Launching a new planning and reporting solution
IT project best practices for Finance
Interview – Amandine, Senior Finance Controller
After over 10 years in business controlling, Amandine implemented a Performance management solution dedicated to staff in Controlling and Operations. She shares with us her experience as project manager through describing the key roles of project communication, meaningful training and tool adoption by the end users. Three factors that guarantee the success of a transformation project.
Your project consisted of integrating a new management tool addressed to operational staff. As a project manager, one hopes for the smoothest user ownership possible. How did you do ?
» A change in tool and process means a change in culture. Preparing everyone for this change is essential. As is anticipating it. It is imperative that the main stakeholders approve the key principles of the application from the start. Support from senior management can help overcome reluctance and blockages. I was able to observe this in the framework of a new validation flow process.
There was a misunderstanding about the need for this development. We then reminded users of its objective through an instructive approach. You do not change tools to change tools. The change fits into a context and serves a purpose. In order to initiate a change in culture, one can start to modify the processes or request new analyses upstream. In that respect, the transformation process is already underway.
How did you measure the maturity of the teams vis-à-vis the project ?
A study of the existing systems and processes carried out a few years ago served as a starting point for reflection. Before we even started the project, we interviewed the teams again to see if they were ready to initiate this change. We did not want to impose a new tool and process only to face an outcry. So we took the time to get to know the future users and their expectations before launching the project.
If users are to take ownership of the tool, they must be convinced of its merits. How did you achieve this ?
We included the end-user teams from the very start of the project and communicated with them in a clear and transparent manner. We explained to them that the aim of the project was to meet their specific needs identified in the interviews whilst reminding them of the sources of frustration inherent in the existing tool: loss of data, waste of time, lack of efficiency…
User’s adoption comes partly through the ability to envisage post-project scenarios. How did you manage this ?
We detailed the practical benefits by relying on key users to build a scenario or describe a daily situation. Developing before / after examples speaks volumes. The evolution of the tool is also an important element. We were very clear that the tool would be neither perfect nor complete at the outset, and that the users would make it better. Explaining this iterative approach avoids flat rejection. We prioritized user’s feedback and suggestions with key users. The users felt reassured by the possibility given to them to participate on a practical level in the long term.
Another key component of ownership : understanding. How did you perceive the level of understanding of the users ?
Indeed, adoption requires that the teams fully integrate the objectives and issues around the project. Their feedback in the satisfaction surveys was a considerable help in measuring their degree of understanding. By asking respondents to identify themselves, we can talk directly with the user in the event of a misunderstanding or rely on them to defuse the risk of rejection.
In the event of a clear-cut opinion, isolating the issue at stake also avoids confusion on the tool as a whole.
To take ownership of the tool and envisage its utilisation, users need to test it. When and how did this first contact take place ?
We chose to provide on-site training just before each launch. This is one of the main conditions for the success of a project. Also, it is advisable to be patient during the period necessary to raise the level of competence. Ownership is fostered by a certain flexibility in the processes, which makes it possible to adapt to the individual. If possible, relevant and not time-consuming, previous ways of doing things can even be preserved.
Some users can participate to several IT projects at once. How do you manage this?
Several projects relating to IT tools and concerning the same users can lead to confusion between what works well and what does not work so well in each of the tools. A good practice to avoid confusion is to communicate on all projects together and also on each project individually during common key steps. Identifying a sponsor who oversees all projects on the business side, with an alter ego on the IT side, and defining common objectives, can be a solution. This helps to ensure that projects make progress at the same time and in a relevant way. We could also have a project manager by business process rather than by “application tool”.
At what point can you confirm that ownership of the tool is complete ?
After launching the last module of the application, I started to receive less and less questions from the users. From the second budget process onwards, the teams were autonomous, without the need for assistance or additional explanations, a sign that the application was correctly used. However, ownership and buy-in are sustained over time. Going further with the tool, learning about advanced features, and developing it as business requires helps to maintain adherence to the tool. »