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Introduction

For some, the phrase, Modern Systems Analysis and Design conjures images

of fluorescently-lit cubicles filled with hard-working, albeit pale, programmers writing line

after line of complex code and speaking in technical jargon no one can possibly

comprehend. Just the thought of planning an elaborate conversion from a well-known

software system to a new or upgraded information system strikes fear and anxiety in the

hearts of organizations world-wide. There is a good amount of rationally-based

reasoning behind this fear; systems design and implementation projects are among the

most tedious, complex, and expensive ventures a company can undertake. The

planning for the project alone is monumental, not to mention the work hours and

expenditures consumed by training, implementation, and subsequent maintenance of

the system. While most systems projects are deemed failures by industry standards,

successfully meeting the constraints of scope, time, budget, and realistic deliverables is

a great start. Assigning tasks to the most capable experts, i.e. choosing the most

amazing project manager available, is also another best practice. More

recommendations follow in this report, but the reader should keep in mind, total

commitment from all key players, from members of executive management to support

staff and end users, is a necessity.

Background

While some would argue all projects in the corporate setting are complex in

nature, none are as tedious, time consuming, and expensive as those related to

information systems. The adoption of a new information system requires significant

changes in business processes that can affect the entire organization, not just a few

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departments. There are seemingly countless variables to control and plan for with a

new system, many of which cannot be estimated or pre-determined. This is really what

makes information system projects so incredibly hard to nail down. No matter how

much planning, analysis, modeling, and testing, this kind of project is filled with risk and

complexity. Also, if this new system must partially integrate with existing systems, that

opens a whole new set of potential problems. Now, the project team must implement a

new model while striving to maintain the integrity of the existing systems and ensure a

working interface is possible.


Open communication and transparency is required from numerous sources when

designing and implementing a new system. Management must communicate with the

project manager, the project manager must have open lines of communication with

every member of the project team, and the team must be in contact with end-users and

other key stakeholders. One small break in this chain can lead to confusion on the part

of many. The jargon used in information systems analysis and implementation is

specialized and heightened which can make it difficult for executives and other staff to

fully comprehend. The project manager must have the necessary translation skills to

help end users discern meaning and then facilitate communication of needs back in an

understandable format.
The time and resources involved in the systems design life cycle is tremendous.

The initiation of the project includes surveying stakeholders and end users as to their

needs and expectations. A project team must be created consisting of positive, hard-

working problem-solvers who are willing to accept the challenge of working with a

diverse group, strict schedules, looming deadlines, and inevitable conflict. Then theres

the planning period itself. The scope of the project must be agreed upon as well as

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resources needed, who will train end-users, who will test prototypes, and how to ensure

the project remains within budget guidelines. Cost estimates are exactly what their

name impliesestimates. No matter how much planning and preparation, theres no

assurance costs will remain low given the complexity of implementing the new system

and then maintaining it after roll-out.


Another factor that contributes to the daunting nature of systems projects is

realism, or maybe lack thereof. Many times, the new system is touted as being the

grand rescuer of all things manual and the problem-solver for the organizations

cumbersome work flows and antiquated methods. Staff sets their expectations so

incredibly high that when the system fails to meet each of their needs, they become

disgruntled. One system cannot possibly meet every individual desire, and

management must communicate what the systems capabilities are in a very

straightforward manner.
Such a large amount of commitment and detailed work is required of so many

key players in the business. Members of top management, the project manager, the

project team, departmental staff, end users, trainers, software developers, and IT staff

are a few. A systems project will consume the time and energy of these people on a

consistent basis for months; keeping in mind they are charged with running the day-to-

day business practices of the organization as well. This process is exhausting to say

the very least.


Another reason systems implementation is so complex is the human element.

Training and assimilation time varies on the learning curve but a good educator knows

training time takes as long as it takes. Failure to teach end users how to properly

navigate the system can lead to project failure no matter how well the team adhered to

budget, controlled quality, or managed time constraints. The end user can wreck even

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the best-laid plans, and only extensive and consistent training can alleviate this threat.

Students learn at different paces, they are motivated by different things, and they

comprehend via different educational methodologies. Attitudes can have a huge impact

on project success as well. The project team should consider that some end users may

have been using the current system for numerous years and may have taken on the

role of resident expert. A new system levels the playing field which can make people

anxious and uncomfortable. Any change will create a certain level of stress, especially

for those who avoid it at all costs. These attitudes can quickly infiltrate an organization

and wreak havoc on a new initiative.


Recommendations

1. Secure top management commitment and ongoing support.

Before any systems development methodologies are chosen, top management

must visibly and vocally make a commitment to the project. If executives are not fully

supportive of the plan, employees will know, and that lack of commitment can kill morale

and may cause total project failure. Management personnel should be excellent

communicators and leaders of change. This includes explaining to employees the need

for a new or upgraded system and encouraging innovation and automation where

beneficial. Management sets the tone for the project and should positively reinforce

progress and act as motivators during times of project set-back.

2. Develop a sound business case and organizational need.

The new system should align with the organizations mission statement and

values, and must strictly adhere to the strategic objectives of the company. Conducting

feasibility studies can help to discern actual needs of the end users, clients, and

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stakeholders and whether the proposed system can meet these. Feasibility factors

include several categories like economic, operational, and technical viability. What are

the tangible and intangible benefits derived from the new systems implementation? Are

development, training, and operating costs incurred by the new system worth it? What

about the recurring maintenance costs of the system? There will always be a budgetary

need for software upgrades, continued training, and licensing renewals. Basically,

everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to the realistic deliverables of

the system and the time, effort, and cost to deliver said system. Just because the

system is fast and new, this does not necessarily mean it is capable of meeting the

specific needs of the company. The proposed system should be vetted for its true

benefits not just its sleek features. When buying a new car, the low gas mileage is a

benefit; a heated steering wheel is simply a feature. It may be nice to have on a cold

day, but something this trendy should never be grounds for ultimate selection.

3. Secure end-user buy-in and allow for their voices to be heard.

Limited user involvement throughout the development of the systems project can

really spell disaster. Then end-user is a wealth of knowledge since they understand,

arguably more than anyone, what the system should deliver. Some methodologies in

system development involve the user during the initial stages of planning but then

ignore them until implementation. The specifications they deem imperative can fall by

the wayside and the end-product can become unrecognizable. It only makes good

business sense to include staff in all phases of development since they can provide

feedback as to what the new system should accomplish to make their jobs more

efficient and streamlined. When end users are included in the testing and evaluation

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phases, they can uncover issues with the new system quicker than most. They are true

power users of the system and they know what should be delivered. End users should

have a say as to the design of the system, and should be given an active role within the

development and implementation strategies.

4. Choose an awesome project manager.

A company can establish management and end-user commitment, meet

budgetary guidelines, employ the most innovative systems analysts and IT staff, yet still

end up with a project nightmare. A project team is only as good as the person in

charge, hence, an effective project manager, or PM, is imperative for success. There

are countless factors involved in successfully overseeing system design and

implementation. First, project managers must be effective communicators since they

act as liaisons from executives to staff and vice-versa. They should be able to speak to

upper-level management in terms of strategic corporate initiatives and how this new

system will reach those goals. Then, they should be able to speak technically so they

may translate this business jargon into actual deliverables for the IT and support staff.

They should also be managers in their own right since they will need to act as a

problem-solver, encourager, risk mitigator, and negotiator. PMs will also define and rank

activities for members of the project team while establishing expectations and assigning

resources needed.
PMs should also be able to alleviate conflict within the ranks of their team and

should elicit respect from their peers. They should be motivational in nature, but also

strict when it comes to timelines, budget adherence, and scheduling capacities. While

they may not perform the technical work of the project, they must have a working

knowledge of new system since they are ultimately responsible for identifying risks and

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resolving issues, hopefully before they arise. PMs must also be well-versed in data

analysis and should have good auditing skills to ensure the project is progressing as

planned and know what to do when the critical path is not being followed. The balls a

project manager must juggle are numerous and their job is daunting to say the very

least. If someone with the slightest bit of incompetency or disorganization is placed in

charge, failure is imminent.

5. Plan, plan, plan and then, plan more.


When planning the development of an information system project, over-planning

is not possible. The most important part of planning is to first identify the scope of the

project, list and define project objectives, divide proposed outcomes into manageable

tasks, estimate resources needed, develop a communication plan, develop schedules,

and determine project procedures and standards. As the project progresses, risks are

identified, assessed, and remedied. A baseline project plan is developed and

communicated to everyone, especially management, so no one feels left of out the loop.

The biggest reason planning is such an imperative stage is that this initial blueprint will

serve as a resource tool throughout the life of the current project, and may even be

used as a template for future projects. If the plan is not thorough and accurate, the

quality of work suffers which then creates a decrease in team morale. If false

assumptions are made, bad numbers are included in preliminary budgets, or a lack of

resources is made available, everyone on the project team is responsible for

perpetuating these incorrect practices. The project plan will need to be revised and

tweaked along the way, but the core of the plan must be sound. A well-developed

project workbook containing all project correspondence, procedures, standards, reports,

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and the project charter can help the team stay on-track and can help future teams

developing project plans as well.


6. Gantt charts and network diagrams are super helpful.

While a project manager can use a myriad of methods for communicating the

project plan and implantation strategy to their team, graphical reports like Gantt charts

and network diagrams show a different interpretation of the schedules and objectives at

hand. While the Gantt chart really does not show the importance of one task over

another, it does show when a task should be started and when it should be completed.

These charts also show overlaps in time of some tasks and help the PM identify if it is

possible to perform a task parallel to another. Slack time in a project is easily seen with

this chart too.

Network diagramming is widely-used and is beneficial for showing the difference

in completion times for each task. Also, these diagrams help to illuminate the critical

path, or the shortest time in which the project can be completed. Those tasks that fall

onto the critical path are the ones that directly affect the resources, time, and costs of

the overall project itself. Also, visual representations of the project plan can help the

project team gain a different perspective as to what is needed and when; when

represented in an incrementally-allotted time format, the project deliverables and time

constraints are much more apparent.

7. Watch out for red flags.

Risk is inherent in any project, much less those as complex, expensive, and time

consuming as information system implementation. Monitoring the progress of the

project helps to keep everyone ongoingly involved in the success of the project. If there

are warning signs, these issues no matter how seemingly small, must be attended. The

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smallest delay can lead to major overspending, misallocation of resources, wasting

valuable time of staff and subject matter experts, and can pull the entire project plan off

track. Red flags like variances in the budget, activities that have been completed but

resources continue to be allocated due to lack of communication, and unscheduled

overtime are leaks that must be plugged before they result in a flood. Also, a decline in

team morale can lead to serious issues amongst members. If conflict arises and is not

properly alleviated, work satisfaction and proficiency may come to a grinding halt.

Another sign of critical failure begins with the sacrifice of quality and/or service

standards. Deadlines and schedules are an important component of project success,

but if the adherence to milestones becomes a detriment to quality control, proper

testing, and risk avoidance, the result will be a shoddy and flawed software system. An

ineffectual system, albeit one that is on time and under budget, does not constitute a

win for anyone.

8. Implement incrementally by utilizing prototyping

Employing the use of phased implementation and prototyping is really what most

systems analysts call beta testing. After interviewing and directly observing the

workflows of end-users, rudimentary versions of the information system are built and

tested. Each version is tweaked and honed until the best version exists. Prototyping is

beneficial for several reasons. Each iteration of the information system becomes more

and more meaningful and functional. This is because the end-users are the ones

providing the feedback. They are actively testing the mock designs and helping to

correct anything that may lead to system failure. Each evolutionary model should use

actual customer data to create the most realistic end-user experience, which will, in

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turn, help to uncover missing functionality more quickly. While it is true that end user

opinions and ideas may result in several re-designs, by the time the implementation

takes place, the system is known to them. This saves considerable end-user training

time and in system adoption rates since users are not seeing the end-product for the

first time.

9. The training is everything.


Investing thousands of dollars and staff hours in the development and

implementation of a new information system is wasted if the end user of the system is

not adequately trained. When a user is not privy to all the capabilities the system offers,

they will unwittingly enter information into incorrect fields, circumvent critical processes,

omit necessary inputs due to ignorance, and basically undermine the integrity of the

entire system. Many companies make the grave mistake of improperly planning the

education portion of the new system. This leaves the end users distrustful of

managements decisions, productivity declines, there is a breakdown in efficiency, and

an overall feeling of confusion and dissatisfaction. Employees will quickly become

disenchanted with this expensive new system that promised to make their job duties

easier, but has proven any even worse than the system they used prior to conversion.

Even the most innovative technology is only as valuable as the end-user and their

operational expertise. The quickest way to empower a companys most valuable assets

is to fully support their learning process with proper resource allocation.


10. There is life after implementation.

Maintenance is the last step in the systems development life cycle but it certainly

should not be an afterthought. Some companies allocate time and money toward the

planning and implementation budget for a project but there should also be a substantial

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commitment to an operating budget. Depending on how well the project was planned,

designed, implemented, and trained, the operating budget may not be used for much

more than required system upgrades due to regulation adherence or necessary

licensing when adding end-users. However, if there are design flaws that become

apparent after implementation, they must be remedied quickly to maintain the integrity

of the system. Also, properly trained support staff must be available to troubleshoot the

system and to monitor any problems with the system and its programming. Simply

implementing a project and thinking there is an expiration date associated with systems

development is a misconception. The system will require routine maintenance and its

end-users will benefit from continued education.

Conclusion

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