1. Document your as-is.
2. Document your to-be.
3. Engage stakeholders.
4. Communicate clearly and regularly.
5. Measure regularly.
6. Fail fast.
It may come as no surprise that, in order to define invoice automation success, you need to have established what success will look like at the very start of your project.
What may come as a surprise is that this is something often overlooked by organisations. Especially where the people involved in the project have little or no previous experience.
Most organisations, or individuals, will have evaluated at least some of their pain points, why else would the project have kicked off? But not everyone takes the next logical step.
When kick starting your project to automate the accounts payable process there are a number of things we would recommend any organisation does. One of these is to define what the success of this project will look like.
What are Your Organisations Drivers?
We have mentioned in other posts the importance of actually understanding the wider business drivers for your project. In doing so, you should be able to effectively highlight and define what a successful project will deliver.
If you have taken the time to meet with departmental managers that could be impacted by any incoming automation solutions, logically it would make sense to ask them what automation success would look like from their perspective.
Purchasing will have a very different set of goals than Accounts Payable, as would Accounts Receivable, IT etc. Don’t forget, at different levels in the management chain there will also be different needs.
Of course, your organisational pain points do not have to be the only metrics by which you define invoice automation success or failure, for example;
As a business, are you anticipating or planning for growth in the coming few years?
As a business, is one of your drivers to ensure that you stay ahead of the technology curve, and subsequently your competitors?
Defining these at the very start of your project (or as early as you can) will be instrumental in determining the way in which your projects success is viewed in the wider business.
Don’t Forget the Normal Measures of Success.
Whilst it is easy to extol the virtues of clearly defining success based on your business challenges, pain points etc. we should mention, do not exclude or ignore the more standard measurements.
It is still important for you to define invoice automation success according to;
- Budget, was the project delivered within the budget initially agreed?
- Time, was the project completed on time?
- Impact, what was the impact of the project on the business?
- Implementation, was implementation of the solution completed according to plan?
- Uptake, has the technology been accepted and used in the business?
- Quality, does the chosen product deliver as needed by the business?
These measurements are a standard because they are important.
They should be included when determining your business drivers. From a broader sense, it is also these standard measurements that are more likely to be of interest to your budget holders.
Document What Invoice Automation Success Will Look Like.
Another key step that we would recommend, is for you and the business to commit to deadlines and milestones.
Importantly this means actually documenting them, you would be shocked if you knew how often this is not done effectively.
Too often projects are considered a failure by the wider business, or the media, purely because success was not clearly defined, documented and audited.
Why leave this open to chance? If you have taken the time to define what success would look like, you have applied key metrics, you have communicated this to the business and you are arranging for audits at each key milestone… Document it.
Once documented you will have removed any ambiguity from the project, your key stakeholders and influencers can buy into the project.
Not only should you take the time to commit this information to writing, but this document should then become an integral part of the project plan.
It should be clearly written and accessible, and regularly referred to as you progress, almost as importantly, it should be accessible to stakeholders, budget holders and the wider business.
Measure As You Go.
Defining what success looks like at the start of your project, but not actually measuring success until the end could result in some shocking results.
Not least if one of the key criteria for success is delivery by a set date, and this is something that even the most experienced project managers can struggle to achieve!
As with organisations not actually defining what success looks like at the start of the project, it may surprise you to know that a lot of organisations still do not measure the success of their project until completion.
In some instances, this is pushed out even further to coincide with the expected timescale for “break even” on the expenditure.
In the case of traditional on premise automation solutions this could easily be more than 18 months after the go live date. And go live can be anything up to 12 months after purchase decision. Thankfully cloud applications have drastically reduced this.
A very simple way for a business to measure success as the project runs its course is to schedule, and hold, regular audit meetings. These can start as early as you see fit, maybe the first of these is to ensure research is on schedule, maybe it is for vendor selection.
One recommendation would be to schedule these audits on a recurring date, rather than arranging them around key milestones. Why? Well, if one of your milestones is for vendor selection, but this is delayed, this would subsequently result in a delay to your audit, and potentially to the project.
Success Includes Lessons Learned.
Everyone that has been involved in a project of a serious size will know that regardless of outcome, there are always lessons learned.
Human nature dictates that when we review what has been done, we will find areas we wish we had done differently, to yield better results. This applies across virtually all aspects of our lives.
When carrying out your final reviews of the project, and applying the numbers to determine success or failure, take the time to actually document the lessons learned.
These may be hindsight’s, they may equally be specific points in the project which didn’t go according to plan, added delays, cost more than anticipated etc. and were overcome by the team.
As well as highlighting and documenting these points, it may be worth your time to actually document what you would have done differently.
At the end of the day, your project may have been to automate the accounts payable process, but the way in which you manage the project can be carried into any other business function.
To recap, in order to define invoice automation success, we suggest that you, engage the business, document the targets, audit your progress, review your results.
There is no one size fits all answer to the question of “how to define invoice automation success” but there are steps that you can take to ensure that the work you carry out, and the benefits you realise, are understood by your stakeholders and budget holders.