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An Incremental Process for Software Implementation

Innovation researchers and software experts have long advocated incremental approaches to technology implementation. Fichman and Moses offer a strategy for guiding the implementation of advanced software technologies based on the principle of results-driven incrementalism (RDI), or self-contained implementation sequences -- each of which achieves a specific business result. The authors present an explicit process model and describe their experiences using the RDI strategy at Herman Miller, a large manufacturer of office furniture systems, which implemented supply-chain planning and scheduling software at six sites on time and within budget.

No longer only a tool to automate or speed up ways of working, advanced software enables fundamentally new policies and work organizations. As a result, implementing technological process innovations involves learning and adjustment costs, which may exceed the raw purchase cost of the technology itself. The RDI approach benefits firms by promoting organizational learning via multiple, short-horizon goals; maintaining implementation focus and momentum by providing recurring visible results; and negating the common tendency to overengineer technology solutions -- all of which speed the realization of business results and reduce the risk of implementation failure.

Consultants using the RDI approach found that some managers do not understand the benefits of self-contained implementation sequences and may consider such a process marginally valuable or impossible to use in their contexts. The authors cite five reasons for resistance and discuss ways to overcome it.

The three critical success factors of the RDI approach are technology divisibility, technology and methodology fit, and technology and organization fit. Determining the most effective delivery process for a particular software technology requires ongoing R&;D by someone. The authors advocate that technology vendors view effective implementation processes as crucial to success and worthy of their R&;D efforts.

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