I have recently had several conversations with customers about the roll-out strategy of their renewed talent management processes; some of them were moving from an old fashioned paper process to a new digital process, whilst others were just replacing old systems with new ones.

Systems involving Employee Self Service are a specific field of play when it comes to roll-out. The exposure of the system is huge and the risk of not being adopted is enormous. Often the deployment of the new system is supported by a business case based on labor savings and improved information.

Organisational DNA and phases

With this in mind we see completely different approaches when rolling out new systems depending on the client’s DNA. Harvard Business Review has written a great piece about The Secrets to Strategy Execution: The Idea in Practice, where the execution weaknesses of organisations are explained.

Passive-aggressive and over managed organisations tend to go for a phased roll-out based on the population that are using the system.  Often they start with a limited amount of departments which will start using the system. Typically these departments are considered to have a low risk roll-out and are not directly linked to any critical business processes. This approach enables them to have a small, defined and contained roll-out, limiting any (negative) exposure throughout the organisation. It gives the opportunity to fix any hiccups which might occur (or to even redesign a little if required), before rolling out to other parts of the organisation.

Centralised organisations

The downside of this approach is that it will not suit every organisation in terms of organisational structure and governance, although they might have the right DNA. For example, for organisations with centralised support units and centres of excellence (when deploying talent management), it might increase the burden of having to manage both the current processes, as well as the newly deployed ones; this risk is often overseen when building the business case for a new system. The increased required labor for the central organs is not always taken into account when calculating the required investments and efforts.

Big Bang and hourglass

But what about the alternative? If we take a closer look at a ‘big bang roll-out’, what would be the risks? As mentioned before, big bang roll-outs havegreat exposure. Thorough preparation is absolutely crucial for going live, either phased or via big bang. A big bang roll-out might, for example, increase pressure on your system’s performance; stress tests are crucial when deploying for a large population. You don’t want the first impression of your newly deployed system to be an hourglass in the middle of a non-responsive screen. 

In Memoriam: ‘Our dearest mainframe’

System performance is just one thing; also in this case any (centralised) support departments should be ready to deliver support in case it is needed. All these preparation activities might also lead to a higher cost of deployment.

But also be aware of how to communicate and announce the launch of the new system. Try to make transparent what the benefits are and how improvements are made by comparing to the old

situation. I even come across an organisation which held roadshows alongside the executive sponsor to announce the new system, but also wrote a memorial for the old mainframe to say a final farewell to the old system. 

Rollback or setback?

Naturally, you will always have a rollback plan. This plan contains the re-transition to your old systems in the event that the initial roll-out of the new systems has failed. You would then need your fallback scenario to ensure continuity. But having to fallback to it will also affect the delayed deployment of your new system. A new re- launch of the system would only be harder, as it is very likely to be welcomed with a dose of skepticism, because it has failed before.

I have even seen cases were organisations are so scared of a go-live failure, that they have parallel developed systems to take over when the actual systems fail thereby doubling the cost of their initial investment. It can happen that organisations become too focused on risk control that they forget the main goals in their project. Research conducted by McKinsey and the University of Oxford points out that a lack of focus and reactive planning are the main causes for cost overrun.

So what is a sensible approach in this manner? Well, there isn’t one right answer to it. No matter which approach you’d prefer, just make sure thatyou are well prepared and that you take all the effort into account. Cost of a new system is not just the time you spend designing and developing, it is also the time required for establishing and executing your launch. And, never forget to keep your eye on the goal!