Conversions to new systems often get off track because companies fail to plan the project realistically or they don’t execute or manage the project by the plan. Remember that major systems conversions are not just IT projects. Companies should maintain joint responsibility with the vendor in the project planning process, maintenance of the project plan status, as well as some degree of control over the implementation.
All key user departments and stakeholders should have representation on the project team, including the call center, website, fulfillment, management, merchandising, inventory control, marketing and finance. Team members should share responsibilities for conversion, training and successful completion of the project tasks.
The software vendor should have a time-tested project methodology and provide a high-level general plan. As the merchant client, your job is to develop the detailed plan with the vendor, backed up with detail tasks and estimates.
For example, a generalized plan may have a list of system modifications, but lack the details that need to be itemized. These may include research, specifications, sign-offs, program specs, programming, testing and sign-off, and the various levels of testing and program integration back into the base system.
Plan for contingencies, and try to keep disruptions to the business to a minimum. We have seen systems go live with management initially unable to get their most frequently used reports — this can be a big problem.
Along the same lines, you should schedule the go-live for the slowest period of the year. In consumer retail and ecommerce businesses, systems generally aren’t brought live from September through Jan. 15.
The systems project should have a senior manager who acts as the project sponsor. The project should be reviewed periodically by the steering committee to track its progress. This ensures that senior management on down to the department managers are committed to success.
Once you have a plan that makes sense, make sure you manage by the plan. This sounds elementary, but many companies and vendors stumble on it.
Early in the project publish a biweekly status report. Once you get within a few months, you may want to have weekly conference call meetings and status updates. Within 30 days of go live, hold daily meetings and list what needs to be achieved.