Managing software change – 7 steps to success

To stand a chance of delivering on its full potential, the implementation of new software in your accountancy firm has to be the best it can be. This guide outlines seven best practices that will give your next technology or software project its greatest chance of success.

We have high expectations of technology. In their latest Tech Trends report, Deloitte reported that 67% of CIOs expect IT to deliver increased efficiency and reduced costs and 70% expect it to deliver business process improvements.

Although these seven points relate directly to the implementation of new technology or software in an accountancy firm, they can be applied more generally to any change management project, for example the introduction of new working practices or administrative procedures.

Step 1: Get early involvement

You may not be able to please everyone, but you can encourage a wider sense of ownership by involving your team as much as possible in discussions and decisions.

Even if the business itself will have to make the final decision, try to find ways in which your staff can make a genuine contribution to the process. Could they help frame the questions that need to be addressed? Or determine the criteria against which contenders will be measured? Perhaps they can help set project priorities? When decisions have been made, don’t forget to show the team how these incorporate their feedback.

Step 2: Spell out the benefits

Make sure everyone understands what they, personally, will get out of the change. Be specific and be personal. So what if the software makes it easier for your accountancy practice to prepare tax returns? What matters to most people is that their own working lives in December and January will be less fraught!

Of course something that provides a general benefit to the practice should also, ultimately, bring benefits to the staff and it’s worthwhile spelling these out. Such benefits might include greater business stability, opportunities for more interesting and challenging accounting or tax work, and enhanced career prospects.

Step 3: Find a champion (or several)

Although sometimes it might seem to be a requirement of the job, project managers can’t be everywhere at once. You need to enlist the help of some project champions.

As their name implies, champions have to be fully behind the project. They need to really understand the advantages of the new software solution and the intended outcomes of the project. They work with stakeholders to keep them engaged and happy with the process, combatting the ‘project fatigue’ that affects many projects, particularly longer ones.

You may need to enlist the help of several project champions so they can work at different levels within the practice, from partners and senior managers down to members of the tax and accounting teams.

Step 4: Keep communicating

Good project management relies on effective communication, not just at the launch and end of the project, but at every stage.

Rumours and negativity can spread quickly – regular, open and honest communication will help you to overcome these. Find milestones along the way that you can mark and celebrate, but be honest about any challenges and delays, too. This will help to avoid unexpected shocks later on.

Different kinds of communication and different audiences will require different communication channels, whether that’s a short email sent round the practice, a longer article on the firm’s intranet or a face-to-face meeting with project stakeholders.

Step 5: Provide a range of training resources

It’s not enough to simply launch a new system, you have to make sure that people are using it, and using it in the most efficient way. That’s where training comes in.

We all have different learning styles and your training material should reflect this. Fortunately, these days it’s relatively easy to generate material in different formats: physical documents and printed guides; simple FAQs; pages on your intranet; demo data sets for those who learn best by actually using the software; classroom training; live, online webinars and recorded training videos.

At Wolters Kluwer our professional trainers make use of many of these formats to help your staff get the most from our software and we’re constantly refreshing the material to keep it fresh and relevant.

Step 6: Evaluate the project

Many software projects aren’t evaluated until they’re finished, by which time it’s usually too late to change outcomes. This is a bit like making a car journey without looking where you’re going and only checking at the end to see if you’ve arrived at the correct destination.

Instead, break the project down into manageable chunks and evaluate each phase as it’s completed. There are lots of ways of gathering evaluation data, formally and informally, from face-to-face debriefs, ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, a quick email, a form on the firm’s intranet or an online survey.

As ever, the best advice is to keep it short and simple; better to ask five pertinent questions and get an 80% response rate than to send out a 10 page questionnaire and only get 10%.

Step 7: Don’t forget new starters

To get the most out of any new technology or any investment in tax and accounting software, you need to make sure people know how to use it. Of course it’s important to train your current team, but don’t forget training for new staff so that everyone adopts best practice.

Make sure you build sufficient training into your induction programme, but remember that ‘training’ doesn’t mean leaving someone alone in a room for a day and hoping they’ll emerge as a fully-fledged expert in the software.

If you followed the suggestions in Step 5, you’ll already have training material in a variety of formats to help different people learn in the way that suits them. Also consider mentoring, so that recent hires have a more experienced member of staff they can consult if anything isn’t clear.

Have you implemented software, technology or other projects in your accountancy practice or business? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? Knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?

You can download our guide – Making it work: How to manage technological change in an accountancy practice here

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