What to Know When You’re Implementing a New Tech System

Tech implementations are tricky – CRM, donor database, you name it! Whether it’s your first implementation or your fifth, here’s what you should know.

When it comes to implementing ANY new system, seamless-ness is next to godliness .

Sure, getting the system up & running is important too! But if no one complains on launch day, that’s how you know you knocked it out of the park. Smooth implementations are the dreammm.

They just take tons of work & planning.

So brace yourself. Speaking from personal experience (both the good & the bad!), here’s everything you need to know in order to implement that shiny, new system.

When I’m not implementing systems for my org, you can find me struggling to paddle somewhere.

11 Things To Know When Implementing a New Tech System

1. You won’t anticipate every roadblock. But still try.

Some stuff you just won’t see coming – like that feature that should work one way, but actually works differently. Product demos simply can’t uncover all the nuances of a system…meaning that some surprises are inevitable.

But there’s a difference between uncovering an issue early and letting it catch you off guard! Start reviewing your implementation plan and scouring any available documentation online. That will help you begin to anticipate some of the pain points.

2. The tech challenges will sound ridiculous to your boss. Explain them anyway.

Credit: Giphy. Also, my work spirit animal.

Isn’t it fun when the biggest challenges are the things that sound super simple? Even better when you have to explain that simple-sounding concept to your demanding boss.

*sighs*

It may be stressful to relay technical challenges to your team. But as I’ve learned, our orgs don’t always understand this work. And we need to do our best to explain (in plain-ish language!) what these setbacks mean for our progress.

3. The rumors are true. Your leaders need to back you up on this.

Credit: Giphy

This might sound really obvious on its face. Yet you’d be surprised how many implementations are lacking in true executive buy-in.

So let’s clarify, gang! Buy-in isn’t just about getting your directors to okay the project.

It’s about sustaining their involvement through each phase of the implementation. It’s your C-Suite’s commitment to seeing the project through and providing sufficient resources along the way. And it’s about having them spearhead the cultural elements of adoption that are way above our paygrade, so that teams actually embrace this new tool.

4. Everything’s fine! But you may still feel overwhelmed.

Credit: Giphy. Also, my work inspiration.

Change is hard. Organizational change is no different. Even when it’s welcome, there are bumps on the highway to tech implementation bliss. And it’s natural to feel some pressure when you’re in the driver’s seat!

But when you’re organized, things tend to magically work out. Which brings us to the next item.

5. You need to organize your tasks, even if you don’t normally.

Credit: Giphy. But also me anytime someone has a “quick question” about the system.

I’m totally guilty of hap-hazardly (half-hazardly?) managing my day-to-day tasks, especially when I’m feeling swamped.

But implementations are a different beast. If you don’t organize, it will be to your own mental peril!

Get a system for organizing your tasks, so that you can stay focused and on top of deadlines. I like to use Asana these days, but even a careful spreadsheet can do the job!

p.s. If you’re responsible for migrating data, map that process out too. Here are some tips to help.

6. You’re better off documenting as you go. Not afterwards.

Credit: Giphy. And probably what you’re doing right now at reading this item.

Look. We all know we should be documenting our work. With how chaotic implementations get, it’s easy to “decide” that we’ll get to this once the dust settles.

But if you put this off, you are unlikely to ever get to it.Truth hurts, gang.

That’s because good documentation is flipping time-consuming! And those nitty gritty details you need aren’t going to be top of mind once the chaos passes. It’ll be more work trying to gather everything after-the-fact, then it is to spend 15 minutes documenting your configurations each day.

p.s. Figuring out what to document can be overwhelming and a pain. So I created a checklist of all the things you’ll want to include. You can grab it here.

7. Give yourself ample leeway for your target launch date.

Credit: Giphy

Want to really drive yourself mad during this implementation? Set a launch date close to the last, possible day you can afford to not be on the new system.

Kidding! Please never, ever do this.

It doesn’t matter how quickly you think you can get set up. Give yourself the grace of a few extra weeks of buffer time. That way you don’t need to lose sleep if someone calls out for a few days, a tech feature breaks , or one of your stakeholders sits too long on a decision.

Which reminds me….

8. You’re going to have to chase after people.

Credit: Giphy. And my “Hey, still waiting for that thing you owe me, thankssss” face.

I used to lean towards the shy, sorry-to-bother-you end of the spectrum. Needless to say, working in nonprofit tech has cured me!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it always. People are the key to success in my line of work. And sometimes, they are also my biggest challenge.

Whether it’s your ED, colleagues, the account manager who sold you the platform, or the consultant setting it up….there are a lot of stakeholders at play here. And not all of them will appreciate the urgency of a concrete deadline.

9. You can’t leave user training for the last minute.

Credit: Giphy. If you’re not thinking about user training, you’re doing it wrong.

When the technical aspects of a launch demand so much focus, training can fall to the wayside.

And yes, it may be one of the last things we do during an implementation. But it shouldn’t be the last thing we consider.

An implementation is only as successful as the staff who adopt it. So you need to have a plan for a comprehensive and impactful rollout. That includes actual training sessions and user documentation!

10. Get yourself a launch-day barometer for success.

People aren’t going to clap and cheer when your new system goes live (unless your org is that kind of place). And that’s fine: we don’t need that kind of validation!

But we do need some way to gauge our effectiveness on D day. Figure out what that looks like – whether it’s measuring the system’s usage upon launch, or even the number of day-of incidents.

11. You need to acknowledge your success once it’s over.

Back when I worked in devo ops, I was fascinated by the recognition development managers received for their work. Donors loved to schmooze them, and they were greeted with cheers whenever they brought in big gifts! It was a big reason why I decided to try being external-facing for a period.

In my experience, system implementations are rarely met with that kind of enthusiasm.

But unless you’re doing this every day, implementing a system is a HUGE milestone for both yourself & your org. Acting on end-user requirements, corralling a bunch of people and resources together, and producing a way of working that moves your mission forward?

Update the resume, grab a pastry and do your happy dance.

What are your implementation tips & tricks?

Share your thoughts!