Nathaniel Sheetz, Senior Director of Product Management
Neeta Dash, Senior Product Specialist
In previous entries in this series on implementing technology solutions to meet food safety goals, we have evaluated current practices, established the project scope, observed how software can facilitate food safety best practices, and assessed various hardware options. Today we build on this foundation to outline the actual process of implementing a new food safety solution, first by reviewing key strategic considerations and then briefly describing the major implementation stages.
Evaluating pilot and rollout strategies
Each organization’s ideal pilot strategy will be unique, depending on factors like the size and geographical distribution of the company, the scope of the project, and any preexisting time constraints. But in general, most strategies will involve 1) a proof of concept, 2) a multi-phase pilot and 3) rollout. Within each of these categories, three key parameters must be considered: goals, timing and personnel.
Goal setting and contingency planning
As part of the strategy development, specific goals for each stage should be defined so that all parties understand the expectations and criteria for success. Vague or uncommunicated goals raise the likelihood of unexpected roadblocks in the implementation process.
Even with well-defined goals, however, the risk associated with any major implementation project requires a robust plan to account for delays and challenges, regardless of their origin. Some goals may be absolute, putting a stop to all project progress until resolved. Others may be more flexible, allowing certain aspects of the pilot and rollout to continue. Often, the action taken in response to specific challenges will depend on the nature of the challenge itself and thus may not be easily predicted. But identifying key goals and outlining the possible effects of delays will facilitate making the right decision when the time comes.
To establish the project timeline and particularly the length of each phase within that timeline, organizations are wise to collaborate with their solution partners. External constraints for either one, such as deadlines associated with licensing renewals or other corporate initiatives, should be identified as early as possible, so that key phases late in the project are not unnecessarily given short shrift.
Within the overall timeline, the duration of each phase will vary depending on the goals established for that phase. The time allotted should be lengthy enough for these goals to be reached, which means time to both identify issues and resolve them. Such estimates are necessarily inexact, but this reinforces the necessity of collaboration with an experienced solution partner to establish the timeline.
As part of the preparation for pilot, key resources throughout the organization should be identified and informed of the project’s goals and potential impacts on the corporation. The specific personnel needed will vary from company to company based on overall implementation strategy, but generally include corporate stakeholders (sponsors, administrators, content creators, IT, training, etc.) as well as store personnel (such as food safety champions and support teams).
A key component within this general category is development of a training strategy, involving both the creation of training materials as well as the delivery of said training and subsequent support. Generic training materials provided by the solution provider may, at the discretion of the organization, require tailoring. The strategy for delivering said training will vary based on company culture and project complexity, but many organizations find that a “train the trainer” model allows for a broad base of solution knowledge at the store and district levels while reducing the burden on corporate teams.
Also crucial to the success of the project is the selection of the departments and stores that will be designated for each phase of the pilot. Organizations are often tempted to choose to pilot new applications in stores close to the corporate office out of convenience. The value of easy access by corporate stakeholders should not be downplayed, but other factors should be considered as well. Obtaining operationally and geographically diverse feedback by including stores in different communities and regions can help ensure that gaps are identified during pilot, not in the midst of rollout.
Having established the project plan, the phases can now be considered in more detail.
Proof of concept
The proof of concept constitutes the first major phase of the implementation proper. Here, a small group of employees, typically from a variety of levels in the organization, work alongside the solution provider to create, assign and perform the tasks that store employees will use in the future.
Clear goals of this stage should be established to confirm the capability, reliability and usability of the food safety solution. In addition, if any doubts associated with the project scope remain, every effort should be taken to resolve them during this phase. After this point, significant changes to how users interact with the solution become more costly and ideally should be done only in response to issues discovered by pilot users. Other enhancements or strategic adjustments can be adopted after rollout is complete.
Having completed the proof of concept, it’s time to move to pilot. In this phase, the application is exposed to a larger group of actual users of the solution for their input and buy-in.
Pilots will typically have multiple phases, particularly for larger organizations. In the first phase, a single department or store normally begins to use the solution, often in a limited capacity at first before ramping up to the full scope within a few days. During these initial days, the organization and the solution provider receive valuable insight in how to better configure the system to adapt to in-store workflows and generally meet the needs of users.
Subsequent phases of the pilot naturally involve expanding to a broader group of users, first a few more departments or stores and then perhaps a full district or district-sized group. The purpose of incremental expansion is two-fold. First, by increasing the number of participants in the pilot, the organization begins to receive new feedback from different voices that can reveal potential roadblocks to rollout. And second, by expanding the pilot at a deliberate pace, any issues that are uncovered can be resolved prior to being exposed to an unnecessarily wide audience, thus avoiding potential change management issues later.
Once the multi-step pilot is complete and all critical issues have been addressed, rollout can begin. The speed of rollout depends most significantly on the availability of training personnel. A deliberate pace allows for more training coverage in each location, but simultaneously extends the period of different food safety practices being employed in the organization.
Through the process of rollout, stakeholders should remain vigilant regarding reports of issues coming from departments and stores that may have been underrepresented during the pilot. Furthermore, as the number of stores using the solution quickly multiplies, system performance monitoring should be a priority to mitigate the risk of widespread performance challenges during peak times not encountered during pilot.
Sustain and grow
Through the rollout process, as more and more users begin to use the application for the first time and as others in the organization begin to see its potential, it’s not uncommon for an array of improvement ideas to be provided to corporate stakeholders. Even before the pilot is complete, leadership can begin exploring ways to expand the use of the solution into new areas as well as prioritizing feature requests to deliver to the solution provider.
And even though the rollout eventually ends, food safety is never static. New regulations, new technology, new corporate initiatives, and a maturing food safety culture ensure that food safety practices will always evolve. With the right partner and a spirit of innovation, the food safety journey never ends.
In With the New: Managing Change for a Successful Implementation
From Door to Floor: Making the New Process Stick
Managing Change: Communication Is the Key
Setting a Realistic Retail Project Timeline
Happy Associates: How Training Can Lead to Greater Employee Satisfaction