When a business owner says to me that they are planning to change accounting software, a part of me immediately goes on alert. I have witnessed many projects that ended up in lots of frustration, blame and dissatisfaction on all sides, or even abandoned altogether! The cost to the organisation is high – both in seen costs, such as unanticipated spend on training and consultancy, and unseen costs, such as lower productivity right across the business. Arguably it is the unseen costs that most impact on the profitability of the business, as the business owner and their team’s time and energy is drained as they get stuck continuously reacting to the unforeseen challenges that arise during the changeover project.
So, in these situations I find myself moved to ask the business owner what is the purpose of the change, what are they wanting to bring about? Often, as we explore the process necessary to successfully bring about what they want, the project seems to get a whole lot bigger. We’re gonna need a bigger boat! Of course, the project has not actually got bigger, it is just that the awareness of what is involved to accomplish the project goals has got bigger. This awareness is gold. It paves the way for the proactive planning necessary to foresee and address challenges that otherwise would have become unforeseen problems. It cuts off at the pass the risk of proceeding down the road that leads to frustration, blame and dissatisfaction. So, by pausing and planning, the business owner can now take the plunge on the changeover project with confidence, as they now have peace of mind and clarity about what is being undertaken and how it is going to be done.
Understanding the unique challenges and opportunities of software changeover projects
When it comes to planning, it is important to understand that changing accounting software calls on us to examine our business processes and often re-engineer many of them, whether we like it or not! The fact that all accounting software packages are configured differently, necessitates undergoing a mapping process from the old to the new. This mapping process inevitably throws up challenges (and opportunities of course!). It can show us that we need to change some of our protocols and procedures, to fit with the way the new software operates. It can expose that some of our current processes and policies result in inaccurate or incomplete information being produced or that we are not compliant with certain Revenue or other compliance obligations.
It is important to note at this point, a key challenge of re-engineering processes is that each change being made is likely to have multiple knock-on effects, on multiple business areas. For example, a change in how revenue is recognised or a change in product code structure can impact on the accounts, sales, marketing and operations departments. As the examining process unfolds, we begin to see how integrated all our business processes are. As we identify the business processes that could do with improving, we are faced with the choice of what to re-engineer and what to leave as is.
To re-engineer or not to re-engineer, that is the question
Accounting software changeover projects, offer us the opportunity to re-engineer how we do things on a fundamental level. We can address every shortcoming, in our existing way of doing things, that we have uncovered through our examination process. The world really is our oyster here! By working through the likely return of investment for each re-engineered process, a picture emerges of what is best to do, defer, delegate and drop. In changeover projects, there is a real risk that as the project unfolds, it results in an overwhelming workload for the team. By planning for it with this awareness, we mitigate the risk of unforeseen disruptions and unforeseen training costs.
Getting down to it – balanced project planning
Where do we start? Start by getting clarity on what tasks each team member does, when they are carrying out their role and ask them which tasks cause them the most frustration. In my experience, people are generally content doing tasks that they believe are necessary (i.e. they have a meaningful impact on the functioning of the business). Frustration tends to arise, when people believe that the task they are doing is not valuable. Same when it comes to the time it takes to do tasks. People are generally content spending 2 hours on a task that they believe needs to take 2 hours, but experience frustration at a task that takes 20 minutes, when they believe it only needs to take 10.
Gaining this clarity and asking these questions can uncover a lot of powerful information and awareness. Sometimes a team member experiencing frustration is simply not aware of the value of the task that they are doing or the sound reasoning behind the way it is configured. Other times, a team member experiencing frustration becomes an invaluable agent of change through accurately identifying process inefficiencies and dysfunctions. As the cause of process driven frustrations are addressed, significant increases in job satisfaction and significant increases in efficiency tend to follow.
A successful changeover project is more about people management than process management
Having worked with hundreds of SME business owners and hundreds more team members, I’ve come to understand that nearly everyone loves when things flow smoother and they have a pathway to address any blocks (frustrations), that they experience to this flow. We all share a need for consistency, stability, balance and autonomy in our workplace. Of course, not everyone is an accountant (alas!) or an engineer. Salespeople, accountants, business owners, engineers all have different ways of seeing the world and often speak in different “languages”. This diversity can be capitalised on through recognising that each of us brings with us a piece of the overall picture, through our perception. By harnessing this collective perception, we generate clarity of what we are trying to achieve and the role that each of us plays. This can lead to all the different project players (the business owner, the sales, accounting, marketing and operations teams, the software migration team) working collaboratively and in concert to achieve the project goals.
When talking to the team about the frustrations they experience when carrying out their role, and discussing proposed re-engineered processes, we need to be able to be listen. We need to be able to relate to each person, so that we can really understand the impact that each process has on each team member’s role. This calls on us to be able to communicate with people who have different perspectives and personalities. When successfully done, what arises is project buy-in. This buy-in tends to be lasting and resilient because it comes about organically from within, through having been listened to, heard and valued in the project process.
A word of warning for those managing the project!
When leading changeover projects do not expect your re-engineered processes to be liked! Not initially anyway. We all share a resistance to change, so it is understandable that people resist implementing a new process, procedure, checklist etc. But what I have found is that what is first resisted (and sometimes really disliked!) comes to be not only accepted but relied on. Re-engineered processes that are properly planned and collaboratively developed with buy-in, become invaluable tools that are seen as a support in carrying out one’s role, rather than a dictate that one “has to do”.
The bottom line
Changing accounts package offers us the opportunity to implement significant improvements in how our business functions, particularly the finance function. It also poses the risk of relentless consumption of resources with its by-products of frustration and dissatisfaction. Planning the project with awareness of the key dynamics of a changeover project, can help avoid this common pitfall. As unglamorous as it might sound, the preparation and execution of a well conceived, plan, can free up a significant amount of time, energy and financial resources that help the business perform. And sure isn’t that the whole point?
If you wish to have a conversation about your upcoming (or underway) project, please call Richard today on 01-2304260
Richard is a first class honours graduate of Trinity College Dublin and an award winning entrepreneur having been previously presented with the Howard Kilroy (Smurfit) Business Award and the Trinity College Entrepreneur Award.
Richard has always been enthusiastic about enterprise, passionate about entrepreneurship, curious about finance, nuts about numbers and hell bent on helping others get what they want from their businesses. He believes that it is this financial knowledge combined with his entrepreneurial flair, that has made EasyDoesIt what it is today. His expertise is focused on systemising finance functions for SME business owners.