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8 Tips to Successfully Adopting a New Project Management Software System

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I believe that the root cause of most unhappiness, both in life and at work, can be traced to two things: poorly set and/or unmet expectations. The first often leads to the second.

This isn’t to say that if we never envisioned future possibilities and outcomes, we’d be forever happy and free from disappointment. Expectations, also known as dreams and goals, are essential to forward progress, personal development, and organizational growth.

But it’s also important to keep our expectations realistic, especially when you’re talking about project management software.

In Jim Collins’s book Good to Great, Vietnam prisoner of war Admiral Jim Stockdale observed that it was the optimists in the camp who died first. Those who held on, day after day, and eventually survived were the realists—those who faced the brutal facts of their current reality, while retaining faith that they’d prevail in the end.

new pm system

In a much less dramatic way, this principle also applies to the adoption of project management software, where the gap between expectations and reality can make or break the success of the venture. Willfully blind optimism will get you nowhere.

The good news is, we have control over the expectations we create when we’re onboarding a new project management solution. Here are eight quick tips that will greatly improve your odds of successfully meeting expectations during your next new project management software rollout.

1. Talk About It Early and Often

Any new PM tool you bring on is going to disrupt the routines your employees are comfortable with. (If it doesn’t, you probably didn’t need it, or you’re not using it to its full capacity.) People don’t like to be disrupted, even when it eventually makes their lives better. So give them as much time as possible to get used to the idea of a forthcoming change. Make sure you involve, consult with, and prepare the people who will be impacted the most by the new solution. This is a great way to shape their expectations for what’s to come.

It’s also best to flush out pockets of resistance early, so you can listen and validate concerns, check your own assumptions, and learn what features are most important to the team you lead—and so you know what you’re up against down the road.  

2. Make Sure the Timing is Right

Take a step back and look at everything that’s going on in the organization. Are other big changes afoot? Does your PM software implementation run the risk of overwhelming employees with too much all at once?

According to software solutions architect Kayla Lamoreaux:

“You need to assess each group, taking into account what the change will impact, the other items outside of the change they are working on, along with major organization objectives that may further impact their ability to successfully change.”

You may decide that you’d be better off delaying your implementation by a couple of months. After all, a successful deployment in March is far better than a disastrous one in January.  

3. Focus on Different, Not Better

Business strategist Jay Baer recommends directing your efforts toward PM software solutions that are completely different from everything you’re using now—that offer capabilities and insights that are unavailable to you in your current PM tools.

“If you are going to replace an existing software tool,” he says, “the new tool must be a lot better than the old one and/or significantly less expensive. Otherwise, the staff time, hassle, loss of momentum and other ‘switching costs’ make it unlikely that the change is going to be worth it. And most software frankly isn’t that much better. It’s somewhat better.”

4. Make Adoption Mandatory

Once the decision has been made and the solution is up and running, be inflexible about adoption. They don’t have to like it (and some definitely won’t at first), but they do have to use it. The only way to know if your new PM software can deliver on what it promises is to go all in.

After evaluating the experience of hundreds of Workfront customers, a compelling trend emerged: if a company surpassed 75% solution adoption, they reach their business objectives 95% of the time. You could not say the same if adoption rates were 50% or less.

5. Ditch the Backup Method—at the Right Time

In cases where you’re replacing an old PM tool or system with a new one, expect a brief period of overlap. Don’t cancel the old system for a month or two, which may require paying for both simultaneously. This isn’t as painful as it sounds if you plan for these additional costs from the beginning.

Baer recommends a minimum of 60 days. “You cannot ‘cut the cord,’” he says, “until you have at least two, and optimally, all three, of the most important features fully launched and in use in your organization. Only then is it safe to sunset the previous tool.”

But make sure you do sunset that old project management tool. Don’t give your employees the impression that they can just revert to their previous processes the minute there’s a hiccup in the new system. If they think there’s still a chance of avoiding the need to change, they may not fully commit to the transition.

6. Have an Internal Evangelist

With any significant project management software adoption, you’ll have plenty of salespeople and consultants jumping to meet your needs. But for the average employee who will be using the new solution, they’re going to weight a co-worker’s opinions over a vendor’s promises every time.

Find one or more internal employees who seem to be catching the vision of the new system early on. Involve these people throughout the process, and empower them to help evangelize the tool, helping with pitching and training as needed. You might even try fully implementing the solution in one small department first, so they can work through the learning curve in a more controlled environment. This way, you’ll have real-life data and internal experts to rely on as you roll the system out more widely.

7. Document Training

With the amount of turnover in today’s workforce, you can’t predict how long the team you’re training on your new PM solution will stick around. A new study from LinkedIn found that Millennials change jobs almost twice as often as Gen Xers did at the same stage in their careers.

Yes, it’s true that a few leading PM solutions will assign you a consultant to serve as your ongoing point of contact, but new employees will often turn to those around them first. And you can save those internal evangelists and champions a ton of time answering questions by following a bit more of Jay Baer’s advice:

“Every time your champion trains a team member on how to use a feature of the new software, record the audio and on-screen video and archive it for later. The next time you have a new team member, he or she can easily watch the recorded videos to quickly get up to speed on key software how-tos.” 

8. Keep Driving Long After Implementation

Ongoing leadership is essential, especially if you experienced some resistance during the initial adoption phase and/or you’re still hearing some grumblings from those who preferred the prior PM solution. Anytime someone tries to circumvent or undermine the system, you have to address it in the moment.

Don’t just plug in the tool and expect it to run on auto-pilot mode. It’s important to check in with your internal evangelists regularly, evaluate how adoption is going, send select team members to user conferences, and even bring your vendor back for some tweaks and retraining as needed. You may have found the right vehicle to get you where you want to go, but there still needs to be somebody sitting in the driver’s seat and performing routine maintenance.

Great Expectations for Project Management Software Adoption

Many of these tips are just as much about keeping your expectations aligned with reality as they are about setting proper expectations for your team.

Project management solutions can be time-saving, productivity-enhancing, and even life-changing tools… but only if you can get people to use them. Getting people to use them can greatly depend on how and when you introduce the idea of change, whether you’re making the change at the right time, whether the solution is truly different or just slightly better than what you have, and how well you manage each additional phase of the adoption process.

More?

Are there tips that I missed for getting project management software adoption right? Anything you disagree with? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Chris Savoie

As Director of Product Strategy for Workfront, Chris Savoie leads core product research, strategy, and development. His previous professional experience includes stops in the oil and gas industry both as a product manager and a software consultant, as well as an instructor supporting human spaceflight activities at NASA's Johnson Space Center. His favorite numbers are 3, 7, 10, and 21.

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