I developed the implementation framework described below to help practitioners make sense of the inherent complexity of implementation, without being overwhelmed by it. This framework provides a 'big picture' reference to help ensure you have all relevant aspects of your effort covered. Use of the framework in designing your implementation supports an informed and proactive approach, as opposed to a "just do it" approach.
Keep in mind, the field of implementation research offers a wide-variety of frameworks; this is certainly one among many. However, as a practitioner you may not have the time, or perhaps even the interest, in reviewing and weighing the pros and cons of some 25 different frameworks. I developed this broad-based framework for that reason. It’s based on areas of consistency I identified in the research, as well as my own experience leading implementation efforts over the last 20 years.
An Integrated System of Reinforcing Parts
As you plan your implementation approach, it's helpful to consider each of the four elements that make up the framework: components, roles, phases, and context.
- Components refer to the tools, both physical and conceptual, that you will use to implement. Components provide structure to your implementation.
- Roles refer to the people who create or use the components to drive the implementation forward.
- Phases reflect the various stages in the development and execution of the implementation.
- Context refers to how the internal and external operating environment impacts the implementation.
Each of the four elements — components, roles, phases, and context — reinforces and supports the others to form an integrated whole. As such, while you don't need to be equally strong in all of them, you do need to ensure all are addressed as you plan your implementation. Below, I discuss each element in greater detail.
COMPONENTS - What & How
Components are the tools, both physical and conceptual, that you use to implement. They provide structure and definition to your effort. In my framework, components refer to five things: Desired Outcomes, Innovation, Training & Coaching, Measurement & Monitoring, and Plan & Infrastructure.
Desired Outcomes help to answer the essential question: “Why are we doing this?” They provide a minimum set of priority results the organization expects to achieve as a result of the implementation.
The Innovation is what you are implementing and should be selected based on its fit to your need, as well as your organizational culture and capacity to implement it. The innovation must be defined with sufficient specificity to also clarify what you are NOT implementing.
In all efforts, Training and Coaching provide essential knowledge and ongoing support to end-users to ensure they use the innovation effectively to produce desired results.
Performance Measurement and Monitoring involves developing a clear means for collecting, reviewing and responding to data and feedback about your effort. This is essential to identify what’s going well, what’s not, and what you need to do to improve.
Finally, every implementation effort requires a Plan and Infrastructure to give it form and provide clarity on how things will be done. This includes physical supports (e.g., a place for your team to your work), administrative supports (e.g., managers who provide time for staff to take part in implementation activities) and an implementation plan.
ROLES — Who
Make no mistake, although the components outlined above are important, implementation is fundamentally about people. Without people, nothing happens.
People play various roles to drive the implementation effort forward, and include: Implementation Team, Front-line Staff, Leadership, Customers/Beneficiaries and Influencers. Some of these roles require deep involvement in the effort, others only cursory participation. However, when leading an implementation you must recognize, acknowledge and engage with them all to some degree. Let’s briefly review each role.
Although there is an “I” in implementation, it is never a solo affair. It is essential to have an Implementation Team tasked with responsibility for the effort. The implementation team manages the effort, creating and implementing the components of the implementation.
The implementation team trains and supports Front-line Staff, which are the people who actually use the innovation or adopt the change you are implementing. The implementation team also engages with other stakeholders, such as Customers/Beneficiaries that will benefit from the implementation in some way, and other Influencers, gathering their input and feedback and transforming it into a clear vision, decisions and plans, and in later phases, improvements.
Organizational Leaders play a unique role in implementation; they are often solely positioned to clarify the organizational vision for the effort and to reinforce commitment during challenging times.
PHASES — WHEN
Effective implementation is a multi-phased, iterative effort, rather than a linear progression from “start” to “finish”. Thinking of it as such better enables you to focus on the right things at the right time. It also helps you set appropriate expectations for what will happen when and how fast.
One review of 25 implementation frameworks found that about 70% of activities supporting implementation happen BEFORE the execution phase! Informed by this finding, this framework outlines a proactive rather than a reactive approach to implementation.
The five phases included in my framework are: Decide, Prepare, Execute, Improve, and Sustain.
During Decide, it’s essential to make clear decisions about the purpose of the effort, the innovation that will be implemented, the resources that will be invested, and the people that will do it. Decisions made during this phase will guide all subsequent planning decisions.
Preparation includes documenting the innovation, assembling the implementation team, creating a clear plan and schedule and designing training and support approaches.
All this is done before roll-out of the innovation happens during the Execution phase. Monitoring the implementation during execution is essential to provide data and feedback for the Improvement phase, during which adjustments are made to support increased results.
Only after improvements are made, sometimes through several cycles of additional implementation, can the organization move to Sustainment, or maintenance, transitioning responsibility for and integrating the innovation into normal operations.
Context - Where
No two implementations are the same and context is often the reason why. Your implementation can be impacted by all kinds of internal contextual factors, such as whether or not other organizational changes are being implemented concurrently, shifts in executive leadership, failure of past change efforts, or the current performance level of the organization overall. It can also be impacted by external factors, such as changes in the regulatory or economic climate, actions taken by competitors or partners, or even popular opinion about what you are implementing.
For this reason, you should take stock of the environment in which you are operating and incorporate your assessment of contextual risks and opportunities into your planning and management strategies. Although it would be awfully convenient, most implementations do not operate in a bubble sealed off from outside influences. So, it's best to not act as if they do.
For a deeper discussion of this framework, look for my forthcoming book, "The Implementer's Starter Kit," in Fall 2017. Until then, I invite you to explore my blog.