The 5Ws of Slate Implementation for Colleges and Universities

Implementing any new tool on campus can be a daunting task. The team. The timeline. The configuration. The misconfiguration. The reconfiguration. A lot goes into getting a system up-and-running. While many institutions focus exclusively on the “how,” taking the time to think about all five of the Ws (Who? What? Where? When? Why? And then, how?) can help you execute implementation more efficiently and effectively.  I’ve assisted dozens of institutions with their Slate implementation and, over the years, I’ve noticed that many teams jump right into the “how” of an implementation without considering the other essential questions. Substantive research and discovery through the 5Ws enables a team to take a more holistic view of the project prior to implementation. Indeed, approaching implementation like a research project and breaking these questions down at institutional, departmental and individual levels can pay dividends in getting the “how” of the project off to a fantastic start.

Who?

What stakeholders made up the system selection committee? What level of investment do each of those individuals or departments hold? More importantly, what level of investment are they willing to commit to the success of the project? The conundrum of “too many chefs” is one that any institution should strive to avoid, but interdepartmental feedback about expected outcomes at the outset ultimately saves time and ensures a buildout that thoughtfully considers the needs of various stakeholders. Plus, initial stakeholder feedback and sustained interdepartmental communication creates immediate buy-in that makes building the project timeline, and determining how to allocate resources, significantly easier. I’ve encountered institutions at which the IT, marketing and admissions departments occupy separate silos and, as a result, I’ve learned the importance of bringing all involved parties together at appropriate points in an implementation. These conversations create value through inclusion and, thus, result in a more efficient implementation.

While the core contributors to an initial assessment will be the departments and individuals who were involved in the selection or who will be involved moving forward, it would be a disservice to exclude those who have not been heard. Are there teams on campus that you’ll need to engage long-term or whose roles could benefit specific aspects of the implementation? Reaching out early on opens the door to dialogue that could be essential later on. It’s surprising just how much these conversations pay off as you move through the process.

What?

After determining the “who” part of the equation, it’s a good time to revisit the “what.” There can be months between the initial demo or inquiry and implementation. Has the product evolved in that timeframe? What elements of the tool do you want to implement? More importantly, in what order do you need to complete those tasks? I once worked with an institution that began implementing Slate almost one year (for internal reasons) after finalizing their contract. By the time they were ready to begin implementation, there were new elements to the system that they had not encountered before. Revisiting the “what” allows your team to clarify the goals of the implementation and to begin creating metrics that will inform your timeline and ultimately create accountability.

When?

There are several important “when” questions to assess before implementing a new tool. When do you need to be live with your system? Are there certain elements that need to be live earlier? If you’re migrating from another system, what’s the sunset date? Most importantly, when are the individuals on your team going to find the time to get your new system performance-ready? Keeping the “what questions in mind as you’re asking “when” can help you strengthen your timeline with hard dates. In addition to asking “when” within your own team, you’ll want to have an understanding of other stakeholders’ timelines, as well as what related projects are in progress across campus—especially those that intersect with your implementation in terms of scope and resources. Asking the right questions, and engaging relevant stakeholders, throughout your assessment is the key to streamlining implementation.

Where?

Typically, this question refers to the location of the implementation: likely on your desk, in a conference room, or over the phone. I have worked with colleges and universities who have locked themselves in a room to dedicate uninterrupted time to implementation. However, don’t just think about the physical space. Think even more so about where this project will lead you, your team and your institution. The “where” questions will define your goals and solidify the trajectory of your project, as well as its potential for facilitating future projects. When implemented correctly, technology creates efficiencies and streamlines processes. When you begin to think about where you want to go, it will be easier to define how the tool will allow you to get there.

Why?

As a dad of toddlers, I know this question all too well. I also appreciate it. As a member of an implementation team, “why” should be the question you most commonly ask before, during, and after an implementation. The easiest answer: you’re implementing this tool to save time and money and to refine your processes. By asking why your processes are the way they are, you are ultimately creating an opportunity to better serve your customers. Implementation is often an occasion to rethink how things have always been done. You might consider creating a survey or hosting stakeholder focus groups to determine which processes are outdated or redundant. Start big and scale down to see how processes are interconnected and how they might be optimized. Overall, the most important thing to remember when asking “why” is to keep an open mind. The answers might not be readily available and that’s okay. Think of unanswered questions as new opportunities. The best implementations I have participated in are those that include teams who perpetually ask “why?”

While each of these questions is vital to achieving a successful implementation, the most successful teams see implementation as an opportunity to refresh processes, rather than as a mechanical process of installing a new tool. If you find yourself thinking about how your team will manage all of these elements or if you’re starting to think about the how of implementation, feel free to reach out. We want to help your great cause succeed. 

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Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President for Marketing Integration at RHB.