Team formations are decided by work requirements and business objectives. There are the onsite work teams that work together on a day-to-day basis and the cross-functional teams who work on specific projects. Then there is the situational task force called ‘The implementation team’ created to handle a special task.
Implementation teams basically bring in change. They are comprised of individuals who have the skills and knowledge to implement a new method or process within an organisation either across single or muliple locations. In general, implementation teams have to integrate the specifications developed by the functional experts into a process or facility.
At times the team is formed for the fixed purpose of bringing learning and expertise to a different market either in the same country or internationally. The objective is to take something that worked very well in one place and transfer it to another in the hope of achieving greater efficiency and productivity across the board. It’s the concept of sharing ‘best practices’.
Types of Tasks Handled by Implementation Teams:
- Implementing new processes or implementing new systems
- Integrating new technology into work procedures
- Transfering technical know-how
- Implementing organisational change – Total Quality Management principles, cultural change, etc
However, implementation teams don’t always have it easy. At times they are unable to adapt to cultural differences or create flexibility in what they are trying to accomplish. If the implementation effort involves direct customer interface, then there can be unforeseen challenges and problems. At times they face resistance and opposition from the local employees in various locations that they visit. Two examples follow:
1) Transferring Manufacturing Know-how:
After aquiring a number of new international units, a Multinational Engineering company is now on a cost cutting spree and wants to implement a new, more efficient process in each. An implementation team was created and sent to three different countries where they wanted to introduce the change. In each country two local employees were included in the implementation team. In two of the countries, the team had no problems whatsoever. They made a presentation about the new system with the help of the local team members. They communicated the benefits and then they spent a few weeks implementing it and training the workers on the new system.
But in the third country, the implementation did not go as smoothly. The local team members had reservations about making the change. The workers who would directly use the new process were in favour of their own system which they believed was far superior to the new one. In the past, their own system had shown greater efficiency levels and cost advantages over other competitors operating in the same field in their market. The implementation team had explicit instructions from head office that the company wanted uniformity of processes the world over, but the local workers were unwilling to change something that they were not only proud of but had served them well in the competitive framework.
For the implementation to proceed smoothly the locals have to be willing to subscribe to a different point of view and an attempt has to be made to convince them that the change is beneficial. The team has to find a way to prevent an impasse. However, if some members of the team insist on the implementation despite the reservations of the locals, it could turn into a serious relationship conflict. Tough talking may not work and may lead to further alienating local team members who are not in agreement with the new proposals. If they go back without doing their job then the team will be considered a failure.
The team in charge of the implementation should deliberate on the problem, come up with a solution and report back to head office with recommendations. There are no right or wrong answers here but basically questions pertaining to the relevance of best practices across the board and the need for adaptability and flexibility when implementation teams attempt to introduce something new. Implementation teams have to spend time and make the effort to evaluate the situation and find the best route to bridge organisational goals and regional preferences.
2) Implementing a New System
The South African Government decided to outsource the task of disbursements of Government grants during the early 1990s to private companies. AllPay was one of the private companies to be awarded the contract. The implementation team comprised of individuals from different cultural and educational backgrounds who had not previously worked together. The following short passages have been selected from a larger case study in relevance to this discussion.
‘The short space of time between team formation and project implementation meant that there wasn’t really an opportunity to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but from the start, there was a mutual and absolute commitment to success……. The implementation team, having never worked together before, faced the challenge of implementing a high-tech system in one of the most politically troubled provinces of South Africa without accurate information within a time period that was unheard of……. The team had to think on their feet, and deal with people who were disillusioned with the old system and unsure of the new….. Effective, timeous communication was vital and was divided into informal, formal and beneficiary communication. Informal communication referred to day-to-day discussions between team members, while formal communication related to contractual decisions and agreements. Beneficiary communication was a comprehensive, though time-consuming exercise……. Besides the challenge brought about by the timing, dealing with a vast number of people and the obvious security risks associated with transporting cash-dispensing machines, the team also had the elements and environment to contend with.’
Excerpts from a case cited at http://www.icoste.org/ The Electronic Magazine of the International Cost Engineering Council, (Vol. 17, No. 4 – April 2004)
Despite the challenges, the team pulled it off very well. AllPay managed the task 3.6 percent below budget, more beneficiaries were paid and more sites visited in the first month of payment than any of the other private companies. The beneficiaries were effusive in their praise when they saw the results of the new system. AllPay actually went on to win an industry award for the commendable effort put in by their implementation team. The key success factors in this case are:
- Good equation within the team
- Communicated well and displayed courage and total commitment
If these factors had been missing they would have found it difficult to withstand the challenge posed by the task and would have been totally ineffective as a team.
Implementation teams face many challenges during the course of completing their work and the problems can vary based on the situation. However, there are a few key issues that have been identified as more likely to occur. Their impact in the form of ineffective teamwork or poor team performance is discussed here:
Fundamental Reasons for Ineffective Delivery by Implementation Teams:
- Team Repport: Unlike office work teams, implementation teams created for a specific task and deputed by an organisation to other locations don’t have the luxury of time in order to get to know their team members well. They have to start on the job almost instantly. Work has to take precedence over conflicts or personality clashes. Inability to find a way to establish a working equation can lead to poor cohesion and poor team performance.
- Role Clarity: Implementation teams are usually jointly responsible for the job execution and have to find ways to distribute the implementation effort among the team members. Role clarity takes on greater significance since each person has to take on a definite task and complete it so that the team as a whole can accomplish the implementation effort.
- Time Management: Implementation teams have to work at an efficient pace and ensure that they complete the work within a given timeframe so that they can move on to the next location or return to their regular jobs.
- Poor Planning and Scheduling of Activities: Implementation teams that are not well trained for the job can create lots of problems, especially when implementing complex changes. Implementing too rapidly, not spending enough time training the user, not providing adequate documentation and the worst of all, improper integration into the business. (See Example 1)
- Presentation skills: Implementation teams have the unenviable task of bringing about change or introducing new concepts. Though the saying goes that new ideas are always met with resistance, the key lies in properly explaining the idea for the other side to see reason. Implementation teams need training in presenting new methods, selling concepts and convincing others.
- Inflexible attitude: Flexibility and adaptability have to be intrinsic in implementation teams. They are likely to run into a brick wall if they are unable to adapt their work to the local conditions especially in international markets. Integrating software tools and campaigns globally is an area where problems can crop up for implementation teams. Exposure to customization and an orientation towards adaptability become critical. (See Example 2)
- Inadequate Guidelines on Dealing with Cross Cultural Issues: Teams operating in a cross cultural context can find it tough. They can potentially fail when they are not provided with proper guidelines for the implementation effort, especially when faced with local opposition. It’s the ‘we do things differently’ syndrome. This is a common refrain and this kind of rigid thinking makes transfer of learning very difficult. Implementation teams have to learn to deal with resistance and try to diffuse the misgivings of the local employees.Implementation teams do come across many hurdles and certainly need the constant support and involvement of higher management in the company to successfully accomplish their task. They need access to a decision making line within the organisation that functions much like an oversight committee to oversee smooth implementation. Communication channels have to be open and the decision making line has to be alive and ticking to monitor the progress of the implementation team, make resources available to them and help in swiftly resolving any problems or conflicts that come up along the way.
There have been instances in SAP integration when the implementation of software solutions carried out by their in-house IT team has been lacking in some way, owing to which they have had to call in an outside consultant (specialized in post implementation support) to rectify the problem.
The implementation teams have to ensure seamless integration between SAP systems and non-SAP systems in the organisation. Issues that come up usually pertain to the quality of the implementation in terms of proper business alignment and whether organisational adjustments have been made to integrate the new technology into the existing system. In fact, when any kind of software business solution is introduced in an organisation, if the implementation proceeds too rapidly, the integration may be imperfect.
CRM (Client Resource Management) tools and CRM campaigns have to be implemented in the global markets of an organisation.
An implementation team is trained and sent by a company to various global centres to carry out the implementation of CRM initiatives. The team receives a blanket corporate order to bring about standardisation. But problems come up when they get down to the task in an Asian country. The issue is the lack of readiness of that market for the global CRM system because of a lack of a proper data collection mechanism. The local marketing people are also unsure that the CRM campaigns will work in that market due to cross cultural differences. They suggest a certain amount of redesign in the CRM package before it can achieve the end goal of being customer centric. Conflicts arise during the redesign process.
Many multinational companies look for global integration of their software business solutions and other processes. But global integration barriers can only be transcended through a flexible approach.