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One team member should be designated to liaise with the vendor and manage the installation. This person will be responsible for collecting issues from the rest of the work group and communicating to the vendor, as well as holding the vendor accountable for resolving problems.
The project manager and liaison from the dental practice needs to have enough time to properly manage the installation. The project manager should not attempt to manage the project in his or her spare time; instead, a reduction in other duties should allow the person time and energy to devote to the process.
To successfully install new software, the practice must anticipate and prepare for the work. Implementation is a two-way street, and communication must be enabled between the vendor and the practice.
Recommendation: An individual’s time needs to be available for communication and project management of software installation.
Dental practices need to prepare for implementation. The project manager cannot undertake the entire installation process. Data entry into the new system, customized templates and learning how to use the software all require a team approach. The implementation team must include administrative and clinical staff. The practice must also schedule time for users to work with and troubleshoot daily tasks. Ensure that all team members know when and what they should be doing, what tasks they should be able to accomplish at various stages of implementation and how to communicate internally about problems or difficulties. All users of the software should be involved in training and testing.
Recommendation: Roles within the dental practice need to be specified and time allotted to meet the goals for each role.
The implementation plan should clearly state who the vendor provides for implementation, training and contact. Often, more than one person will be provided to a practice—often a trainer as well as a relationship manager. The roles for each vendor employee should be clearly stated, with contact information and when and how contact should be initiated. If there is a designated liaison from the vendor, that person’s availability should also be stated.
If the practice is large enough, a train-the-trainer approach can be beneficial. In this scenario, a small number of super users are trained by the vendor, then are released from other responsibilities and given scheduled time with other practice staff to train them in the software. This approach can increase local expertise and reduce training cost, but a liaison is still necessary for technical support and troubleshooting.
Recommendation: Find out who the vendor contacts are, and what their roles are so that communication can be streamlined.
One key precursor to using new software is ensuring that the data are available from an older system. If the dental practice is not brand new, there will be legacy data that need to be converted, imported and accessible in the new system. The implementation plan should specify who is responsible for that conversion, and the timeline for conversion.
Recommendation: Know what the practice is responsible for and meet those goals on time to keep implementation moving ahead.
An implementation plan should be negotiated between customer and vendor. The kick-off meeting is the time to review and tweak the project plan. The project plan should specify when the project will begin, what the key milestones are, and remedies and steps to take if milestones are not met (either by the customer or the vendor). The schedule is a key component of the implementation plan, and milestones should be clear for both the customers and the vendors. Milestones could include hardware purchases, training sessions, customization or other items. Roles for various tasks and stages of implementation should also be specified.
It is important to note that the customer can be at fault as well for delaying a project. The project plan should clearly designate remote versus on-site implementation methodologies.
- When will this project start? How long will it take?
- Project milestones
- On-site and remote implementation tasks
Recommendation: Use the kick-off meeting to reach agreement on milestones, deadlines and roles for implementation.
The designated customer liaison needs to collect issues, problems and concerns from all software users. The status meeting is formal mechanism by which these problems can be discussed between the project team and the vendor and plans made for resolution. Issues and associated resolution plans should be documented and continually updated in an ongoing issues/triage list. Vendor should be held accountable for commitments made and documented in this list. Status meetings should be scheduled weekly and the liaison should be freed from other responsibilities to prioritize this process.
The process and timeline for reporting and collecting problems needs to be established and adhered to by the entire user base of the software. Delays in resolving problems can lead to inefficiencies, and other major problems. Ensure that the liaison has reductions in other responsibilities, particularly during the training and go-live period, to make sure project manager has time to collect, review, report, communicate and respond to vendor information, and then to provide that information back to other users.
Recommendation: The customer project team should have a scheduled meeting with the vendor at least weekly during implementation, and all issues should be discussed, prioritized, and plans made for resolution.
You have the right and duty to ensure issues are raised with vendor as soon as possible. If it’s a critical issue, don’t wait for scheduled status meetings. The project manager should be able to identify critical issues quickly and follow good communication practices to immediately let the vendor know and seek resolution.
Recommendation: Empower the project manager to communicate critical problems to vendor rapidly and as they occur.
Training can be offered in a variety of formats, ranging from on-site training, to WEBEX or online training, to training at a vendor’s facility, or a combination of the three. The vendor’s training options will be spelled out in the implementation plan.
Scheduling training and setting aside time for every user to learn, practice and become familiar with the new software is essential. Training should not just occur when a user has time here and there between their daily tasks. This will interfere with concentration and the learning process. Time spent on training will reduce operational errors. For this reason, do not expect training to occur on top of regular responsibilities. Reduce workload to allow training.
Recommendation: Schedule time without patients or other tasks to wholly focus users on training.
If the vendor charges hourly for implementation, the practice needs to keep track of the hours they receive as service from the vendor trainers. The onus is on the practice to audit the training and implementation costs and avoid billing errors. Take steps to compare recorded hours to billed hours.
Recommendation: Audit vendor implementation and training hours each billing cycle.
Travel expenses are typically associated with having a vendor or consultant on-site. Typically these include flight, hotel, and some expenses. Different vendors offer different training package options. Some bundle the cost of travel within the hourly rate. Some may charge a flat rate for travel, regardless of the location. Some may charge only for exact expenses incurred. Review bills and services to ensure accurate accounting.
Alternatively, there might be travel expenses associated with visiting the vendor or consultant if training is only offered at a designated location. In either case, it is reasonable to ask to approve major travel expenses ahead of time so there are no surprises.
Recommendation: Obtain a travel expenses estimate from your vendor and audit on-site travel costs.
Many vendors offer follow-up or focused training when users encounter problems several times, or are unable to use certain features. This troubleshooting is invaluable and can assist users in many aspects of ongoing software use. This training is usually available before and after go-live.
Recommendation: If additional training is needed, investigate vendor offerings.
After data conversion, training and resolving as many issues as possible, implementation culminates in go-live. During go-live, it is optimal to reduce the number of patients seen, particularly during the first few days. Changing routines and tasks due to the new software will require adjustment, and it will take longer to do ordinary tasks until the new steps become familiar. In addition, users need to have the time to document problems and talk to the liaison and/or trainers in order to resolve them with a minimum of disturbance.
Make sure the vendor stays through go-live. Go-live should not be the last date for training or status meetings. Organize a schedule so the vendor will be around at least one to two days after go-live to resolve problems.
Recommendation: Anticipate a slowdown of regular work during go-live and ensure that vendor support will be available for at least a few days after go-live to resolve real-time issues.