Over the past year, we’ve often found ourselves needing to explain the benefits of HRchitect’s mostly remote process for implementing business software. Sometimes the audience is skeptical and is especially tough when talking with someone who has personally endured a lot of business travel.
First, we should mention that the software we implement falls into a category called “configurable cloud solution.” This means that the system is designed, built, and hosted by a third-party software vendor. It has a flexible, but finite set of features and services that has evolved over time. Clients buy into the platform for what it can do today, and will likely do in the future.
Our teams know the features of the platform and how to set it up for clients. We do this by understanding their business requirements, writing detailed specifications, configuring the system, testing it, and then implementing it with real data and users.
The implementation team is made up of three to five specialists who handle various tasks, such as project management, requirements, configuration, testing, and data. The projects are scoped and sold at a fixed price with the assumption that a standardized process will be followed. Many of the project steps are required by the software vendor and it all normally takes three to six months to complete.
Historically, when a business software “package” was installed at a client site, team members needed to be physically present. They worked in the client’s technical environment, followed a client’s methodology, and needed to interact closely with the client’s staff to work through specifications and resolve issues. A lot of overnight travel was involved and clients needed to provide workspace and system access.
Today, there are two main reasons that this type of travel isn’t as necessary:
- Cloud software isn’t tied to the client’s environment.
- Collaborative technology is now much better.
Yes, the client’s infrastructure is still a factor. We often need to transmit data back and forth with the cloud platform, and there are other integrations such as single-sign-on and web services. However, since these connections are often standardized, setting them up isn’t that difficult. A client just needs to have modern web browsers, a fast internet connection and some competent (and available) IT staff.
Yes, it’s still smart to learn about the client’s working environment and culture. Yet, you can learn this without living in the hotel down the street. Most of what you will need to know can be gathered through an introductory tour and by having an explicit conversation about these topics early in the project.
Yes, it is still important to build strong working relationships among team members and this is best done face-to-face. In fact, for roles like project manager, this is critical. However, there are other effective ways to build connections besides cramming an entire team into a conference room for five months. The reality is that if people are properly introduced to each other, most will then start building relationships with the people that they need to interact with.
Here are some good ways to initially establish rapport:
- Quickly exchange relevant biographies and LinkedIn profiles.
- Conduct kickoff meetings in person with all the key people.
- Set aside meeting agenda time for solid introductions.
- Socialize over lunch, drinks, or dinner (and strongly encourage participation.)
A well-run project doesn’t really require constant supervision. Competent team members will get their work done when there is a solid plan and when information is flowing well. The good news is that modern collaborative tools make it easy to communicate and organize.
Here’s a list of key tools and their best uses:
- Voice: It has never been easier to reach people by phone and one-on-one calls help build relationships.
- Chat: Instant messaging is useful for quick, interactive questions and answers.
- Presence: Many instant messaging tools can show when someone is available to contact.
- Email: Emails are still useful for sharing detailed information and for enabling thoughtful discussions that involve many parties over time.
- Scheduling: Online calendars make it easy to find available meeting times.
- Dial In: Group conference calls are useful for interactive discussions.
- Webcast: Webcast meetings enhance calls with interactive screen sharing of useful materials. You can even record web meetings for later reference.
- Video: Video calls convey subtle social cues and show when participants are engaged in the conversation.
- File Sharing: Tools such as SharePoint and Box ensure that team members are working from the latest versions of key project documents.
- Collaboration: Tools such as Google Docs or Box Notes make it easy to write materials such as business plans and presentations when everyone isn’t available at the same time.
- Wikis: Tools that organize online discussion threads like Slack make it possible to move complex discussions out of email inboxes.
- Issue Management: Cloud-based issue tracking systems make it easy to log problems, assign individuals, and track progress.
- Task Management: Cloud-based project management tools such as TeamGantt and Trello make it easy to share plans, clarify responsibilities, and collect information about progress.
Many of these tools didn’t exist ten years ago — and even the ones that did were tough to install and use. Most importantly, people didn’t have the skills or habits to embrace them. That has changed dramatically, especially because more of the workforce is made up of digital natives who expect these tools to be in wide use.
Unfortunately, many organizations still haven’t embraced these tools or techniques completely. Either the technology isn’t available, or the team isn’t using the tool fully. It takes training and leadership to get a team effectively using these tools. For example, instant messaging doesn’t work if everyone doesn’t sign-in. File sharing sites don’t work if people only keep the latest versions on the laptops. Video calls don’t work if half the team refuses to participate.
In part two of this blog, we outline ways you can overcome the sporadic use of technology tools in order to increase the odds that your virtual project will be a success.
HRchitect has the skills and expertise to assist your company in all of its Human Capital Management (HCM) technology needs. We provide services from strategic planning, technology evaluation and selection, Change Management, Project Management, and implementation services. In addition, HRchitect is a front runner in the process of using team members on-site only when critical and have continued to refine our virtual team tools and approaches for the benefit of our clients. Talk to the experts at HRchitect to ensure a smooth implementation and to help you get the most from your investment.