The Devil Is In the Details (or, Why a Detailed Project Plan Is Necessary)

By John Przybyla, Woolpert

I’ve heard it said that the majority of software implementation projects for large agencies fail to meet expectations. This notion applies to all kinds of implementations, including enterprise asset management (EAM) systems from vendors across the industry.

But why do some projects succeed when so many others fail? I contend that the reason has less to do with software and more to do with the implementation process itself.

The implementation of ANY commercially available EAM product is an extremely complex undertaking; it requires significant changes in areas across the organization, from technology and business practices to data management processes. Most importantly, and often with the most difficulty, the everyday activities of staff must change.

Change is Hard—and Scary—for Everyone
The main difference between the success and failure of these projects often comes down to fear: fear for job security, of learning new technology or even that co-workers won’t be able to keep up. These fears can cripple a project, leading to general resistance, back-tracking on decisions, and ultimately, a loss of confidence in staff and management.

The results are predictable: delays, scope changes, painfully extended transitions and resistance to (and in some cases, outright rejection of) the new system. But there is a way to minimize the chances that these things will occur—by using a detailed project plan.

Successful Implementation
Successful implementation projects are based on well-developed and detailed plans that incorporate the following principles:

  • Staff engagement: Continuous communication with representative users from all groups is essential. Multiple sessions of requirements gathering, in-progress reviews and testing are required to develop trust and confidence.
  • Knowledge transfer: It is crucial that the owner’s staff gains a high level of comfort and expertise with the system before the go-live date. However, this can’t happen all at once; the knowledge-transfer process must be designed into the implementation process so that it occurs on a continuous basis.
  • Change readiness: Because staff members will have different needs and levels of applicable knowledge, it is important to assess staff readiness as part of the engagement and knowledge-transfer efforts. Proactively anticipating and addressing these issues will pay off later.

Make It Happen
These concepts are easy to agree on. So how do you move beyond the rhetoric to make them a reality? The answer is simple: verify that they are clearly included in your project plans.

If you engage a consultant, expect to receive a detailed project plan that EXPLICTLY incorporates each of these items. If you don’t receive a detailed plan, or if your plan is silent on these items, be aware that they aren’t included.

Keep in mind that because these elements do require time and effort to accomplish, they will translate into extra cost. Just look at it this way: If the additional cost makes the difference between a successful implementation and failure, the price paid should be well worth it.

A detailed project plan should include these elements:

  1. A scope of services should clearly define all specific tasks, responsibilities, assumptions and deliverables. The scope also should include a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS).
  2. A project plan should be developed within a project planning software tool (MS Project or something similar). This project plan should contain a WBS identical to that in the scope. Most importantly, this plan should clarify all the elements needed to manage the project, including task start and end dates, dependencies, planned labor hours, expenses, owner responsibilities and deliverables.

Advance Confidently
When you possess this level of detail, you can be confident that, barring unforeseen circumstances, your implementation will proceed according to scope and schedule. And when unplanned events do occur (its life, right?), a detailed project plan will help you get back on track as quickly and painlessly as possible.


John Przybyla, PE, has more than 28 years of experience designing and managing utility and asset management systems. Recently retired, John was a Project Director for Woolpert’s Information Technology and Management Consulting group. He is well versed in applying technology to solve engineering and business challenges for private-sector and government clients.