Implementing your new system – who’s onboard?

Choosing the right project management software is important for your agency. But implementing it properly is equally as important. And that’s where onboarding comes in. With the right onboarding consultant, you can make sure your new system is perfectly configured for your agency’s needs, get everybody fully up to speed with how to use it to best effect. Plus, you’ll notice long-lasting benefits such as improved efficiencies and increased profits. Who’s on board?

What is software onboarding?

Essentially, software onboarding means configuring your software to your unique business needs, getting it ready to use and familiarising all your teams with its features and how to use them. Bringing your new system ‘on board’, if you like.

As a new business consultant, I’m often asked by customers: ‘Why can’t I just familiarise myself and my team with the product?’

My answer is simple. Expertise. When a client approaches your agency for a design, copywriting or website project, they’re doing so to tap into the talent you have at your organisation. You wouldn’t expect them to simply download some software and build a high-performance, professional website with zero experience and without the necessary technical and analytical skills. Or design or write a brochure. Professional skills are there for a reason.

Installing your agency management software operates on the same principle. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and you need your software to work as hard as you do. By configuring your new system to meet your exact needs, you get the right results over the long term, whether that’s saving time, improving efficiencies or driving profits.

Think of it as a journey.

You’re not just asking a supplier to stick a system in and then leave you to it. The right software onboarding process seamlessly shifts your agency to the next phase, then the next. It’s not just putting it on the right path to achieve your goals, but supporting you at each stage.

You’ve heard the phrase old habits die hard? Well, they do, and in my experience, a new system is something of a novelty for about six months, then new processes can fall by the wayside and old habits and ways return. Onboarding is a great way of helping your agency avoid these pitfalls, keeping people on track as they understand the value of using the right processes.

And the right software onboarding process can give you a whole host of other benefits:

Time savings. You might have someone in the business who ‘knows about these things’ and it’s tempting to ask them to set everything up. But that’s not their job and it means taking them away from the role they’re supposed to be doing. Agency management software comes with a lot of features and functionality, and trying to get all the ducks in a row can be time consuming. And even if they’ve used a similar system in the past, they won’t automatically understand all the new features.

A dedicated resource. Using onboarding gives you a dedicated person who can devote as much time as you need to configure the software without detracting from day-to-day business. They’ll familiarise themselves with your own internal processes and understand exactly how the software can help with your everyday practices. It’s really about helping you get the absolute maximum added value possible for your agency.

Moving you forward. Onboarding isn’t just about a new system. I described it above as a journey and having this dedicated resource means they understand the system’s best practice and can move you forward. Not just reimplement what you’re already doing but in a new system.

Motivation. Someone from outside your organisation comes in with no bias or internal politics, and they can excite your teams, helping them to really understand how the system can make their working lives easier.

A design process

When you ask one of your designers to produce a piece of work, you don’t just say ‘do this’ and then leave them to it. There’s a process to follow. You give them a brief, background on the client if they’re unfamiliar to them, ask them to produce initial drafts and then offer feedback before they develop the finished product.

And we work in just the same way. Implementing software isn’t about plugging it in and switching it on. It’s a fluid, organic design process. We use a four-step process: Discover, Deliver, Deploy and Develop to bring the best to your business.

Discover

This stage is about uncovering pains and taking into consideration all people involved in using the system. Implementing a new system and processes in an agency needs buy-in from everyone — not just those in management. In this step, the onboarding team will get to know all the departmental challenges and reporting objectives, as well as each team’s own ideas and aspirations. It’s about understanding what makes your agency tick from the inside out. This helps the onboarding team to understand the right way to configure the system and how to deliver the right type of training to engage every single stakeholder.

This is really a ‘listening’ stage, establishing what internal practices are working well, what needs improving and where any opportunities lie.

What a good onboarding consultant should never do is dismiss all your existing processes — there’s a reason your agency has thrived before they entered the scene. Rather, it’s about recognising where improvements, enhancements or new ideas could help.

Deliver

At this stage, your agency gets a first look at the bones of the system, a point at which to snag and scope, customise and tweak. Here, your teams will see how their system will look and operate.

It’s also the first introduction of key operating features to end users, working to a pre-determined set of processes identified during the discover stage. This is where you can really generate buy in, reinforcing the benefits of the system for each user. For example, timesheets are a necessary evil in most agencies, and training on them often received with groans. But instead of implying a Big Brother we’re-watching-you approach, try taking a welfare approach. ‘We want to make sure you’re not doing too much, and if you are this will help us to support you better.’ Training delivered from an external supplier often receives much better buy in than from an internal staff member.

Deploy

This is the advanced stage, when your data’s in the system. Your onboarding expert will look at each department’s goals and how reporting works best for each team.

This period of advanced feature training is intentionally held back until the team are operational on the fundamentals. The onboarding consultant works in a supportive role, ensuring everyone is comfortable ahead of embarking on the more advanced training features.

This is when they will introduce more specific features and make sense of financials and reporting detail. It follows the same bespoke and collaborative training approach as the Define stage and reaffirms knowledge levels from initial delivery.

Develop

This is where we present everything to the managing director or agency leader. In my opinion, this period is as important to the success of a new platform as all the other stages, but is often forgotten by providers. This is the time users get on the motorway in their journey and really understand what their new vehicle can do. It’s a time for developing confidence, when users start to challenge and enhance their capabilities. All too often, senior leaders take on this phase alone, but here is where the support of an onboarding consultant can be vital to future success.

So really, this is the long answer to the earlier question: ‘why can’t I just familiarise myself with the product?’ Whether you’re implementing an entry-level timesheet platform or an advanced end-to-end agency management solution, these systems are only as good as the data they contain. It’s absolutely worth the time and investment to get your people on board and fully engaged with the system right from the start.