All software companies make promises: better tracking of job costs, reduction in staff, increase in net profits, and streamlining of your system processes. (Click here for my last post about what to consider when switching software.)

We’ve all heard the claims, but before writing that check for new software, there are some serious questions that need to be answered. Will your company be committed to the implementation or treat this as just another fleeting idea from the executive team? The truth is that the entire company--especially the implementation team--must be committed to a successful installation before you begin. Here are five steps that will help your company select the right software:

--Review your plan and option selections. Do you carry plans in your lineup that don’t sell? Do you have options that are sold less than 10 times a year? Be honest. Maybe the first task for your company is to consolidate what you’re selling before your team loads a bunch of options and plans you don’t need to carry. Having these plans and options loaded into a new system requires maintenance. That means, your purchasing and estimating team must maintain current pricing from your vendors for products that you will never sell. Make sure your data is concise and well-formed before you begin the implementation.

--Select your team. One of the first critical decisions when beginning down the path to a major change is to form the team that will lead the charge. Ideally, this team reviews the alternatives and makes the final decision which product to buy. A disciplined and organized implementation team can lead the company to victory in the shortest time with the least amount of pain. An unorganized team takes too long and causes starts to be pushed back and closing dates to be missed, risking future sales and closing goals. Some companies have to reboot after a failed implementation and start again the following year. Is your company prepared to begin an implementation twice? To be successful you need to commit your company to getting past all the hard work to achieve the reward.

In my experience, a well-formed implementation team has several departments represented in its ranks. The accounting department needs someone on the team who understands how your financial data is formatted. The construction group needs to have someone involved who knows how your homes are built. Do you have someone who best understands your construction schedule? How many schedule templates do you need? A third team member should be someone who represents sales. What are your required options for each community? Do you have a standard sales contract or do you allow realtors to use their own agreement? A fourth member should be someone from your purchasing and estimating department. Do you use work orders or do you have detailed material bids from your vendors? Do you use a combination of work order and purchase orders, based on the vendor trade? The final team member needs to be your systems expert. Your systems expert can transfer data between multiple formats and understands where to get information to answer the inevitable questions that come up when assembling the data. This person needs to be a part of the implementation team to coordinate the review of critical processes that you follow to sell, build, and deliver homes. If your company doesn’t have a systems expert then this role is handled by the software company but the installation price goes up accordingly.

While deciding who will be asked to join the team from each department, keep in mind the team shouldn’t be made up of only senior staff. Ask your teams who is the go-to-person in your department? Who is your fixer? That is the person for the implementation team. When asked if they want to be a part of the team, be afraid of the quick, “Yes! That sounds exciting.” This is not a time to pick the person with the most time on their hands. And, this isn’t a popularity contest. A better question is who’s the best person for the team?

--Choose a leader. Once you form the team, the next step is to elect a leader. The leader is responsible for disseminating information to the company leadership and keeping everyone on task. The leader has to keep the group focused and jump in when someone can’t finish their tasks. The leader is responsible for making a decision and building consensus when the process is halted by conflicting opinions. The eventual success or failure of the process rests with the leader. A good leader knows when to push and when someone needs an extra day to get their data ready.

--Begin the implementation process. Set weekly status calls leading up to the installation and delivery of the system. The implementation project must be the highest level priority for the entire company-- not just the team. Set the expectation up front that everyone in the company will need to be flexible and be expected to lend a hand if the team falls behind. Only with full cooperation from everyone can you expect to cross the finish line.

--Get out of the way. The key for the executive team during the implementation is easy: Stay out of their way. There will be hurt feelings and bruised egos along the way but the overall goals should be evident and well-published. One of the common traits of companies that fail during an implementation is that they didn’t embrace all the components of the software. They decided to hold off on using the sales module or decided to not fully utilize the automated scheduling. Keep in mind that all of the systems are designed with the assumption that all the components will be utilized. Not using the schedule system means that automated invoicing and vendor payments may not be processed timely or accurately. Not using the sales system means contracts will need to be hand-written or the system may not warn a sales person that you can’t sell an 8x8 covered porch on a house that is already permitted. Only by implementing all of the components in the software can you expect to take full advantage of the promised benefits to your company. And, be creating and assembling the right implementation team you can expect to complete the installation on-time and within budget.