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Implementing digital cost engineering solutions

Sharon Bosch at ICEC 2022

Organizations with a business strategy focused on expanding digital capabilities can differentiate themselves from their competitors, now more than ever before (1). Digital technologies, when applied comprehensively and efficiently to cost engineering processes, can reduce overall capital project costs by as much as 45%. Thus, the implementation of software solutions related to cost engineering is key to improving the predictability of projects in the dynamic world.

Nowadays, however, the digitalization of business processes is no longer just the installation of ready-to-use software packages. Rather, the implementation of new software solutions comes along with several challenges:

  • the need for seamless integration with the complex existing IT architecture of an organization,
  • the security requirements,
  • and, most importantly, engaging the people who will naturally be the end users, using the tool in their day-to-day job

 

Cost Engineering developed a structured approach, based on years of practical experience with software implementation projects, to overcome these challenges and achieve a successful implementation. The approach is used for the implementation of the in-house developed Cleopatra Enterprise at clients but could also be used for the implementation of other software packages.

This approach is based on the principles of front-end-loading (FEL), so consists of multiple stages and gates (see figure 1). Each phase will be explained.

Stages of Front-End-Loading

Stage 1: Exploration of a new software tool

The first stage is the client’s exploration of a new . When a potential client is interested in the software, it is important for us as a software provider to be able to give them a clear but not overwhelming glimpse of the tool. During this showcase, the client should be able to recognize the possibilities within the tool applicable to their cost engineering processes. Therefore, examples developed based on data provided by the client instead of showing some standard examples will be shown during this stage.

The development of the examples gives our team of consultants immediately the opportunity to explore the client’s data and brainstorm about possible solutions for the client and resulting improvements for the client when choosing Cleopatra Enterprise.

Cleoptara Enterprise office, meeting

Stage 2: Conceptual phase – Understanding the problems through a Needs Assessment Workshop

After a successful showcase, we will move on to a conceptual phase in which we would like to understand the problems of our client that should be solved. Since each client is unique and has a work process, the proposed software solution would never be the same. Therefore, a needs assessment workshop (NAW) is conducted by our team of experienced consultants to get insight into the requirements and success criteria of the client.

Zooming into the current process and selecting the best solutions

Our team will dive with the client into their current work process and via interviews find the points to be improved by the software tool. The client’s workshop participants should be prepared to freely discuss all facets. So, they will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about their current work process and provide the relevant data upfront. Based on the input multiple solutions will be proposed during the workshop by giving demonstrations of the software tool. The demonstration should be customized specifically for the client in this stage to let the examples appeal and show proof of the concepts. The feasibility of each solution will be discussed with the client based on the identified benefits and potential issues. The best solutions will be selected based on the specific project requirements.

Always involve end-users

The main solution will always be translated into an improved and standardized work process. During this multiple-day workshop, it is important that not only the key stakeholders of the client but also the representatives of the end-users are present. The end-users have the most practical experience with the current work process and should therefore be heard to identify and understand the situation completely. It also gives the end-users more confidence later during the implementation itself when they recognize the tool and see their suggestions. In addition, the key stakeholders should agree and take ownership of a successful implementation.

IT landscape for a smooth deployment of the new tool

Part of the workshop is reserved to discuss the current IT architecture and review the security layers with the IT team of the client. Since the adaptation of an IT architecture could take time, the IT team is aware of the actions to take  before the deployment of the software starts. In this matter, smooth deployment of the new tool will be achieved at the time of the implementation start.

Laptops concept image

Stage 3: Implementation plan

After a prosperous needs assessment workshop, our consultants will develop the selected solution further by detailing the steps of the optimized work process. This will result in an implementation plan, outlining the findings from the  workshop and the detailed steps of the work process. The work process will be visualized in a diagram, which should be one clear but extensive overview to be leading for the implementation.

The work process should be standardized and harmonized for all departments within the client’s organization to gain its benefits;

  • reductions in variability,
  • easier training of new users,
  • reductions in human errors,
  • and have a baseline for future improvement activities

For specific steps of the work process, the details will be provided by other departments within our company: each department specializes in certain parts of the software and its functionalities. All the steps are mostly explained by tables,  diagrams, and figures instead of large amounts of text to be manageable to digest easily by all stakeholders. Within the plan, practical examples based on the client’s data will be added to convince the client of the software solution.

3 deliverables are produced

Together with the work process, the defined goals and success criteria are highlighted to be used as a blueprint during the implementation itself. The implementation plan will also contain a proposed timeline for the implementation activities to be performed and a corresponding quotation. This includes also risks of the implementation with thoughtful mitigation actions. The three deliverables will be provided to the client within a few weeks so that the content is still familiar and recognizable to them.

Colleagues at the office

Stage 4: Implementation

After the client approves the workshop deliverables, the implementation itself can start. The first phase of the implementation consists of training of a client’s key users to have a better understanding of the software. The training will make  sure that this core user team can contribute during the subsequent specification workshops. Certain parts of the software should be further detailed by our experts, and specifications workshops will be organized to detail the requirements  and software implications.

The specifications details will be captured in a report, which will require the formal approval of the client before the related implementation activities will start. In this way, the client will be obliged to be actively involved in the implementation  details and has the opportunity to provide feedback.

Regular testing periods and feedback meetings

The implementation activities are performed by using an iterative process; during each implementation activity, regular testing periods and feedback meetings with the client are organized. The product should be constantly compared against the defined goals and success criteria in the implementation plan and specification reports.

User guidelines and training material

The implementation phase ends with the development of user guidelines and training material. This material should be hands-on and customized for the client to make them feel at home with the new software tool.

Stage 5: Pilot projects for a smooth start

To have a smooth start the implementation consultants will aid the initial use of the tool using pilot client projects. During this full-time period of a few weeks, the complete work process will be tested by the key users guided by the  consultants. If these users accept the implemented software tool and process, the roll-out within the complete company will take place.

The roll-out should be fully supported by management

The Management Team can support the implementation and the roll-out of the new software by –

  • explaining the reasons to implement the new software tool
  • showing the
  • freeing up enough time in the agendas of the new users

Learning by doing is still the best method to make a new software tool your own

Learning by doing is still the best method to make a new software tool your own, which takes time. A train-the-trainer model could be used to make the tool future-proof. Ideally, the users work together and support each other during the learning process to create a sense of community.

Stage 6: Go live

Finally, the software will Go-Live. The first month the users of the client can still make use of the support of one of the implementation consultants. When help is needed, the consultant can assist a client with questions or help out with  performing certain steps in the tool to let them slowly get used to their new software tool.

Finally, our customer success management team is always available for the client after the implementation and will have regular check-in meetings to form a long-term partnership with the client.


References

[1] S. Blackburn, J. Galvin, L. LaBerge, and E.Williams. Strategy for a digital world, October 8,

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-digital/our-insights/strategy-for-a-digital-world.

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