Call them myths, wishful thinking, or ideas born from inexperience, either way there are beliefs that executives, managers and even some developing implementers have about implementation that can be major roadblocks to success. I outline those I've seen most often in my twenty-years as an implementer, as well as some of the factors that help to distinguish myth from reality.
A word of advice, if you hear these myths spoken as truth in your organization, challenge them. Success will be that much harder to achieve otherwise.
Myth: You can implement at a "high-level" based the "big picture".
If you are fuzzy on the answers to these two questions — "Why are we doing it?" and "What is IT, exactly, that we are implementing?" — success will be hard to define, let alone achieve. A skilled implementer will work with leaders, stakeholders and the implementation team to put the necessary flesh on the bones of an idea, before the physical actions of implementing are undertaken. In fact, one literature review of implementation frameworks found that MOST of the activities that support successful implementation, take place prior to the start of the actual implementation (Meyers, 2012).
Myth: Technical skill = Implementation skill.
The person with the most technical knowledge about what you are implementing, may not be the best person to lead the implementation of it. Implementation is a separate skill set, which requires deep abilities in a variety of areas such as project management, communications, measurement and engagement. If your technical expert also has these capabilities, great. If not, you may be in for a bumpy ride.
Myth: We are focused on the future, current state doesn't matter anymore.
If you want to go to New York, it makes a difference if you are starting in New Jersey or somewhere in Sub-saharan Africa, right? Similarly, implementation is about traveling the distance between current and future states. It matters A LOT how much distance is between them. Accurately gauging that demands deep knowledge of both the current state and desired future state, and will affect both how you approach the implementation and how long it will likely take.
Myth: There are two phases to implementation: Start and Finish.
Implementing for results often requires continuous (not necessarily constant) effort over an extended period of time. It is an iterative process of trying, learning and improving.
In this way, embedding a new policy, practice, or strategy in an organization is more like planting a tree, than constructing a building. You can't just plant it and walk away. You have to water, prune and protect it until it's hearty enough to stand on its own.
Myth: Activity = Results.
Getting things done is not the same as getting results. Defining desired outcomes upfront and ensuring a solid measurement plan is in place is essential to avoid confusing busyness with effectiveness.
Be aware, activity is immediate and easier to measure than outcomes, which will take longer to see. Don't claim victory, or defeat (!), too early.
Can you think of any other implementation myths that need busting? Please share them in the comments section below — we'll all benefit from your contribution.
Meyers, Duncan C., Joseph A. Durlak, and Abraham Wandersman. "The Quality Implementation Framework: A Synthesis of Critical Steps in the Implementation Process." American Journal of Community Psychology 50.3-4 (2012): 462-80. Web. 6 May 2016.