Delivering Packaged Software Implementations the Agile Way

Deliver Packaged Software Agile Way

Packaged Software implementations are major undertakings that transform your organization in a significant way.  Whether you are implementing a CRM system (such as or an insurance industry core business system (such as Guidewire), as an organization you probably have been on this journey at some point in time. These are rather large, far-reaching transformative initiatives that have the potential to modernize and upgrade your IT systems in more than incremental ways. What are the challenges and best practices associated with packaged software implementations? In this blog, we explore the challenges and offer some advice for delivering Packaged Software using the right Agile approach.



Challenges with Packaged Software


Packaged Software implementations in the enterprise IT context are challenged on multiple fronts – for a lot of organizations they will stretch the capabilities of the organization beyond their comfort zones.  They touch large parts of the organization – from business, operations, IT, to support and HR.  Business sponsors and stakeholders sometimes don’t fully engage with the benefits and the vision of the new system.  These large transformational initiatives involve multiple teams across functions and geographies, and communication often tends to break down.  Quite often, the organization lacks the skills and talent needed to pull these off and they turn to external consultants.  While bringing in consultants helps to bridge the talent gap, it does create its own set of dysfunctions.  Training and educating the staff on the features and benefits of the new system may not be “top of mind” for the organization – impeding successful adoption.  People in the organization may resist change because of fear and uncertainty introduced by the new system.



Business Stakeholder Engagement


These transformative initiatives need to be aligned with the business goals of the organization, and business stakeholders need to actively drive the transformation.  If these transformations are not “business led” and instead turn into an IT initiative, they will often fail to hit the mark in terms of delivering the value to the organization and your customers. A business sponsor needs to be clearly identified for the initiative (typically a C-level executive on the business side) and business leaders need to embed themselves in the day-to-day activities of the project.  Business sponsor needs to clearly articulate the vision and keep the teams motivated and focused on delivering the business value within the timeframe identified.  Business teams need to nominate the appropriate Agile Product Owners for the various teams.  These product owners need to understand what their customers need and align the team goals with that.



Hybrid Agile Approach


Picking the right Agile approach is absolutely fundamental to the success of the initiative. A hybrid Agile approach is often the right approach to deliver the Packaged Software implementation with optimal outcomes. A pure Agile approach fails to deliver because of the nature of project – you need to do a lot of upfront discovery and planning as you are touching vast areas of the organization.  On the other hand, a waterfall approach also suffers from a lack of flexibility, responsiveness to change and poor efficiency.  A hybrid approach that combines the best of the both worlds is often what is needed to produce the right blend.  As shown in the figure below, the hybrid Agile approach is a combination of waterfall and scrum approaches (using sprints).  The discovery phase (also known as inception phase) typically lasts a 1-3 months and involves carefully analyzing the scope of the project and all the legacy touch points.  The end result of this phase is a clearly documented and estimated project plan with a backlog of user stories with high level estimates.  In the build phase, the Agile scrum approach is used to deliver incremental functionality in each sprint, including detailed requirements analysis and functional testing.  Because of this Agile scrum approach, you can react quickly to changing business requirements and adapt the backlog as you go. The last phase, the test phase comprises focused effort on system and user acceptance testing to ensure the system functions well in an “end to end” capability.  At the end of this phase, the system is ready for deployment.

Focus on Business Requirements



In the spirit of the “business led” IT transformation, the teams need to be fanatically focused on the business requirements of the software package.  Product owners need to own and drive this process and keep the software features well aligned and contained within the scope of the business goals. An obsessive focus on delivering business value should be the driving force.  The customer (end user) and business value should be considered in every feature request.  The desire to add “bells and whistles” without underlying business value should be carefully curtailed.  IT teams need to collaborate with the business teams to achieve this fine balance.  User Experience (UX) should be thoughtfully mapped out and carefully optimized – if you wish to maximize end user adoption.  Remember, a fancy packaged software solution that hardly gets used is a complete waste of everyone’s time and money.  The importance of using the right tools to document the requirements cannot be overstated.  These tools need to work well with your overall Agile approach, empowering teams to focus more on the software features and less on exhaustive documentation.  Tools like DreamCatcher can help in this regard – helping you capture the business requirements using visual and collaborative tools, minimizing the burden of documentation.



Templates and Content Library



You should leverage “Out of the Box” content of the User Stories provided by the software vendor, if they provide this.  These serve as the guiderails within which you can capture the business requirements, allowing you to leverage industry standard processes and giving you a head start.  Of course this is only a starting point and you should customize this content to best fit your needs. Architectural patterns can be very useful in leveraging “scale economies” when architecting and designing Integrations and technical solutions.  The software vendor should also have these architectural patterns that you can leverage.  Tools like DreamCatcher can help you systematically manage your business requirements and architectural patterns in a visual repository, allowing you to re-use and share these patterns in a consistent and collaborative way.  These tools can also significantly lower the burden of documenting the requirements and design.



Focus on Enterprise Integrations




Packaged Software implementations will touch your entire landscape of Enterprise IT applications.  They will involve a large number of integration points with your legacy applications, other core systems and external services.  These enterprise integrations should be viewed as a core part of your IT assets, and indeed these integrations give you a competitive advantage by bringing in data from multiple systems into a single system of record.  Don’t treat these integrations as mere technical details that IT needs to hammer out – treat them as a core component of your business ecosystem.  Treat them as an essential part of the business requirements that you need to define in order to deliver the “end to end” capability that is promised by the Packaged Software.  Make sure your business sponsors, business leaders and product owners all are aligned on this vision and dedicate the right level of resources to succeed.



Laying a Foundation for Data


data foundation


Data is the new competitive weapon when it comes to getting the most out of your Packaged Software solutions.  Without the ability to capture and analyze the data generated from the Packaged Software, you will be unable to generate the fine-grained insights you need to optimize and succeed in your business.  A Packaged Software implementation project is a great time to lay the right foundation for the data you want to collect from a Data Warehouse and Analytics perspective.  It’s a good time to reset and clean up any past imperfections in your legacy data.  Of immediate concern will be Data Migration, migrating your old legacy data into the new Packaged Software.  Data Migration is a mini-project in itself and requires a dedicated Agile team to focus on it. But beyond that you will want to build out your long term data strategy from an analytics and data insights perspective.  This is a good opportunity to align your individual data strategy with the enterprise data strategy – ultimately data insights need to come out of an enterprise context.  Think through what key business decisions need to be made in the future and what data is needed for those decisions. This tends to be a cross-functional and cross-organizational endeavor that will require a lot of coordination and collaboration.



Managing Organizational Change


 organization change


These large transformative initiatives can be very disruptive to the organization.  Change is inherently scary and introduces fear and uncertainty in people’s minds – from the perspective of what new skills they need to learn, what positions may be automated and eliminated.  These concerns need to be carefully managed by laying out the future vision and how the organization must adapt and evolve to meet the future needs of the business.  This is best accomplished by identifying “change ambassadors” in various functional teams – people who are likely to adopt and embrace change in a progressive manner.  These change ambassadors can be the front-line messengers in spreading the message out to the broader organization.  In cases where jobs are impacted due to automation, necessary job training and placement needs to be provided to allay the fears of the employees.  Educating and training the staff on the Packaged Software and its benefits need to be a day-1 priority, not an afterthought post deployment.  Business sponsors need to be actively engaged in spreading the message of business benefits of the new Packaged Software. A collective vision of the future where everyone succeeds together is a good way to engage and energize the employees.



Team Collaboration & Communication



The role of collaboration and communication is paramount in large Package Software implementations.  Because the implementation touches so many parts of the organization, and every detail matters, it is absolutely critical for Agile teams to communicate and collaborate at a new level.  Daily standups are a great way to keep the Agile team members on the same page, but beyond that the right tools also need to be used to clearly communicate and collaborate on minute details.  Everyone needs to be able to find the needed information quickly.  Documents and information cannot afford to be out of date or out of sync.  Daily standups are a great mechanism to keep the communication real-time and relevant. People need to be able to share ideas and come up with better solutions as a team.  Because Packaged Software projects involve a large number of Agile teams, there is a natural barrier to open communication.  Cross-team communication needs to be encouraged using novel approaches. Having the teams physically located in a collaborative space may help alleviate some of these challenges.  Business leaders also need to promote a culture of open and honest communication.





Packaged Software implementations in an Enterprise IT setting are naturally fraught with numerous challenges as they impact a large number of areas in the organization.  Successfully delivering the Packaged Software begins with selecting the right approach; a hybrid Agile approach is a good candidate because it combines the best of both the worlds (Agile and Waterfall).  Business stakeholders must be clearly identified and need to stay engaged in an active role of messengers and product owners.  Ultimately they represent the customers and are in the best position to guide the Agile teams in the right direction. An obsessive focus on the business requirements of the solution is needed to contain the project scope and deliver the desired business value.  Your enterprise integrations are a key competitive advantage that you need to carefully harness and leverage.  Treat them as a business asset, not as an irrelevant technical detail.  Integrations need to be fully developed and exploited in order to get the maximum business value from your Packaged Software.  This is also a great time to re-visit and fine-tune your data strategy and ensure you are collecting all the data you need to make the business decisions in the future.  Packaged Software implementations are large initiatives that often create significant challenges from a change management perspective.  You should proactively work on managing these organization issues by identifying change ambassadors and articulating the future vision and benefits from the new system.  Finally, the role of collaboration and communication should be fully understood and exploited for better outcomes.  This involves using the right tools, as well as fostering a culture of open and honest communication.


DreamCatcher software was born out of the challenges faced during Packaged Software implementations.  Our experience and history are deeply tied to it.  DreamCatcher can help you deliver better outcomes for your Packaged Software implementation with visual, collaborative and intuitive tools for managing the business requirements and technical design of the solution – including UI process flows and integration points.  We also offer value-added tools such as automated task creation, estimation and project financials management.  We encourage you to check us out!



How was your experience in delivering a Packaged Software solution in your organization? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? We would love to hear from you in the comments section below.