Published on 2017/12/01
The EvoLLLution | Preparation, Expectation and Commitment Central to Driving Major Projects Home
The process of launching a major IT project can be time-consuming and stressful, but the positive impact the new system can bring to the institution or division makes that effort well worth it.
In the world of higher education, few projects require as much planning, coordination and effort as a new system implementation. However, few projects can have the same impact on institutional success and growth, making these efforts well worth the time. At the University of Delaware Division of Professional and Continuing Studies, they recently implemented the Destiny One Customer Lifecycle Management software platform as the hub of their back-end system. In this interview, Shaun Sutherell and Steve Kendus reflect on what it took to get the project live and share their insights into the role and responsibilities project managers have in guiding such an effort.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What were the steps you and your colleagues had to take between realizing a need for a better back-end system and getting the Destiny One system implemented?

Shaun Sutherell (SS): This was years in the making. Our associate vice provost, Dr. Jim Broomall, challenged our leadership team several years ago to find a long-term back-end solution for Professional and Continuing Studies. It took a lot of research and documenting to get there—just determining what our specific needs would be with a new system was a monumental task. From RFP to signed contract to go-live really was years in the making. We knew we needed a new solution years ago, but finding it and getting it implemented was a considered process.

Evo: How flexible were you in terms of shaping your business processes to the way the software worked, and to making sure the software could be shaped to your business processes?

Steve Kendus (SK): When the discussions were ongoing about choosing and implementing Destiny One, multiple folks had a seat at the table, including representatives from the program management, IT, marketing and executive teams. This way, we were making sure that all of our bases were covered and that we were finding the right solution to fit our organization.

We did ultimately have to adapt some of our processes to fit the system. Originally, we were hoping there would be some capacity to accommodate some of our processes, but in the end we just changed some of our processes to fit the system.

From an education perspective, the Destiny One implementation required us to teach people how to use the system and required us to introduce them to new ways of doing business. It wasn’t extremely difficult to do, but it took some time. We’re still going through those transitions. I think we’re in a very good place, and people are comfortable with where we are now.

Evo: What were the most significant roadblocks you faced in launching Destiny One and how did you overcome them?

SK: The most significant roadblocks we faced revolved around training. Folks came in blind to Destiny One and, in those early stages, we really didn’t know what we didn’t know. We did have a week or so of training in November 2016, and then we began the full-fledged implementation after that and went live in the last week of February 2017. Since the initial week of training was several months earlier, a lot of the information that was taught was forgotten or lost in the shuffle of all the things being learned. Ideally we would have liked an additional week of training either at go-live or post go-live.

SS: I would reiterate that as the business analyst over this project I felt like I was winging it for a while, but really the challenge was overcoming that and becoming comfortable. This is a monumental task, especially when the buy-in around this new system is so important to the unit.

When leaders like Steve and I are still learning our way through the system as we go, it was a challenge at times to provide our teams the information they needed. We really did have to change, adapt and work harder to realize the long-term benefits. Of course, it’s important to note that—because the old system was so customized to our every little need—getting an out-of-the-box product with little customization was going to be challenging to work through almost no matter what.

Evo: What were some of the areas that you had to navigate to make sure that everyone was one the same page when it came to getting the product implemented and making it a part of everyone’s workflow?

SS: Having a flexible team is key here because if you’re too rigid about this we never would have made it to go-live on time. Like Steve said, we didn’t know what we didn’t know so I had to effectively figure out ways of quickly coming to answers to some of the questions our team had.

Destiny One’s help section was always up on my screen, and the Zendesk application used by the Destiny Solutions support team was also essential for me to properly and effectively communicate a question so that I could get a response right away.

With a system this big, it’s important to be really specific about what you’re trying to find out so that the Destiny team understands where you’re coming from, what your process is, and how you’re trying to fit that into the Destiny model.

Really, getting everybody else up to speed was a matter of me being able to effectively leverage those tools so I could get the answers that got me up to speed. Then I could instruct my own team.

SK: Shaun mentioned the word “leverage” and I think it’s important to point out that we also had to leverage our team members to make this implementation happen.

We had no true implementation team—either full time or even part time. We all had to do our daily jobs as well as implement Destiny One. This is simply one of the realities of working in a smaller division. So we all had to come together and figure out the best way to maximize our time, which truly meant working additional hours every day (including on the weekends) to make sure that everything was buttoned up for go-live.

Shaun and I made a pact early on that, no matter what, we would not let the project fail and we would meet our implementation deadline. Lo and behold, we did it and, because of the amount of work that went into the implementation, we made the launch a big event within PCS. We reached out to the folks at Destiny and they sent us promotional items—mobile phone wallets, some different signage, mousepads and other things. We also built our own signage to mark the day of the go-live, which we called D-Day (Destiny Day).

We sent emails out, we had a countdown, and we made sure everyone felt proud of their efforts in helping get Destiny implemented. But more than just the work of getting the system live, we also wanted people to understand and to have high expectations for this system, so when it finally launched people were excited to get in the system and start using it.

Evo: What advice do you have for other leaders looking to implement a major back-end system like Destiny One?

SS: My advice is really that, before even considering vendors and specific products, it’s critical to do a thorough needs analysis. You need to know what your functions and processes are, and structurally prepare for this intensive commitment.

For me as the business analyst of the project I believe it was estimated that it would be 30 hours of my week leading up to go-live. Well in reality it was more than 40 and I still had my regular job. Bringing on a major system is a real commitment and you need champions to lead the charge.

My advice is for other schools to be prepared for what it takes to get any new system off the ground. Also, know what upgrades or customizations you’ll need to consider up front. Really knowing what the system can offer you and how you’re going to need to change is really essential to a successful implementation and launch.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To learn more about the impact the Destiny One Customer Lifecycle Management is having on the University of Delaware Professional and Continuing Education, click here.

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Key Takeaways

  • Having a clear understanding of what a system offers—and how the division will have to evolve to ensure it runs smoothly—is critical from the outset to ensure a successful implementation.
  • Also critical is ensuring project managers and divisional staff understand the efforts required to take a major system live.
  • Staying positive about the impact the system could have, and continuously working to maintain staff buy-in for the new technology, is critical to supporting a smooth implementation and transition.
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