3 Keys to a Successful Design Session

I met up with a long-time client, Dave, recently at an industry conference who was telling me about a kitchen renovation his family did. His wife led the charge and was (in his words) “extremely opinionated” when it came to the design. He described how she wanted to change the layout, add upper cabinets and get that all-important pantry she dreamed about. We laughed as she went out-of-budget “almost instantly” and had to have several do-we-actually-need-this-$12/foot-backsplash conversations. But, as he said, her vision was always there, and the final product was a much-needed upgrade.

The conversation reminded me of when I first met Dave. His company’s senior management requested to change from HFM to another system. Like a kitchen upgrade, our team not only documented the pros and cons of each option but more importantly, we worked with Dave to ensure that the application actually did what his company needed it to do. Granted, an application upgrade isn’t as exciting as a kitchen remodel, but for organizations, enterprise performance management solutions are vital to growth.

I’ve been a consultant for a long time, and I’ve seen organizations fall into the same trap time and again when it comes to choosing a new technology: they attempt to squish their needs into a solution that isn’t built for those needs. It’s like squishing an oven into a spot only to realize you can’t open the oven door! When you rush, mistakes happen. And whether it’s being an attempt to finish the project by a certain deadline or something else, when companies rush the design process, the results leave organizations lacking.

How can your organization avoid this trap? By making design sessions as an integral part of your software selection process. Here are three keys to a successful design session.

1. Ensure you are solving your company’s actual problem.

If you skip this step, you’re doing it wrong.

I cannot stress how essential it is that you ensure that your company can fit what it needs into the application you select. To keep your team honest, ask some of the following questions:

  • What is the output (typically reports) that you need to make educated decisions?
  • How many custom dimensions will you require?
  • What are the hierarchy relationships do you need?
  • Which users are your end customer?
  • How do you want data out of your system?
  • Are there extraneous data out there you will never use?

Document your must-haves so you can start dwindling down which software solutions would be a viable solution for your organization. This will help you find the best solution to solve your problem.

2. HEar All Your Players.

At the end of the day, a new application is supposed to make your employees’ lives easier. What does each team need to be successful? What does senior leadership need?

Include all vest users in the design session so they can talk about their pain points and what they would like from the system. One issue for one user may be an issue for another ten! The goal is to capture everyone’s ideas and then build a framework to satisfy requirements.

Listening to your team will also help you explain what’s in it for them. You can tell them why this application was selected and what it can do to help them be successful at work. For example, including calculations in the application may eliminate the need for multiple locations performing the same (or different) calculations throughout the company. Thus, it helps employees get to one version of the truth. By understanding performance implications from each decision, employees will be more bought into the process.

Lastly, your company’s goal is to develop a system that will grow with the company. Create a vision for the future and build-in placeholders for potential improvements in different phases of the implementation. Teams who know when improvements are coming and what they can expect as different phases roll out will be more bought in from the start.

3. Document your plan.

It’s extremely easy to go out-of-scope. As you begin to build out the project, create a design document that gets signed-off by both parties. This ensures no confusion from the company or the consultants. Don’t be afraid to use phases to fit what the project requirements are. Your company may want ten things, so create a framework of Phase 1, Phase 2, etc. This is more cost-efficient for your company and it allows you to ensure all your stakeholders are on board.

I tell the customer I can build anything for the right cost. After the design session, I will sit with the client and plan out what can be down under the current SOW, can be done in a future phase and what cannot be done. This allows us to listen to the client, build to the SOW and have a framework for future enhancements.

 

Think about the last time you’ve made a huge investment in something. Maybe, like Dave’s wife, you remodeled your kitchen. Maybe you had to decide between shaker and flat cabinets. Maybe you had to ask a Shakespearian question: to put in an island or not to put in an island? Maybe you couldn’t come to a consensus on the flooring.

In a world where there are a plethora of options, it’s hard to know what to choose and what you don’t need. For companies selecting a software application, you must find the right fit. Take the time and fully engaged in the design process – your company’s future success depends on it.

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