5 tips for a successful internal system redesign

Internal systems redesign projects are strange beasts.

Often put off for as long as humanly possible without bringing the business to a grinding halt, internal systems redesigns don’t get much attention because they don’t deliver an immediate and large boost to the bottom line. But without them, your internal systems and the processes associated with them are prone to lagging behind both the industry standard and the competition.

They’re also not public facing, so it’s kinda hard to make a big song and dance about something your customers would never see or benefit directly from. But they certainly would benefit from the time and effort spent on overhauling an ageing or outdated internal system. Whether through faster turnaround times on queries and tighter SLAs, or by lower costs and higher efficiency, clients absolutely reap the benefits of investing in an updated internal platform.

The value of redesigning an internal system is clear (if you look closely enough), but doing it in an efficient and focused way with as few reverts as possible does require a bit of forethought and planning. To help you on your way, here are five top tips to mastering the internal system redesign quest.

1. Identify functionality and prioritise

Chances are if your internal system has been in use long enough to require an overhaul, and is valuable enough to warrant the price tag of a redesign, it’s going to contain a tonne of functionality. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Project Sponsors trying to stay within budget), that means you’re probably not going to be able to include all that functionality in the first version.

Here's where prioritisation is going to best your best mate. And simply saying, “Yeah, we’ll do these first, and maybe these after, and see if we can fit these in at the end” isn’t going to cut it at this stage. You’ll need to be ruthless about what’s getting included in the redesign project – and stick to it, lest you anger the dreaded scope creep gods.

Most project owners borderline demand that all features are included on launch, as they see the new platform as a like-for-like replacement of the old. Consider a phased launch plan, or dual-running the old and new platforms for a while to get around this.

2. Aim to make life as easy as possible with the new system

There’s not a huge amount of use in redesigning your internal systems if you don’t build in any valuable new functions. This is your opportunity to add time - and sanity - saving features like automation or batch processing – efficiency gains that can help you quite literally transform your business.

To help you figure out how to do this, having the right people on board from day zero is essential. If your business comprises six core services, then you need six team members involved - one representative from each of those core services. The Standard Bearers: these team members need to know their tools and processes back to front and upside down, because they’re going to be the ones to tell you exactly what they need from your newfangled internal system.

But having them present is only half the battle. You need to grill them until they’re well done, squeeze them until they give up the juice of what they really, absolutely must have to do their job.

3. Co-design with your intended users

Getting the exact requirements from someone who’s going to be using your new internal platform to perform their job is essential to building a useful, usable, and desirable internal platform. And when I say “someone”, what I actually mean is many someones because no, one user, could possibly provide all the input you’ll need.

So, talk. Talk to your team members, the Standard Bearers. Talk for a couple of hours. Take a break, maybe come back tomorrow. Talk some more, and some more, and once again. Ask them about their current workarounds for the limitations of the system, or their frustrations with the platform (“I wish I could do X, Y, Z”). Observe them as they go about their jobs, if you’re allowed to.

In an internal system redesign we recently completed for one of our clients, the existing platform didn’t allow users to lookup information about any entity on the system without closing their current page, opening a lookup window, searching for the entity, and choosing it from a list. Once they had the info they were looking for, they had to write it down on a physical notepad because copying wasn’t allowed, and then go back to their task and manually type that data in. Madness. Insanity. Don’t worry, we fixed it for them.

4. Consider including the latest design principles

We’ve already established that your internal system needed an overhaul because it was old, slow, or unreliable – or all the above. Process and technology go hand in hand, and that happy pairing continues to innovate year on year. Now’s your chance to design in the foundations that will further enable your teams to step their efficiency up even further.

What we’re talking about here are things like automation, batch processing, full-platform search, built-in analytics, user-specific site customisation, to mention just a few. Essentially, you’d be wise to think about the cornerstones of the best internal systems out there and consider adding them to yours. These will likely be features that your intended users wouldn’t have thought of, but don’t let that hold you back – we’re trying to revolutionise your internal system, not merely give it a facelift.

So, all done, right? Never.

5. Don’t spurn continual improvement

A whole heap of the pain experienced during a full internal system overhaul can so easily be avoided by addressing issues and user needs as they arise. Remember the analogy of the frog and the ever-hotter water? Think something like that. Don’t get yourself slowly boiled alive by ignoring problems.

It’s much healthier for your business if you’re putting out those little fires on your platform regularly, rather than dealing with a full-blown wildfire after letting everything fester for decades.

There’s much more than just the five tips above that goes into performing an internal system redesign, but nailing down these five things should set you on a golden path to success if you keep them in mind. If you’re thinking about going ahead with one, just remember the initial decision to redesign an old internal system should be based on a thorough analysis of the specific needs and circumstances of the organisation.

But, if done correctly and at the right time, the benefits of a new, quicker, more intuitive internal platform far outstrip the costs.

If you want to chat to Jono about how internal system redesigns could transform the way in which you and your team work, get in touch.

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