5 tips for a successful software implementation

New software should be an exciting event for a dental practice, not a painful one.

With the explosion of software features and functionality catering to the needs of DSOs and emerging dental groups, there is increasing interest in evaluating and purchasing new dental software. In some cases, however, DSOs and groups are hesitant to switch software because of fears related to implementation.

However, having been involved with numerous implementations over the past 20 years, I can tell you that there is a recipe, if followed, that can assure your DSO or dental group a successful implementation every time.

1. Select a dedicated project manager from dental group side

One team member should be designated to liaise with the vendor and manage the installation. This person will be responsible for collecting issues from the rest of the work group and communicating to the vendor as well as holding the vendor accountable for resolving problems.

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The project manager should not attempt to manage the project in his or her spare time; instead, a reduction in other duties should allow the person time and energy to devote to the process. To successfully install new software, the group must anticipate and prepare for the work. Implementation is a two-way street and communication must be enabled between the vendor and the group.

2. Organize dental group and vendor implementation teams

Dental groups need to prepare for implementation. The project manager cannot undertake the entire installation process alone. Data entry, customized templates and software training all require a team approach. The implementation team must include both administrative and clinical staff. The group must also schedule time for users to work with and troubleshoot daily tasks. Ensure that all team members know what tasks they should be able to accomplish at various stages of implementation and how to communicate internally about problems. All users of the software should be involved in training and testing.

A train-the-trainer approach can be beneficial: a small number of super users are trained by the vendor, then are given scheduled time with other practice staff to train them in the software. This approach can increase local expertise and reduce training cost, but a liaison is still necessary for technical support and troubleshooting.

The vendor’s implementation plan should clearly state who the vendor provides for implementation, training and contact. Often, a trainer as well as a relationship manager will be provided to a group. The roles for each vendor resource should be clearly stated, with contact information and when and how contact should be initiated. If there is a designated liaison from the vendor, that person’s availability should also be stated.

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3. Develop a detailed project plan

A project plan should be negotiated between the dental group and vendor. The kick-off meeting is the time to review and tweak the project plan. The project plan should specify when the project will begin, what the key milestones are, and remedies and steps to take if milestones are not met. Milestones could include hardware purchases, training sessions, customization or other items. Roles for various tasks and stages of implementation should also be specified.

Up next: Meetings and more planning


4. Conduct weekly status meetings

The liaison needs to collect issues, problems and concerns from all software users. The status meeting allows these problems to be discussed between the project team and the vendor and plans made for resolution. Issues and associated resolution plans should be documented and continually updated in an ongoing issues/triage list. Vendors should be held accountable for commitments made and documented in this list. Status meetings should be scheduled weekly and the liaison should be freed from other responsibilities to prioritize this process.

The process and timeline for reporting and collecting problems needs to be established and adhered to by the entire user base of the software. Delays in resolving problems can lead to inefficiencies and other major problems. You have the right and duty to ensure issues are raised with the vendor as soon as possible. If it’s a critical issue, don’t wait for scheduled status meetings. The project manager should be able to identify critical issues quickly and follow good communication practices to immediately let the vendor know and seek resolution.

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5. Plan for go-live

After data conversion, training and implementation are completed, you are ready to go live. Changing routines and tasks due to the new software will require adjustment, and it might take a little longer to do ordinary tasks until the new steps become familiar. In addition, users need to have the time to document problems and talk to the liaison and/or trainers in order to resolve them with minimal disturbance.

Make sure the vendor stays through the go-live. Go-live should not be the last date for training or status meetings. Organize a schedule so that the vendor will be around at least a few days after the go-live to help resolve problems.