integrating the new software can be complicated (for this article we’ll use software, although the concepts discussed in this article apply beyond the integration of software). How compatible is it with your current systems? How long will it take to be installed? How much training does your team need? These and many other questions have to be considered.
Generally, two philosophies surround such implementations: the phased implementation approach and the “big bang approach”. i This article is focused on phased implementation, although we will discuss the big bang approach to provide context.
Two approaches to implementation: phased & “big bang”
While the two approaches differ in many ways, neither is always the right approach.
As the name suggests, the “big bang” method changes everything at once. The idea is that everyone in your organization will “go live” at the same time. Now, because everything goes live at the same time doesn’t mean there isn’t considerable preparation involved beforehand.
There are advantages to this approach. It is faster than the phased implementation approach, and if everything goes well, it costs less and mitigates against a drop in productivity during implementation.
This approach does carry considerable risk, however. For one, certain or all operations may have to be put on hiatus during the implementation depending on what is being “overhauled”. Further, it is challenging enough to conduct a full-systems test beforehand, so there is no way to predict all of the issues that may arise during practical usage. Also, as all employees are trained at the same time, the company’s productivity is dependent on the training going well. There is little to no chance of finding bottlenecks during the training or identifying specific issues.
With the “big bang” approach, employee’s new habits may take some time to take effect. The team may struggle to recall all of the training’s details and/or fall back into older habits. This can mean a lack of productivity and even customer service issues as the team adapts.
The phased implementation approach differs significantly from the “big-bang” approach. As the name suggests, rather than simultaneously installing and rolling out new software across a whole organization, older systems/methodologies are replaced gradually. This process allows you to keep its most critical departments functioning while other departments transition to the new system. An organization might choose to break down the implementation by business unit, geography, critical functioning, or other criteria. ii
Advantages of phased implementation
The advantages of this approach include the ability to identify roadblocks and bottlenecks before critical departments are impacted. With some departments or teams “live”, issues can be discovered and solved with minimal impact, making the training process smoother for other departments.iii
Phased implementation is a less-risky approach than “big bang”, allowing for problems to be discovered, roll-back to occur if significant issues are found, and the project team to optimize the next rounds of rollout. While this approach may offer more peace of mind and less stress, it does have some drawbacks.
Phased implementation takes longer, which means that costs are higher, and return on investment might be delayed (although this can be budgeted for). The process can also seem endless to team members. The organization also needs to train staff on what procedures to use during the training period. If the accounting department is on one system and development another, a bottleneck could quickly arise. Sometimes a temporary interface between new and old systems is necessary to maintain performance and critical data during the transition.
Ultimately, the organization’s size matters, as a phased approach may not be appropriate for smaller companies.
As noted above, phasing may not be necessary for every company or even every project. However, as software and technology become more complex, the phased approach reduces risk and may make the most business sense. iv
While it is understandable that organizations want to complete a project as soon as possible, a phased approach can help avoid the issues that arise when making a transition quickly. The phased approach also allows for better planning and use of resources, while relieving stress on both employees and project teams.
Another advantage of the phased method is that each project is broken into smaller components. Each component is reviewed before proceeding to the next one. This means better work and fewer issues as implementation approaches more critical departments.
Ultimately, the decision of which method to use (or even a hybrid method) depends on your organization’s situation. If it is a low-risk installation at a smaller company, perhaps the “big bang” approach is more appropriate.
But if the implementation results in significant risk or disruption, then a phased approach may bring better results and peace-of-mind for those involved in the process. This approach allows employees to handle change in smaller doses with additional time for training, understanding benefits, and cultivating buy-in.