Implementation’s Rosetta Stone: A Strategy for Effective Communication

Jamie Harrington, Principal and Project Executive, Global Professional Services

When implementing new systems, the progression from proof of concept to the go live date will generally move in fits and starts, at least in the early going. It’s not unlike a home renovation, in which the contractors don’t know what awaits behind the walls until demolition is underway. The same is true for technology, as vendors evaluate and untangle existing software before assembly of the new solution can begin. From there, whether or not the effort can build momentum often depends on one critical factor: consistent and transparent communication that keeps the client abreast of new developments, while the vendors are afforded the context and direction necessary to get ahead of potential issues that might otherwise stand in the way.

While facilitating transparency as part of an implementation may sound simple, it is a detailed and demanding process. The effort entails articulating common goals, maintaining open communication in pursuing the stated objectives, and requires a strong commitment from both sides of the project. Communication between clients and vendors can sometimes be more intricate and demanding than some initially realize. This is particularly the case for new relationships as each side moves along the learning curve to understand the other’s culture, processes, and protocols around regular correspondence, as well as preferences for communicating updates and milestones.

Again, it may sound easy, but the efforts required early in the relationship to build trust and credibility can significantly ease the most complex implementations. While each organization has their own preferred style of communication, we’ve found three common threads that tend to characterize some of the most successful implementations.

Difficult Conversations
The importance of setting and managing expectations during an implementation cannot be understated. Being transparent from the very beginning helps to keep communication lines open. This isn’t just the responsibility of the relationship managers; accountability should extend across the entire cross functional team of the vendor, from the sales organization detailing system capabilities to the engineering team managing a tight timeline. Regular status reports and key milestone updates are of course expected, but both sides should be diligent in relaying the challenges and complications that may create a temporary setback. From the perspective of the vendor, our job is to eliminate or telegraph any surprises. From the client perspective, early feedback is always appreciated, and there are no details too small to consider.

Provide Positive Feedback
Constructive, remedial feedback is essential and necessary, and to go back to our earlier point, we expect clients to deliver hard truths. What can be overlooked, however, is the role of positive feedback in calibrating the direction of a project before intermediation is necessary.

There is tremendous value in highlighting what is working. Positive feedback, for instance, recognizes and affirms project direction. Although difficult to quantify, positive feedback helps align expectations, provides confidence to the development team (allowing them to progress more quickly in a particular direction), and eliminates uncertainty that might otherwise slow an implementation.

For example, two years ago, the Eagle Excellence Award was created to recognize individuals on the client side who distinguish themselves throughout an implementation. The accolade recognizes the hard work and attention that goes into these projects, but even more importantly, best practices are documented and institutionalized, which will directly contribute to successful outcomes across our client base.

Keep an Agile State of Mind
When it comes to resolving unforeseen challenges that accompany any new implementation effort, agility is critical. At Eagle, we’ve embraced an agile development model to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and expertise across functions, while accelerating how quickly we can develop and deploy new software and technology.

As it relates to communications, a similar philosophy applies. Opening communication channels across functions earlier in the process  can facilitate the knowledge transfer when the go live time arrives. This is particularly important for business users who are tasked with managing the new system following an implementation.

In characterizing a strong product manager, LinkedIn’s Deep Nishar once noted that they should have “the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.” These first two traits, obviously, should come with the territory, but the diplomacy component can be the most difficult – and often, the most overlooked. This is one reason Eagle created the Office of the Client to help facilitate this ongoing dialogue. Success requires alignment around common goals, commitment, and trust. In return, clients receive greater efficiency, better performance and results, and increased satisfaction. Both parties will discover there can be a synergistic effect, in which communication becomes easier as it leads to traction against stated goals and produces outcomes that exceed expectations.

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