Implementation and testing go remote post-pandemic: Managing the software architects of the future

Many businesses have pressed ahead with digital transformation initiatives despite mass disruption throughout 2020 and beyond, using the pandemic as a prime opportunity to digitise and replace legacy systems. But as we move out of the pandemic, to implement these new systems consultants and software architects will have contend not only with the ongoing disruption, but with large-scale remote working to manage the initial design briefings, through to deployment and testing. Here’s how to ensure best practice is followed from start to finish to achieve remote implementation success.

The enforced move from on-site software implementation to a largely untested remote model has marked a major shift for consultants within software vendors, in-house system architects and end-users alike. Yet with remote working set to remain widespread post-pandemic, this also represents an opportunity to establish new best practice approaches.

Here’s how organisations can ensure smooth software implementation in today’s remote environment:

Overcome the lack of facetime with regular communication

Clear communication and decision-making during the opening project stage has never been as vital as in the remote era, with teams and employees scattered and restricted to limited face-to-face interaction. As a result, discovery sessions should place emphasis on asking more questions and ensuring all stakeholders understand the consequences of any project decisions. This detailed preparation will help both parties establish a mutual understanding of the organisation, its operations and software requirements, setting a strong project foundation.

While these initial discovery sessions have retained the same purpose, consultants and stakeholders should look to identify project activities capable of being completed offline to a separate timescale. Following best practice and keeping all parties aligned with any decisions made before system design establishes an efficient way of working from the outset, even when working to accommodate disparate stakeholders spread across various geographies.

Remote working does also bring specific benefits to projects, such as being able to bring experts into more focused sessions on a flexible basis – something that is often difficult to achieve on-site due to time and scheduling differences. Planning remote sessions can significantly improve alignment between teams and allow for regular, more effective collaboration.

Make remote working a help, not a hindrance

Initial system design sessions were typically conducted in person through face-to-face meetings and workshops, providing a golden opportunity to map out internal processes, discuss new software expectations and record details vital for configuring a site for review. This must now be completed through remote video calls, where emphasis must be placed on detail. Because this stage often sets the tempo of the full project, the more information an organisation can prepare and share in advance, the more accurate the configuration and the quicker the implementation.

For example, a recent remote software implementation for a multinational medical device company successfully reduced the project timeline by four weeks, solely due to extensive initial customer preparation and careful internal alignment during the requirements-gathering stage. This eliminated any risk of requests for configuration reworks and updates after the first demonstration.

An excuse to finally ditch the pen and paper?

There are recurring challenges posed by remote operations even once these initial stages have been overcome. Organisations and technology consultants in various industries still make extensive use of paper and printouts, for example. This is often the best way to work when our clients are reviewing, say, large volumes of artwork as a group to identify commonality and differences. This is difficult to achieve on a single screen, and the shift to remote operations poses a management challenge.

Going forward, businesses would be well-advised to deploy new collaborative and communicative tools in the long-term that will enable users to achieve the same level of remote collaboration as if they were co-located.

Bring industry expertise to the table

Documentation and requirements alone do not provide an easy to visualise example of how a new system will ultimately look – the first test of note will be during initial demonstration. This is where key stakeholders have an opportunity to view their specific software configuration for the first time, and compare to original decisions and requirements.

At this stage, consultants are well-placed to provide perspectives on how other organisations have effectively managed similar processes and advise which approach may work best in this instance. Failure to challenge current ways of working and replicate this in a new system may not deliver the anticipated business benefits.

Keep the project focused and on track

Knowledge sharing is very much a two-way street, and it is important to keep an open mind when stakeholders are reviewing a new system proposal during the initial project stages – this can constrain thinking and discussion around requirements. Solution ‘show and tell’ is typically carried out on a generic demo site, which may feature specifics that will not actually be included in an organisation’s requested configuration. It’s easy to get the focus taken away from the concept being demonstrated and for this to subsequently influence the decisions made.

A prime example – after we had shown an example phrase library structure to a customer to illustrate the concept, the customer replicated this example structure almost identically. This required changing once a broader audience reviewed the configuration in a follow-up demonstration as it didn’t meet their needs – an avoidable scenario which ultimately extended the project length.

Is this the new normal? Prepare for ‘remote by default’ regardless

There’s been significant speculation and varied opinions over what the ‘new normal’ for businesses will look like, yet this period of remote software implementation is a prime opportunity to learn from potential pitfalls and establish long-lasting best practice.

Benefits will persist, such as reducing and replacing in-person meetings with smaller preparation activity sessions to ensure face-to-face sessions are more focused. Organisations can use these lessons and new ways of doing business to ensure they squeeze full value from their time and resources. Increased collaboration and associated efficiencies will ensure systems are designed correctly with a timely go-live date, benefiting the customer and end-user.

Dave Cash is Head of Consulting at Kallik, providers of end-to-end label and artwork management software for highly-regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and chemicals.