Your company has a new risk software solution in the works, and you have been designated as the point person for implementation. That’s exciting news – at least until the reality of what’s at stake begins to sink in. What have you gotten yourself into?

Success or failure depends largely on the strength of your partnership with your chosen vendor and how prepared you are for the risk software implementation. With that in mind, here are eight tips to put you on the path toward a successful risk software implementation:

1. Define the finish line before you start – Would you start a race without knowing where the finish line is?  Of course not since you would likely waste precious time and energy going in the wrong direction. Likewise, beginning an implementation without clearly defining a finish line – that is, success criteria – can lead to delays, confusion, and scope creep. Start with well-defined business requirements that are fully aligned with your organization.  Those requirements will drive the functional/technical specifications, User-Acceptance Testing criteria, and ultimately can be used to measure the success of your project.

2. Stick to the vendor’s standards – Comfortable as you may be with your current system and workflows, designing the new system around the old ways is a costly – yet common – mistake.  Heavily customizing a new system to mimic your old one can have grave implications, including extended implementation timelines, increased scope, future support issues, and inability to use other core (or future) standard functionality.  Vendors invest countless hours and dollars to develop configurable standards, so be open to learning how these standards can meet your business requirements.  Sticking with a configured version of a standard solution will pay off in the long run with better functionality and support.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate – Don’t assume the vendor will automatically know what you mean without you spelling it out. When it comes to a successful risk software implementation, there is no such thing as too much communication. Discuss every possible issue in the early stages of an implementation – and don’t be shy about asking questions or voicing concerns.  Even seemingly small issues can have a big impact on the implementation if they aren’t addressed until the later stages, or worse, not addressed at all.

4. Successful risk software implementations are like a marriage – Just like a marriage, your company and the vendor both need to contribute for the union to be successful.  Communication and trust are essential, both parties need to be held accountable, and it’s going to take hard work for the relationship to thrive.  If one side hangs back on the sidelines, their needs may not get addressed properly, which can jeopardize the implementation. And if the relationship gets too far out of balance, you could end up with a nasty divorce.

5. Yes, you do need a designated Project Manager –While an implementation can be successful without the Project Manager role, your odds of success increase exponentially when a Project Manager is involved.  Coordinating all resources and tasks during a large risk software implementation can be an arduous task.  Something as simple as scheduling a meeting for multiple people can prove difficult if the PM role is split between several implementation team members.  Having a single point of contact centralizes communications, streamlines all implementation activities, and keeps everyone on track.

6. Be realistic with your other time commitments – Being part of an implementation team may be just one of many tasks on your plate.  Be realistic about the time you have available to devote to the implementation process, and let the vendor – and team members – know about other commitments or conflicts you have as soon as the project schedule baseline is produced.

7. Don’t short-change the testing process – As tempting as it may be to speed up testing to meet your deadline, this is not the place to cut corners. Bypassing or condensing integral User Acceptance Testing can set you up for mountains of post go-live issues, extra work, and delays to your business processes.  Proper UAT takes time to do correctly – but the extra effort will save you from plenty of headaches down the road.

8. Prepare for the unexpected – No matter how diligent you are it’s virtually impossible to identify and prepare for every possible risk. Something unexpected is bound to happen, but the impact depends on how you react. When an unexpected issue threatens to derail the implementation, work constructively with your team to tackle it head on and move forward. And if you chose the right vendor, together you can expertly manage whatever surprises come your way.