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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Why clear communication is the key to effective change management

Bringing a new system into your agency can seem a great idea to you. But unless you get everyone on board, you could face some unexpected challenges...

So, you’ve decided your agency needs an overhaul. Some more streamlined systems and more efficient processes. You’ve done your research and found the one. It’s going to change everything for the better. You get it installed, then tell your teams to ditch what’s familiar and start using something new. Something they didn’t even know could be happening until now, when it actually is.

It’s unlikely you’ll be met with the response you’re hoping for. In fact, you’re more likely to get a few blank looks and mumblings about adding more work into already busy schedules, changing things for no reason, not having anything better to do...

That’s because this is a big change for your agency and change needs management.

Really, it all comes down to communication. It’s about raising awareness that a new system is coming and being clear on the reasons why. Explain the business goals and what you’re hoping to achieve. But also, sharing what’s in it for them. How will it improve everybody’s day-to-day? You need buy-in from the whole team, otherwise you’ll have a half-heartedly used system that isn’t delivering the positive change you hoped for.

On the whole, choosing a system, or indeed whether to implement a new one, belongs to senior management and key decision makers. Consulting the whole agency will prove a headache of a task as, despite best intentions, you’ll face so many conflicting ideas and opinions. It’s really as simple as communicating that you’ve found a solution to ‘our current challenges’ and ‘here’s how this new system can resolve that’.

Take this as an opportunity to empower your teams. Give them an understanding of what will improve for them and explain how each department fits into each stage of the process. Gaining an initial buy-in will likely remove any potential friction or resistance further down the line, so you can ensure everyone’s getting the most out of the new system.

How to communicate change with your teams

The best way to do this will vary depending on your company culture. But most agencies aren’t particularly ‘corporate’ and prefer to keep things like this pretty informal. Some do say that pizza and beers go hand-in-hand the most productive sessions... Change can often feel daunting so the way you introduce/implement it really sets the tone for its success. Team day out anybody?!

Another good idea is to appoint ‘champions’ who are closer to those who will be using the system. Creatives might not want to go to an ops director to ask a question, but may feel more comfortable with their account director, for example.

Some agencies put together mini internal marketing campaigns with ‘coming soon’ materials to create a buzz that a new system is on the horizon. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just make sure everyone knows it’s happening. The absolute worst thing you can do is send people to a training session where they don’t know what the system is or why they’re doing the training. You’ll just end up with unhappy people and confused trainers.

Being open really is the key. Making everyone feel part of the decision and part of the process, not that you’re trying to sneak something in around the back.

Planning the change

Once you’ve laid the foundations for change, you need to create a realistic plan to bring all these changes to fruition. This really boils down to deliverables and deadlines, who’s involved and who’s accountable.

Share this information with everyone so they have access to a timeline that details where they fit in and when. Keep on reiterating why you’re doing this. It can seem repetitive, but it’s so important and will soon become second nature. Remember to keep homing in on the benefits it brings to each job role, what positive impacts they can expect to see and how it will help improve their working lives.

Having a communication channel that offers an open space to ask questions specific to this process or change is also something worth having. And when it’s time for implementation and roll out, you can use this platform for updates about training days, workshops or general knowledge sharing.

After rollout, the next step is adoption, and this is a really important phase. Just because the implementation phase is done, it doesn’t mean it’s over! Now it’s down to champions and senior managers to keep motivation high so people don’t run back to their old ways of working. Carry out weekly catch ups; see if people are having any challenges. Nine times out of ten these are a quick fix. But you need to actively ask about this, as it’s unlikely people will come to you.

Keep reviewing and analysing, so you can see what you’ve achieved, how successful things are, what KPIs you’ve met and what you still need to do, so you can tweak your system and processes accordingly. Share your findings and celebrate the wins. Don’t switch off communication now your system is switched on.