Common Pitfalls of Community Development System Software Implementation

We’ve probably all had our boss assign us to a task that we may not have any prior experience performing. If you are handed the job of implementing a new community development software system, you’re going to want to be aware of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of system implementation projects by following the advice offered in this blog series. If not, you will likely position your organization to plummet like many before you, into the most common pitfalls encountered when implementing new software.

This four-part blog series will expose common hazards in the areas of project management and planning; software evaluation and selection; and the software implementation and delivery process. In addition, it will provide step by step guidance to properly evaluate and implement CDS software. The series will be broken down into the following topics:

Part One  – “Common Pitfalls of Community Development System Software Implementation”

Part Two  – “Assessing Needs and Planning for Community Development Software Implementation”

Part Three –  “How to Evaluate and Select a Community Development Software System”

Part Four – ” How to Implement a New Community Development Software System”


Part one exposes common problems encountered when local government community development services (CDS) fail to conduct proper planning when implementing a new land management permitting system. As a result of not following a structured approach based on project management (PM) fundamentals, you can expect to face these pitfalls and a very frustrating experience ahead. Lucky for you, we also provide recommendations to help you avoid falling prey to these common pitfalls.

Pitfall #1 Oversimplification

Excitement and eagerness to replace an outdated system tend to blind decision makers from seeing important upfront planning actions, causing them to oversimplify the implementation process as a whole. New software alone will not solve all operational problems. However, this idea often leads the uninformed to focus on the purchase software as an end goal. Because of this short sighted approach, decision makers often overlook critical success factors such as properly assessing needs and evaluating the organizational readiness to implement a new system.

A successful implementation requires not only selecting the right software application, but also establishing a comprehensive plan that includes a proper scope, schedule, and budget. Underestimating the resources required to complete all facets of a system implementation will lead to a snowball effect of other pitfalls to fall victim to.

Pitfall #2 Communication Issues

One of the fundamental tenants of the PM Body of Knowledge is communication. It’s no surprise that a common finding of many failed implementations can be traced back to poor communication. Misunderstandings internal to the department are inevitable if upfront planning is shortchanged. Without properly establishing the scope of the project, along with other parameters such as resources and schedule, the budget cannot be accurately assessed. This will cause a downstream of issues resulting in finger-pointing and blaming others.

Frequently, communication challenges occur between a CDS point of contact (POC) and the software supplier. For example, a major activity commonly overlooked when scoping CDS software projects is data migration. If the level of effort is not specifically identified, defined, documented, and negotiated during the contract phase, it is guaranteed to cause numerous issues once the project begins. Too often, these kinds of situations cause delays for the implementation team. When communication between the vendor and CDS customer begins to get lost in translation, it can turn into a blame game. This common pitfall often leads to a frustrated customer agency and possibly a strained vendor relationship moving forward.

Pitfall #3 Unrealistic Expectations

Confusion surrounding project objectives is common and must be managed throughout the purchase and implementation phases of a new software system. Experienced implementers understand that differences can occur when interpreting purchase contract details – all the more reason to have a well-documented agreement about the scope and project deliverables. Most commonly, inappropriate expectations develop because jurisdictions fail to make a formal request for proposal (RFP). When jurisdictions fail to create or publicize RFP requirements, the project expectations are left open to interpretation. Oftentimes this leads to key data and desired functionality being left out unintentionally.

In addition, expectations can change at any moment, so it’s essential PM’s are prepared. Many times during an implementation process, jurisdictions discover the software can do much more than they initially thought. As they learn more about the systems capabilities, they want more to be added to it. When this occurs, it changes the project’s budget, time, and resource expectations – something that neither the vendor or jurisdiction were prepared to do.

Pitfall #4 Resources Constraints

Adapting a new system that meets the needs of the CDS department requires the users of the system to be consistently involved throughout the procurement and implementation process. It is important to consider your organizations current resources, as well as any additional resources that are necessary to implement a new software system.

Generally, implementation activities are a peripheral duty to the CDS staff who already have full time jobs maintaining daily operations. Given that, resource planning during the initiation phase is critical. Otherwise, you will encounter schedule conflicts and delays completing assignments meeting deliverable deadlines. A typical CDS system implementation takes three to six months start to finish. Inadequate resource planning combined with staff who are unavailable to participate in key activities can delay the go live date by a year or longer. In conclusion, a system implementation is no small feat, thus proper attention to planning resource needs is essential to project success.

Pitfall #5 Fragmented Effort

This last implementation pitfall is bound to trip you up. Your progress will slow if the scope is not defined, project communications are challenged, expectations are not aligned, and resources are not adequately planned. Undoubtedly, you will face an uphill climb overcoming many impediments, delays, and lost work effort, if your overall approach is undisciplined from the start.

It can be difficult to maintain staff enthusiasm for a new software initiative without an established plan of action in place, as well as a dedicated project leader to coordinate the various activities often involving the entire CDS organization. From the initial conception, a properly organized, well-managed software purchase and implementation will take a year or longer depending on the complexity of the effort. Ideally, a successful project is on-time, within budget, and has achieved all of the scope’s objectives. If the project initiative proceeds without a formal PM process, the road ahead will be fragmented with many starts and stops, leaving little hope for project success on the horizon.

Our Recommendation

If it’s not obvious yet, the main piece of advice to avoid these common pitfalls is to formalize your project management approach. Doing so, will set your organization up to achieve optimal results in the most efficient way possible. We suggest to structure your efforts by following a formal project management methodology.

Any IT initiative involving software purchase and implementation should be guided from the start. Your initiative should include a documented project charter that clearly defines the goals and objectives, the organization’s commitment of resources, and a plan that includes the scope, schedule, and budget.

Lastly, do not underestimate your department size. Small cities and county departments are just as prone to failed software implementations as the largest. So regardless of the scale of your business operations, investing time and resources in upfront planning and a systematic approach will result in quicker return of investment.

Next up! Part two:  “Assessing Needs and Planning for Community Development Software System Implementation”

Don’t know what CDS software to choose? No worries! Part two will guide you through a three-stage approach to assess organizational needs and plan for CDS implementation and prepare for the implementation phase.

SMARTGOV streamlines permitting using cloud-based solutions to manage community development. Online permitting, licensing, code enforcement, mapping, payment collection, communication with constituents, inspections and more — the work of development is managed in one simple portal. Because SMARTGOV is modular and ready to launch, communities can adopt our solutions quickly and affordably, saving time and money while delivering better customer service. Contact us to learn more.