Ideally, you should communicate to School Food Authorities (SFAs) when you are in the very early stages in your statewide software journey. It may be possible to inform SFAs that you are researching options long before you have even made a purchasing decision. This provides you with the opportunity to include a few Food Service Directors in the evaluation process. Super early communication also allows all SFAs time to mentally process the concept of statewide menu planning software.
If it is not possible to communicate before a contract is signed, then the next-best-thing is to communicate to SFAs before the ink on the contract dries. In fact, letting SFAs know a few days before an impending press release is official can go a long way towards gaining buy-in for your new software.
Implementation of statewide software is an area where it would be difficult to over-communicate. Provide SFAs with regular progress reports even if go-live seems far-off. People like to feel looped-in so share what’s going on. The last thing that you want is for anyone to wonder, “Whatever happened to that thing my State Agency said they were going to do?”
A strong communication plan laid out early in the project can help remind you to communicate even when it feels like there may not be much to communicate. You may consider a quarterly or monthly update via email or newsletter depending on the speed of your implementation. A Project Manager experienced with other statewide software implementations will be able to help you determine how often is just right for your scenario.
In today’s information-laden world we are all bombarded with a ton of data on every subject imaginable. Therefore, it often takes hearing the same information repeatedly before it sinks in. Just because you already communicated a particular facet of the project doesn’t mean your entire audience, or even 50% of your audience, “got” the message. Be prepared to say it again (and again). You might even consider saying it differently each time. For example, information may be presented in an email then again in a Q&A document as well as a visual flyer at a later point.
Don’t Forget Project Communication
A great deal of planning is involved with a statewide software project. Your software vendor’s Project Manager should become your new best friend through the implementation process. A strong working relationship is critical to your success. Like any relationship, communication is key. This communication should reach beyond your typical project plan updates and change control forms (which are important, of course). Establish a frequent standing meeting and be open to ad-hoc conversations as needed (not everything needs extensive emails). I am not saying that you have to be Facebook “friends”. You should feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking your Project Manager a question, and he or she should also feel that the lines of communication are open in both directions. Frequent “pulse” checks and reminders of the project goals are important to ensure that everyone is working towards the same result for the same reasons.
While I personally believe that communication is the number one factor in a successful implementation, I would be remiss if I did not remind you of the importance of good data. “Garbage In Garbage Out” is a phrase that is easy to remember because it rings true. There are many helpful sources online that offer advice for improving data quality. Based on past menu planning software implementations, here are my top three tips:
- Establish naming conventions – Naming conventions allow for easier data maintenance and avoidance of duplicate data (not to mention making use of the software much easier).
- Establish two-person data entry checks and balances – Let’s face it, we are all human and capable of mistakes and typos!
- Establish a process for reporting and correcting errors – When mistakes do make it into your database (trust me, no matter how tight your process, mistakes will happen), you should already have a process in place for reporting and correcting those errors. This fosters a high level of user trust in your system.
A Journey’s End…
I’ve really enjoyed sharing this statewide menu planning journey of discovery with you. I hope this blog series has provided more than a few nuggets of wisdom that you can incorporate towards your success. Please join me for our next series where we will dive into the world of Electronic Production Records.