Recently, Principal Marty Anderson and Senior Manager Russ Smith got together on Parker Avery’s “Talk Retail to Me” podcast to discuss how system implementation projects changed over the past year due to the myriad of global and national disruptions. During the podcast, the two experts discussed how—and why—many teams became leaner and more efficient with remote system implementations, as well as why upfront preparation isn’t just about checking off boxes on a project management list.

They also talked about which system implementation activities should not be done remotely. Here are the highlights.

Project Team Engagement

While overall engagement is not a specific project activity, it is absolutely a critical success factor.  Besides a strong team with the correct players and skillsets, as well as solid project management, a key tenet of system implementation success is making sure the business stakeholders understand and are aligned with project decisions and the overall direction.  A virtual environment doesn’t allow for the team members to see or hear instances where one or more people may be uncomfortable with a decision.  In a remote environment, if people are not forthcoming with their opinions, it may take a lot more effort to coax them into voicing opposition or an alternative viewpoint.  It is much easier to witness body language and even subconscious facial expressions in a face-to-face setting, and therefore be able to proactively find out if there is an issue—as opposed to waiting until it may be too late.

Further, in an onsite environment, typically external consultants have the opportunity to socialize with members of the client’s project team outside of the project walls.  Having more casual (non-project-related) conversations at lunch or even special team-building events outside the office has a tremendous impact on developing trust, engagement, and cohesiveness in the project team.  While for some people, virtual happy hours or coffee talks were unique ways of dealing with the isolation of lockdowns, they quickly lost their glamour.  Informal in-person exchanges help build closer, more personal relationships, which are instrumental for implementation team effectiveness.


At first glance, remote training—especially for new systems—seems like a win-win situation: reduced travel requirements, fewer logistics to arrange, etc.  All the end users just jump on a Zoom call, learn the new tool, and voilà: trained users who are ready to go on a new system.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, efficient, or effective.  While online training delivery methods have dramatically improved over the past year, there are still some elements that cannot be replicated in a virtual environment.

First, it is very distracting to have any more than 8 or 10 people in a virtual meeting and ensure they are all engaged, so additional training sessions are required to cover the same content for different users.  These additional sessions add consulting costs, lengthen the project timeline, and ultimately delay the ability to reap benefits from the new system.

Second, the quality of remote training is not as good.  Normally, there are two trainers in a physical environment to ensure end users get the appropriate amount of assistance. The trainers can travel the room, see what’s on a user’s screen, make sure people are on pace, and gauge reactions, I.e., whether the users are understanding the content and how to perform the new system tasks.  Attempting to replicate hands-on help in a virtual environment necessitates additional screen sharing and/or multiple monitors for all users, repetition of content (for possibly only a single user), content delivery delays, and a number of other distractions.  The same issues are true for user acceptance testing (UAT).

Change Management

A lot of change management is about making sure people feel confident that they understand the messaging and know what to do in the new way of operating.  When onsite, we can stop by people’s desks and have a two-minute conversation to confirm their understanding.  But remotely, these one-on-one pulse-checks need to be much more thoughtful and planned.

Onsite change leaders are also important.  With any new system or process, there will always be change resistance until impacted people really understand it and begin seeing benefits.  If the change team is 100% remote, it is very difficult to see or overhear any opposition and be able to immediately course correct.  On the client side, it’s critical to have those change agents onsite or at least in key meetings so they can reinforce value-based messaging, respond to concerns, and encourage struggling team members to keep exploring and moving forward.  Exploration is the change phase after resistance, and people often cycle back and forth between the two—it’s a key element to encourage.

Further, change is as much emotional as it is process, so these tactics can’t be performed with a quick email or text message. If being onsite is not feasible, these interactions need to be face-to-face as much as possible using remote meeting capabilities.  Having an actual “live” dialog is extremely valuable in getting to the bottom of any pain points, as well as making sure new ways of working and any new policies and/or roles are being adopted.

Last year, with much of the remaining workforce essentially isolated in their homes for several months and the main way of connecting with colleagues and clients involving at least one screen, working from home took on a whole new dynamic.  We can all agree, it’s likely “going back to work” will be vastly different than before 2020.  After leading several pre-and post-pandemic implementation teams, in our opinion project team engagement, training, and change management are assuredly activities that companies should avoid doing remotely.

If you have any questions about ways to bolster success in your system implementations or any other strategic initiatives on which you are embarking—or are in the middle of—we would be pleased to start a conversation.

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