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Complex Global Technology Implementations: Are You Ready?

Contact: John Frehse

March 22, 2021

The global business environment is experiencing unprecedented change—from economic uncertainties, risks and compliance requirements, and cost pressures to the changing talent marketplace and evolving employee expectations. The global landscape is complex, and companies find themselves struggling with the mission-critical technology implementations needed to operate responsibly and support global digital HR transformation.

Technology is critical to steer clear of legal and cultural landmines and enhance the employee experience, but new technology requires change.  Implementing new technology can be risky and complex. Getting it wrong can be costly to your brand and your bottom line.

The key to success is having a strategy and a plan. Strategy is critical, and for the purposes of this discussion we will make the (very risky) assumption that the right strategy is in place or in the process of being formulated.

When putting together the plan that is needed to execute that strategy, six key tenants are required for any technology implementation. This is not a check list, but a process mirroring the continuous improvement process, under which each tenant must be governed, monitored, and managed in perpetuity.

The key tenants of success are:

  1. Sponsorship
  2. Governance
  3. Solution design
  4. Coordination, Communication, and Collaboration
  5. Issue Resolution
  6. Integrated Program and Change Leadership

Each area ignored introduces a high risk for failure. Without proper execution on each of these categories, implementations will have both short-term and long-term challenges that will limit the ability to achieve your goals.

In our experience, clients who do not follow these tenants typically find themselves never really completing their implementation. While it is common that post-implementation optimizations are required, businesses should feel confident that the results of the first phase of the implementation provide enough capabilities to significantly impact the business and position them for success globally.

How do implementations get derailed? Typically, it is when sponsors abandon the process, communication is poor, momentum slows, and issues build to a point where management teams feel they are insurmountable. In this article, we review each tenant in detail, providing you the foundation for success.

Chart showing Solution Implementation Program & Change Management

Sponsorship

It all starts with executive-level sponsorship. Key stakeholders must be aligned on the clear strategic value of an enterprise technology solution. In fact, the most critical elements for a successful technology implementation are cross-functional stakeholder alignment and sponsorship.  Without alignment and sponsorship at the executive level, projects can lose focus and be deprioritized throughout their life cycle. There is always a long list of initiatives competing for attention at all levels, and sponsorship is required to help the organization to balance priorities. Visible executive sponsorship is pivotal to ensure the organization understands the criticality of the implementation. When sponsors are communicating the right messages directly to employees, it keeps momentum strong and the organization engaged. Build a coalition of sponsors to drive adoption and mitigate resistance.

This sponsorship cannot be one dimensional on a global project. Multiple business functions and stakeholders from different geographies will be involved in the process, which will introduce different levels of buy-in. Globally, the list of competing initiatives, interests, cultures, and strategies mean that stakeholders from a diverse set of areas must all be actively driving the process. Given this complexity, it is critical to not only have global executive sponsorship, but to clarify the role of a sponsor, decisions they will make or be involved in along the journey, and the amount of support that will be required from their organization throughout the implementation process. Assessing the level of global executive sponsorship is a key indicator of alignment across each area of the enterprise.

Executive sponsorship can also get the talent needed for a successful implementation. It is difficult to commit resources to a project if the enterprise does not understand the value of the project, and key leaders are not vocally supportive. When a project can directly and positively impact the entire workforce, a team of top talent is critical. Executive sponsorship allows for an enterprise-level effort by leveraging top talent to shape vision and strategy, as well as drive execution.  While a great implementation partner can be a critical factor in the successful implementation of technology, the results will be lacking without internal executive sponsorship and leadership. Outside support will eventually leave, and internal buy-in and involvement in shaping the strategy will be critical to sustain the results.

Governance

Governance is important for a range of reasons, not least of which are accountability and clear measurement. Especially in companies with a range of divisions and global locations, governance can be complicated and even more critical. Strategies that mitigate risks and measure performance across the enterprise are critical for clear accountability, speed of execution, and increased standardization of best practices.

In technology implementations, governance should drive smart and fast decision-making across the enterprise, divisions, and regions.  One of the common challenges with technology implementations is the desire for customized solutions to meet business-specific needs.  While those solutions may be viable, they may not be the most effective or support the desired level of standardization in the organization.  In addition to costs and complications for future software upgrades, this also results in lack of an enterprise-wide view.  Effective governance can drive and monitor the decision-making necessary for standardized deployment of technology across the business (to the extent possible) and drive the analysis needed for informed decision-making and exceptions approval.

The other key governance component that must be a focus for global technology implementations is prioritization, which helps to ensure functionality that delivers benefits and appropriately sequences additional areas of importance such as security.  A framework for prioritization is critical to define during the planning process and can be leveraged by all stakeholders throughout the implementation process.

Lastly, a governance process for a global technology implementation should drive and promote collaboration and coordination across divisions and regions. Governance practices should be flexible to account for divisional and regional nuances without sacrificing consistency or introducing implementation risks.

Solution Design

Technology implementations are often invitations to restructure an operation, and the solution design phase is sometimes an organization’s only chance to review and improve processes thoughtfully. Although technologies are becoming so robust that they address an almost all-inclusive list of potential configuration possibilities, this does not mean an organization should just apply business-as-usual mentalities to their projects. Assess your organization’s varying operating models, and design solutions that bring a blend of standardization while also addressing unique business needs across operating models.

When addressing the solution design, organizations must understand how the operating model for delivering services may have to adjust. Shifts to servicing models, such as shared and managed services, should be considered during the strategic evaluation process.

Further, people/culture and business processes should also be considered in the design phase, and the following questions should be considered.

People/Culture:

  • What are the behaviors I am trying to impact?
  • What is the ‘what’s in it for me?’ across our stakeholder groups?
  • Who will likely resist this solution and why?
  • What cultural shifts must occur for the future state to stick?
  • What do we need to do to make sure team members have the knowledge and ability to perform in the future state?

Business Processes:

  • If we were to build a net new process, what would it look like?
  • How does the end-to-end workflow look today?
  • What are the challenges and pain points today?
  • What are some small tweaks we could make to the process to increase efficiency or effectiveness?
  • Does the future state process flow address all of the use cases?

In the human capital and workforce management space, another key opportunity is to adjust labor strategies to match the overarching strategy of the company and demand curves of customers. Areas of interest might include work policies, union contracts, labor laws, shift schedules, and benefits administration. Working in a single country on these critical issues (including all of the emotion attached to them) is hard enough, but what about global businesses? In these situations, the variables expand exponentially because labor laws are not the only concern. What about cultural norms that may not be immediately apparent? Getting the solution design right the first time is mandatory. Corporations need to decide how much optimizing they want to achieve while keeping a steady state.

Coordination, Communication, and Collaboration

Coordination, communication, and collaboration are some of the more challenging aspects of a global technology implementation. Questions such as how to share information with the right stakeholders at the right time becomes a challenge given the number of decisions being made. There are multiple ways to keep the team coordinated through integrated program and change leadership but start with an assessment of the organization to understand existing structures that have worked well and shifts that will be required.

While communications cannot replace a change management plan, communications do play a critical role in the success of the implementation.  A common mistake is for people to equate communications to emails.  In fact, a variety of tools and formats should be leveraged to distribute information.  Consider the following:

  • Town Halls
  • Informal “Ask Me Anything” Meetings
  • Verbal Manager Updates
  • Question Drop Box
  • Intranet Postings and/or Teams Channels
  • Pre-Recorded Messages and/or Training
  • 1:1 Meetings
  • Infographics
  • Q&A Forums
  • Surveys & Results

In addition to considering format, the communication “sender” should be considered. A guiding change management principle: The sponsor of the change should communicate the business issues and the reasons for the change, and immediate supervisors should share updates on the personal impacts of the change to team members.[1]

Consistent and coordinated communication enables collaboration.  Team members will feel part of the enterprise initiatives, and the inclusive culture will provide a foundation for open collaboration.

Integrated Program and Change Leadership

Alignment has a half-life. As soon as a team of aligned leaders leaves a meeting, the leaders are hit with a wide range of initiatives that often change their priorities. It is critical to drive alignment early and often across key stakeholders. Incorporate change management principles into project management to drive success across people, process, and technology.

Many organizations completely fail to develop robust change management plans, and those that do not often consider change management as an after-thought. Well-planned and executed efforts integrate the two.

Teams and plans can be integrated in many ways. A change manager may sit inside the project team, a change manager and program manager may sit in parallel reporting up to the sponsor, the same team may be responsible for both program and change plans and execution, and many others. Regardless of the approach, an intentional intersection of the technical solution and the people/process behavior change is critical.  The program team and the change team must be working toward the same results and outcomes.

In global technology implementations, program leadership has to address all of the key components of a well-run program such as scope, budget, plan, and risks, and resource management must be a key focus to drive success. Many global technology implementations suffer from issues such as delays, budget, and not meeting stakeholder expectations because resources are not planned appropriately. Resource planning should be iterative and exhaustive, so the organization has a clear picture of the number of resources and skills needed through post-implementation activities. There are often cases where resource leveling within business functions must be increased for a period to enable subject matter experts to devote time to user testing.

Issue Resolution

We know that the complexities brought forward by technology implementations will inherently create challenges that must be mitigated (risks) or resolved (issues) quickly. A robust issue resolution process that works in tandem with risk scenario planning and overall program governance is critical to the successful management of technology implementations. It is equally important that the business and team leadership set expectations that issue identification is part of everyone’s responsibility and maintain a culture of transparency around issue management. The basic components of a robust issue resolution process include:

  1. Identification – Provide a central repository for the team to document realized issues. This should include a description of the issue, what it is impacting, and any immediate actions taken, or decisions needed.
  2. Analysis – One or more team members should be assigned to review and analyze recorded issues. Their responsibility will be to validate the issue identified, propose a range of options, and describe expected outcomes from the actions proposed.
  3. Response Planning – Leverage your project leader to evaluate the issue analysis and determine the best course for incorporating the most desirable actions or outcomes into the project plan. The leaders will be responsible from this point forward for communicating to the action owners what needs to be done and ensuring the expected outcome is reported and documented.
  4. Resolution Execution – The action owner assigned by the project manager will carry out the issue response plan and report back progress and outcomes to the project manager.
  5. Monitoring & Review – Once the issue is resolved, it is important to continue monitoring the impacted project area for a period of time to ensure the issue is truly resolved and no unintended consequences arise. Additionally, ensuring the issue resolution plan and outcomes are reviewed during project retrospectives will help the team stay vigilant and increase the odds of mitigating future issues and/or responding more quickly when they are identified.

As you can see, taking the time to proactively define your issue management process and integrating it into project governance will provide the framework and toolset necessary to act decisively when disaster strikes and to mitigate the overall impact of realized risks.

In conclusion, to ensure success you need a plan. Get clarity around the six tenants with the proper change and program management team, and do not just implement. Get it done faster and better by following a proven methodology that increases adoption and shortens the timeline from the kick-off to the go-live finish line. Be able to confidently say, “We are done.”


“Complex Global Technology Implementations: Are You Ready?” Ankura Consulting, 03/22/2021;
Frehse, John; Smith, Corey; Tabor, Ryan.

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[1] https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/change-management-communication-checklist