Software implementation projects are the most likely corporate projects to go over budget and over schedule. Read on for five tips to ensure your project is a success.

Maybe you can relate?

It was 8 pm on a Thursday night. The motion sensor lights went out. I realized – I was alone in the office.

I had been sitting so still, staring into my laptop, trying to get my head around everything, that the system didn’t even know I was there. I waved my hand frantically and in a blinding flash, the light returned.

I was project managing a global SAP® SuccessFactors® Learning Management System (LMS) implementation.

It had over a million records to migrate, thousands of courses to import, and hundreds of e-learning courses to edit / upload.

There were dozens of Learning and Development stakeholders to keep engaged.

And we were behind schedule.

Software implementation projects are inherently risky

Turns out, I wasn’t alone. According to a 2012 McKinsey study:


“On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted. Software projects run the highest risk of cost and schedule overruns.”


If it’s that hard for the experienced IT person, what’s a newbie to do?

Experience and mentors are the best teachers

You can read all the books and do all the project management training, but really the best way to learn is through experience.

I’m lucky – I’ve had great opportunities to participate in projects most of my working life, as both a client and implementation partner.

I’ve worked with some fantastic individuals over the years. They shared their knowledge and inspired me to keep going no matter how tough things got.

Five tips for software implementation success

Here are five things that I’ve learned about running successful software implementation projects:

1. See the big picture

Projects can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning. Don’t focus on doing it all at once. Agree on a high-level plan initially, then focus on building a detailed plan under each phase.

Don’t be afraid to ask your implementation partner ‘what do I need to do and when do I need to do it?’ They will give you milestones to help you frame your plan and flag key activities.

Work with your project leads to get their inputs too. Your plan will grow through collaboration.

2. Data is king

As the old saying goes, bad data in, bad data out – this is very true. Ensure you have the right resources and time in your plan to map and transform data from your old system(s) to the new system.

Use the test system to practice uploading and fixing data ahead of your final cutover to your live system. Keep a note of the mistakes you make along the way so you can plan to avoid them when it comes to uploading data to your live system.

Agree and communicate clear cut off dates and system freezes so that everyone is aligned.

And don’t forget reporting. You need to see all that wonderful data in a meaningful way. Often reports are an after-thought and if requirements aren’t clear or fully tested, you could be left struggling post go-live.

Decide early on what your needs and wants are, prioritise them, and put together your requirements. If there are gaps, leave yourself plenty of time to work out how you can fill these or work around them.

3. Testing helps learning

This is a great way to learn the system. Get the right stakeholders involved during the iterative build / test / review phase, so that they get a deeper understanding of the system and why decisions were made.

If you are working with an implementation partner, ask if they can share test scripts with you. These will assist with learning and you’ll see what needs to be changed to make them specific for your own User Acceptance Testing (UAT).

Ensure you leave plenty of time to update scripts ahead of UAT. If you make them easy to follow, you won’t be flooded with user queries.

4. Governance helps avoid mud pits

There comes a time when every project gets stuck in the mud. To keep momentum, ensure you have good project governance in place.

Ensure decision makers part of the project team, so decisions can be made in a timely manner.

Set up regular steering committees for escalating larger decisions and problems.

Share information before meetings so that attendees are prepared in advance. Don’t just turn up with a problem – give them solutions as options, with impacts, to help them make informed decisions.

5. Create change strategy early

After all that hard work, if you don’t have an effective change plan in place, you’re going to face some resistance. People don’t like change and need to be warmed up to it.

Agree on a change strategy early in the project. Put a plan in place that covers all your stakeholders. Include how you going to communicate, provide training, and support after you have gone live.

Keep the approach aligned to your company culture and ways of doing things so that it’s familiar.

Consider involving subject matter experts as change champions in your project. They can be great advocates for supporting the change locally and can also help assess change impacts, update processes, create work instructions, and provide training.

Don’t give up!

Back to that Thursday night – I went home late. Working from home on the Friday and into the weekend, I put together a plan to try and get the project back on track.

Ultimately, we came in about a month late and just a bit over budget. Not exactly what I wanted to achieve, but I stuck with it.

I got better each time.

And so will you.

Good luck with that project. Stick with it and you’ll get there in the end!

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