In this article, I describe the different stages you can expect to go through in a typical integration project and offer some advice on what you can do to help make yours a successful one.
In my experience, there are 5 distinct phases to an implementation project: putting a team together, defining your objectives, preparation, go-live and project review.
You need to build a project team with representation from all the areas of the organization that are affected by the integration project. In addition to this you’ll need to include your MIS consultant and, where appropriate, representatives from any other parties involved in the integration e.g. your prepress provider.
When selecting your team members, you should look for these three essential qualities:
1. Technical ability - someone who understands the end goal, the project benefits, and how they will be achieved. They don’t have to know every detail, because that’s what their MIS provider will bring to the table, but what the customer team requires is someone who understands the way it will be done.
2. Communication skills - to talk to the individual department managers and communicate when the implementation is going to happen and what the effect on that department will be. It’s essential that every department is involved so that their needs are considered too.
3. Authority and drive – this is, in my mind, the most important of the three. It’s the authority to go in and bang their fist on the table, and the ability to set a deadline date and stick to it. This team member will have a clear handle on the commercials. It needs to be someone who really believes in the system, will make it their priority and push it forward.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone that embodies all three and you should definitely try to do that. In this article about why some printing companies struggle to make technology projects succeed, our MD talks about the importance of having ‘An Executor’ who knows how to make things work and get stuff done. This is who I’m talking about when I suggest trying to find someone who embodies all three of the above. If you can’t do that, you’ll need to make sure your team members have these skills between them.
You will need to nominate one person as project lead in your team, and the executive team must give them the ‘time off’ from existing duties to concentrate on the project. Because if they’re dragged away into business as usual, the project will stagnate. There are a lot of misconceptions that with the integration technologies available today, people think it’s just plug and play but there is a lot of preparation before you can just “switch it on”.
You also need to speak to everyone else in your company, let them know what you’re doing, why, and how it will benefit their department and the company. Explain that there will be some teething troubles but it’s in their interest to make it work, it’s an exciting project for everyone and they will all benefit.
As a team, you need to identify your objectives next. This is why it’s important that you have appropriate representation from a functional perspective in the organization as well as technical ability to know what is achievable.
This might involve the configuration of certain tools, the creation of templates, building workflows, changing customer configuration – it all depends on what it is you’re linking together. I recommend creating a flowchart about how this particular piece of integration will work, what the changes will mean and publishing to the relevant departments so that everyone knows how they’re going to be affected.
Care needs to be taken that changes made to the current workflow do not contaminate the live workflow. If this is unavoidable, ask your technical team if it’s possible to create an isolated test configuration (also known as a sandbox) to test out your integration before it goes live.
When the preparation is complete, you need to be prepared to switch over to operating the new environment. How you do this will depend on the nature of the changes that have taken place but your MIS partner (and other vendors) will be able to advise you on this. You may choose certain areas to go live first before rolling it out completely across everywhere. Do a few test runs, make sure everything is operating as expected, then roll it out.
This next stage, once you’ve rolled it out across the board, is a risky time for the project. After implementation, team members start to return to their normal day job, and it’s imperative that you have put in place a mechanism to capture unwanted behavior. When an integration fails (and it will, no matter how much preparation you’ve done – there will always be a scenario that you didn’t think of) it’s human nature to just fix the problem, make it work and carry on.
It’s vital that you make sure this doesn’t happen – you need to make sure that you catch this failure, log these issues and as a team review why the workflow failed, then address the root cause of the failure. These issues will get fewer and fewer as the workflow matures. This is a common problem that we encounter - the customer deletes or fixes all the data relating to an issue, and we then struggle to replicate the error and identify the problem.
Integration projects are fantastic fun to work on, because there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Yes, you need to plan the project and make sure you get the right team together, but these projects are worth it. Once you’ve ironed out the creases, you get to see tangible benefits to the business and its staff, and those involved feel a real sense of achievement.