07002 The Four Phases of Implementation

In today's issue I'm going to write about something that is near and dear to my heart, something that I have found tremendously helpful working with customers to implement new software and working on my own and with teammates to make important things happen. It's a way to understand the psychological stages which you – and everyone else I have ever met – go through when you work on a major new undertaking such as buying and implementing a software product. I call it the Four Phases of Implementation.

The Four Phases of Implementation is by no means my original idea. I first read about it in a book about proposal writing, I believe, and I believe the author did not claim the idea as his own. Rather, he was passing along an idea that was widespread. I, however, had never heard it before, and have found it extremely helpful ever since.

I have found the Four Phases of Implementation to be so useful, in fact, that at my current company I started paying a visit to each and every class of trainees in our product for the express purpose of describing the Four Phases. I know that by imparting this information to my customers, I can help them better work through the implementation of our software product. Not only does it help them directly, but I charge them with taking the Four Phases idea and walking their teammates through it when they get back at the office, all in the interest of making our product easier to adopt and making its implementation more successful.

Read on below for a description of the Four Phases of Implementation.


Any Project Can Have These Four Phases

I think you'll find the Four Phases of Implementation to be a helpful concept that you can take with you from customer to customer, project to project, and job to job to help you remain focused on results when facing an undertaking that leaves you doubting your ability to get to the results you so badly want.

Through the four phases of an implementation, the morale of those participating in the project takes a predictable path. It is this morale that is necessary to the success of your project. The more morale can be increased, the more successful your implementation will be viewed. Understanding the four phases helps you manage and cultivate the high morale you are aiming for.

The First Phase: Oh Boy!

The first phase, the Oh Boy phase, is fun. "Oh Boy, we just purchased a new software product, and it's going to help us analyze our sales data and target new prospects a whole lot better!" This is the honeymoon phase.

Morale is very high in the Oh Boy phase. People are excited and optimistic, and probably have unrealistic expectations about the amount of time and effort that will be required to implement your software. They're looking forward to great improvements or even transformations from your product. The worst part about this phase is, like a honeymoon, how short it is.

The Second Phase: Oh Shoot!

I have often used a cruder version of the name for this phase, but I'll use this one in this article for politeness' sake. Feel free to use the version you prefer. This is the phase you'll wind up focusing on the most, since it's the toughest one.

When the reality sinks in about how much time and effort will be required to implement your software, people enter the Oh Shoot phase. Morale plummets during this phase. Instead of "Oh boy, this will help us fix our reports!" people are thinking: "Oh shoot, I can't believe how much work we must do to fix our data so that it will work right in the reports! How are we ever going to get that done? Will anyone even help us?"

When implementation projects hit the Oh Shoot phase and remain stuck there, that's when projects fail entirely. It is vital that you work to make the Oh Shoot phase as short as possible, and that you work to move everyone – yourself, your customers, every member of the team, every user – to the next phase.

By anticipating the Oh Shoot phase and planning to counter it, you will keep the implementation of your software on track.

The Third Phase: Oh, Well!

The third phase is the Oh, Well phase. "Oh, well, we have a lot of work to do to get our data where we need it to be, but once that's done, we'll have the reports that we have wanted for so long now." This phase can vary greatly in length, lasting from the end of the Oh Shoot phase all the way until your product is successfully implemented. The more time required to implement your product, the longer this phase will last.

In the Oh, Well phase, morale starts out low, right down where it dropped in the Oh Shoot phase. Then it slowly gets better as you make progress towards your implementation goals. As each unwelcome task is accomplished and each milestone is met, morale rises. The steadier your progress, the more steadily it rises.

It's critical to understand that morale in the Oh, Well phase doesn't start out very high, and doesn't rise very fast at first. That makes it hard to determine whether you are out of the Oh Shoot phase or not. Your implementation is making significant, even vital, progress when you have moved into the Oh, Well phase, but when you measure morale, it doesn't seem all that much better at first, so it can be hard to tell that the implementation is in fact progressing. Over time, it becomes clear that things are improving. The trick is to determine whether morale is improving, albeit slowly, in which case you are in the Oh, Well phase, or whether it is stagnant and you're stuck in the Oh Shoot phase.

The Oh Shoot phase doesn't end, and the Oh, Well phase doesn't start, until you resign yourself to the fact that implementation is going to be more difficult than you thought. You must face the fact that you are required to complete whatever work is necessary to get the software implemented the way you want.

To make your implementation succeed, it is essential that you help move yourself from the Oh Shoot to the Oh, Well phase. Face facts and resign yourself to the effort required. Then work to move your teammates, users, and managers to the Oh, Well phase also, so that your effort can make progress. As the Oh, Well phase progresses, morale starts to improve significantly, until you reach the final phase.

The Fourth Phase: Oh Wow!

The fourth and final phase is the Oh Wow phase: "Oh wow! Did you see these great reports? How did we ever do it without this software?" In this phase, morale climbs up high and stays there, as you realize the benefits of the software you have implemented.

It helps, during the sometimes very long Oh, Well phase, to remind yourself and your teammates that the Oh Wow phase will indeed happen, and that things will look much brighter then. With a successful implementation, the benefits and improvements are clear, and it's worth getting excited and celebrating. You can look back with the team at the Oh Boy phase, laugh about the Oh Shoot phase, and pride yourself on making it through the Oh, Well phase.

The Morale Roller Coaster Ride

As you move through the four phases, morale seems to drop and rise like a roller coaster. Even though morale plummets for the Oh Shoot phase, it helps to understand that this is normal and to be expected. Nothing's wrong with you, with your team, or with the product you have chosen. It's just that the pesky reality of limited time and resources has a way of worming its way into your grand dreams and ambitious plans. The more you can help your team realize that their drop in morale is normal and healthy, the sooner you can move your project to the Oh, Well phase.

Many People, Many Passages

Overall, you can chart a single line of progress for your implementation project as it moves through the four phases. But each individual on the project also moves through these four phases, potentially independently of their teammates and the overall project. Be sure to enlist the help of those team members who are the first to move from the Oh Shoot to the Oh, Well phase, so that they can help teammates who are still stuck. When a new team member comes on board, they will go from the Oh Boy phase to the Oh Shoot phase, and it's important to have teammates on the lookout and prepared to help the new member along.

When There Is No Oh Boy Phase

For certain individuals, there is no Oh Boy phase at the beginning. That happens when a project which is somebody else's Oh Boy idea gets dropped onto a subordinate's plate to complete. The person who receives the assignment, who may not have participated in the decision to implement the software and has no particular enthusiasm for it to begin with, goes straight to the Oh Shoot phase. These people are the ones who take the most work to get to the Oh, Well phase. And it is vital that you move them to the Oh, Well phase, or you may never see your customer get to Oh Wow.

Lots of Projects Have These Four Phases

When you think about it, you realize that the Four Phases applies not just to software implementation, but to lots of different kinds of projects and efforts. I can think of many past efforts of my own where the Four Phases applied.

For example, when you decide to host a customer conference: "Oh boy, we're going to have a customer conference and it's going to be great for our product's reputation in the market. Oh, shoot, I can't believe how much work we're going to have to do to prepare! We have to choose a facility, and it's expensive! We have to get the sales force involved, and convince customers to come! Oh, well, it's going to mean lots of negotiations with the hotel and lots of calls to customers, but I think we'll get there. Oh, well, we didn't get as many rooms as we wanted, but we got a good rate for the early registrations. Oh, well, one of the top customers whom I wanted to present can't make it, but it looks like we'll have decent attendance. Oh wow, look at how many people are here and how much they're all talking to each other! Why didn't we do this before?"

Another example is when you release a major new version of your product: "Oh boy, this is going to blow away the market! I can't believe all the new features we're going to have. Oh shoot, nobody understands the new features except for the developers, and nobody understands their explanations. Oh, well, we're going to have to sit down and deliver some knowledge transfer sessions. It's going to take some time before the Training department gets it and builds training materials that make it easier for everyone to learn it. Oh wow, people really like this new module!"

It's not just a customer who goes through the Four Phases during their implementation. As the software maker, you go through them, too. "Oh boy, we just signed a really big contract with a top name brand! Oh shoot, the person who's in charge of implementing our product didn't want the assignment! Oh, well, we have to do a lot of coaxing, but they're making progress. Oh wow, look at the things they're doing with it now! Oh boy, I think I'll ask them to be reference!" And so the story continues.

Journey to Success

By having a clear idea of the path your customers will inevitably take as they move through the implementation of your product, you help them avoid the pitfalls that derail so many well intended efforts, and build a base of successful stories out in the marketplace that help sell your product.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges



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