Your team is in place and you are about to start your food and nutrition software system implementation. However, before you start, have you thought through the “unknowns” in your project? Every project has uncertainty and risk. Identifying and planning for those risks now will ensure that you have a “rainy day” plan to keep your project progressing smoothly.
You might be thinking, “What could possibly go wrong?” How about the unforeseen four-month medical leave of an important team member? On the other hand, your primary food supplier, due to mergers and acquisitions, changes their technology and all their product order numbers – twice? These two situations are risks and I am sorry to say I experienced them and their effect on system implementation first hand.
So, assemble your implementation team, stakeholders, and others close to your project and brainstorm to identify all the potential risks both within and external to your operation. Nothing is too small! Then evaluate your risks for the impact they could have on the project. You might want to develop a ranking system. Prioritize the risks your team has identified and finally develop strategies to control or lessen the risks.
Usually project risks fall into one of three categories. Let’s look at each and some possible solutions.
1. Resources – Your software implementation is a special project. For most food and nutrition operations, this means your implementation team probably has other responsibilities while they take on tasks related to your system implementation. It is extra work … or is it? It shouldn’t be, and this is a key problem why implementations get off track. It takes time that you, the food service director, really need to allocate otherwise. Everyone is stressed out! It is easy to see how this can create time management challenges and conflicts in work-related priorities. Other risks might be team attrition or team members who need to update their skill set.
- Review your resource allocation plan with your software vendor project manager.
- Be sure that you have enough people in the right places at the right time.
- Have a kick-off event or workshop to build enthusiasm and buy-in from the team.
- Communicate with your implementation team the time and productivity expectations. Do not overextend your staff.
- Ask for their commitment, then support and protect your resources.
- Have a business vendor who will be your partner and do an express implementation if and when necessary.
2. Change is inevitable and may be for the better. The project scope defines all the work to be done during the software implementation. Multiple, uncontrolled, and unevaluated changes to the scope of the project cause the project to lose its focus, which leads to increased costs, schedule delays, and more risk! Consider how redoing your cafeteria menu would change your inventory, production, and recipe database. Or consider that technology has changed for the better and you want to take advantage. Both would change the project work and resources needed.
- Implement a formal process to request, evaluate, and prioritize change requests to the project work.
- Use consistent criteria to evaluate all change requests. A couple of questions to ask might be: Is the change good for business? Is it a change the implementation team is able to make?
- Thoroughly define and communicate the changes to your implementation team.
3. Schedule risks usually relate to not sequencing the project work correctly or incorrectly estimating the time it will take to complete implementation activities. Both will lead to delays in the ability to start the next task or phase of the project.
- Use your software vendor’s project manager to assist with scheduling. They can share best practices with you.
- Determine the sequence of work that will take the most amount of time. Monitor this sequence closely, and intervene quickly if there are problems.
- Consider team member scheduled time off for vacation and holidays when estimating the schedule.
- Consider your operation’s priorities in your schedule. For instance, the month of December may bring increased opportunities for revenue from catering. Therefore, implementation work slows to meet catering demands.
- Update and communicate the schedule as needed
Implementing food and nutrition software is exciting and fun. Planning for uncertainty and risk may seem like a “doom and gloom” process, but can really help control the inevitable “rainy days” during your implementation. Take the time now to do risk planning and keep the sun shining!
How do you minimize the risks in your operation?
by Donna Quirk, MBA RD LD, Clinical Nutrition Manager, Lexington Medical Center