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How to project manage a successful tech deployment

17th Oct 2022
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Change might be a constant but that doesn't make it easy—especially when implementing new technology. Here we cover the challenges accounting firms face with tech deployments and digital transformation, and share top tips on how to overcome them.

The pace of change in business and technology has never been this fast. It is not slowing down either. Accounting firms understand this better than most. Whether it’s the rise of cloud-based software, legislation like MTD, ESG or cryptocurrency, accounting firms constantly have to adapt and respond to new trends.

Change might be a constant, but that doesn't make it easy—especially when implementing new technology.

Accountants like what they're used to. They're comfortable with the status quo, the processes, tools, and ways of working they're familiar with. Unfortunately, this means that firms often struggle to onboard new systems—even if doing so will increase productivity and performance.

This is an issue we're all-too-familiar with. If there’s one area we know well, it’s project managing tech deployments. We have a dedicated Customer Success team that are focused on supporting our customers as they deploy Silverfin. Our focus is ensuring that any deployment is successful in terms of a smooth migration, uptake and delivering value. We speak to customers daily about their implementation projects: their goals, challenges, progress, and what they’ve learned throughout the process.

Our experience has given us a unique insight into how accounting firms can successfully implement tech change. So let's look at the challenges firms face with tech deployments and then we'll share my top tips on overcoming them.

Common hurdles to successful tech deployments (and how to overcome them)

Generally speaking, firms face four major hurdles: time pressure, a hesitant team, a lack of proper planning, and project managers who unintentionally act as their own bottlenecks. Let’s dig into each of these issues in more detail below.

Time pressure: Accountants are always up against the clock. They’re constantly working against a deadline, whether it's having to file a client’s accounts, calculating payroll, or conducting a myriad of other time-sensitive responsibilities.
So when you announce you’re going to roll out a brand new tech system, your team might say they simply don’t have the time to get to grips with the software. This is understandable but it’s missing the point. Project managers need to emphasise the bigger picture. Yes, implementing a new system will undoubtedly require some short-term time investment. However, when it’s successfully up and running, the software will save them time over the long run. They’ll be able to create working papers in just a few clicks rather than a few hours. They can then spend this extra time having meaningful advisory conversations with their clients.

So what can you do about this? Reinforce the project’s main aims and give your team time. It’s important that you allow them to devote time during normal working hours to the new project, rather than expecting they’ll somehow fit it in on top of their already time-pressured day job. Be conscious of the impact this will have on business as usual (BAU) and plan for a potential reduction in billable hours. Most importantly, ensure everyone understands that while your team might have to take a step back in the short term, they’ll be taking two steps forward in the long run.

A hesitant team: Before embarking on a complex tech deployment, project managers must get everyone on board. Remember that tech change is ultimately people change. It doesn’t matter how many innovative features a new system offers if your people don’t know how to use it—or are unwilling to learn.

Take the time to do the upfront work, as this will pay huge dividends further down the line. Invite team members to ask questions or raise concerns. Explain the project’s ultimate goals and sell them on the ‘promised land’ (how much better their day-to-day work will be once the new system is properly up and running). Don’t chastise colleagues who seem determined to object. Instead, understand why they have reservations before reiterating how the system will ultimately benefit them.

Make it clear you’re by their side—it’s a journey that everyone’s going on together. Answer queries, welcome feedback, and collaborate throughout.

Lacking a clear plan: Many teams charge ahead with change projects without a clear plan. They don’t know which processes they want to change or how. They have a vague idea that they need to move with the times, but the details are missing.

These projects are inevitably doomed to fail. Without clear goals, employees will simply revert to their old ways of working as soon as they hit a bump in the road.

Ensure you have a clear plan in place before you begin. Dive into what your team is struggling with, identify specific software that will alleviate these pain points, and determine your success metrics as well as what life will look like afterwards. This will give you a clear picture of what you’re aiming for.

Project managers acting as bottlenecks: Last but not least, make sure you’re not unintentionally acting as your own bottleneck. Project managers often feel like they have to do everything themselves—after all, they’re ultimately in charge of tech deployments. If things don’t go as intended, they’re the ones to blame.

However, by taking on too much responsibility, they can unintentionally hamper your chances of success. Delegate tasks across the team. Don’t think one person has to do everything—provide clear briefs, set deadlines, and trust all of the team to do their job well. As a project manager, their job is to ensure everything runs smoothly. Getting lost in the details might mean they miss the bigger picture.

3 key steps for creating a successful plan for tech change

1. Establish a project team: Getting the team right is critical. You need to have the right representation, which usually encompasses everyone from technical or subject matter experts, to end-users, to executive sponsors. Your team should include a cross-section of anyone who’ll be impacted by the new software. This will ensure you address all stages of the process change, not just what managers believe to be the problem and solution.

Determine accountability from the beginning. Identify who’s responsible for what and when each step needs to be completed. Give your team a sense of ownership over the project. This way, you’ll change the narrative from “we’re forcing this change upon you” to “you’re changing your own ways of working for the better”.

2. Set clear deadlines and goals for pilots and testing: For any project to be successful it not only needs to achieve its defined outcome but it needs to do this on time and on budget - so deadlines are vital. It’s advisable to run a pilot or test the new system within one area or team before a wider deployment. That way you tackle any initial blockers upfront but can also demonstrate the value to other teams in order to get them onside. You should have a defined schedule for roll-out pilots of the new system. It’s best to select your more innovative, forward-thinking clients for this pilot or testing stage. They’ll be more willing to get involved in supporting progression underpinned by tech than your more traditionally minded clients, who may not be comfortable with change.

3. Ramp up: After you’ve rolled out pilots and ironed out any kinks in your processes, you can then ramp up your efforts to include other clients. Determine clear milestones on usage metrics, customer satisfaction, and so on. However, know that these metrics will likely adapt over time depending on how your project progresses.

Bonus tip: work with tech vendors who will support you

We've outlined how you can overcome internal hurdles: time pressure, a hesitant team, having no clear plan, and project managers unintentionally acting as their own bottlenecks. But successful tech deployments take two to tango. That’s why it’s crucial to select the right vendor.

Leading providers, like Silverfin, work closely with their customers throughout the planning and implementation stage. They provide key materials to get teams started, train super users, check in regularly to troubleshoot any implementation problems, and are always available to answer any questions.

In other words, they are allies or partners in your tech deployment and an extended member of your team with useful experience gained from their other customers. A partner that has a vested interest in the success of your project. So pick your vendor carefully to ensure that they will partner with you for success and be right there beside you throughout your project.

To learn more about how Silverfin supports customers speak to a member of the Silverfin team today.