The Four Phases of Implementation

By Jacques Murphy
November 03, 2011

The Four Phases of Implementation is a helpful concept that you can take with you from customer to customer, project to project, and job to job to help you remain focused on results when facing an undertaking that leaves you doubting your ability to get to the results you so badly want.


A Newsletter of Tips For Companies that Develop Software

In today's issue I'm going to write about something that is near and dear to my heart, something that I have found tremendously helpful working with customers to implement new software and working on my own and with teammates to make important things happen. It's a way to understand the psychological stages which you – and everyone else I have ever met – go through when you work on a major new undertaking such as buying and implementing a software product. I call it the Four Phases of Implementation.

The Four Phases of Implementation is by no means my original idea. I first read about it in a book about proposal writing, I believe, and I believe the author did not claim the idea as his own. Rather, he was passing along an idea that was widespread. I, however, had never heard it before, and have found it extremely helpful ever since.

I have found the Four Phases of Implementation to be so useful, in fact, that at my current company I started paying a visit to each and every class of trainees in our product for the express purpose of describing the Four Phases. I know that by imparting this information to my customers, I can help them better work through the implementation of our software product. Not only does it help them directly, but I charge them with taking the Four Phases idea and walking their teammates through it when they get back at the office, all in the interest of making our product easier to adopt and making its implementation more successful.


I think you'll find the Four Phases of Implementation to be a helpful concept that you can take with you from customer to customer, project to project, and job to job to help you remain focused on results when facing an undertaking that leaves you doubting your ability to get to the results you so badly want.

Through the four phases of an implementation, the morale of those participating in the project takes a predictable path. It is this morale that is necessary to the success of your project. The more morale can be increased, the more successful your implementation will be viewed. Understanding the four phases helps you manage and cultivate the high morale you are aiming for.


The first phase, the Oh Boy phase, is fun. "Oh Boy, we just purchased a new software product, and it's going to help us analyze our sales data and target new prospects a whole lot better!" This is the honeymoon phase.

Morale is very high in the Oh Boy phase. People are excited and optimistic, and probably have unrealistic expectations about the amount of time and effort that will be required to implement your software. They're looking forward to great improvements or even transformations from your product. The worst part about this phase is, like a honeymoon, how short it is.


I have often used a cruder version of the name for this phase, but I'll use this one in this article for politeness' sake. Feel free to use the version you prefer. This is the phase you'll wind up focusing on the most, since it's the toughest one.

When the reality sinks in about how much time and effort will be required to implement your software, people enter the Oh Shoot phase. Morale plummets during this phase. Instead of "Oh boy, this will help us fix our reports!" people are thinking: "Oh shoot, I can't believe how much work we must do to fix our data so that it will work right in the reports! How are we ever going to get that done? Will anyone even help us?"

When implementation projects hit the Oh Shoot phase and remain stuck there, that's when projects fail entirely. It is vital that you work to make the Oh Shoot phase as short as possible, and that you work to move everyone – yourself, your customers, every member of the team, every user – to the next phase.

By anticipating the Oh Shoot phase and planning to counter it, you will keep the implementation of your software on track.


The third phase is the Oh, Well phase. "Oh, well, we have a lot of work to do to get our data where we need it to be, but once that's done, we'll have the reports that we have wanted for so long now." This phase can vary greatly in length, lasting from the end of the Oh Shoot phase all the way until your product is successfully implemented. The more time required to implement your product, the longer this phase will last.

In the Oh, Well phase, morale starts out low, right down where it dropped in the Oh Shoot phase. Then it slowly gets better as you make progress towards your implementation goals. As each unwelcome task is accomplished and each milestone is met, morale rises. The steadier your progress, the more steadily it rises.

It's critical to understand that morale in the Oh, Well phase doesn't start out very high, and doesn't rise very fast at first. That makes it hard to determine whether you are out of the Oh Shoot phase or not. Your implementation is making significant, even vital, progress when you have moved into the Oh, Well phase, but when you measure morale, it doesn't seem all that much better at first, so it can be hard to tell that the implementation is in fact progressing. Over time, it becomes clear that things are improving. The trick is to determine whether morale is improving, albeit slowly, in which case you are in the Oh, Well phase, or whether it is stagnant and you're stuck in the Oh Shoot phase.

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About the Authors

  • Jacques Murphy tailors best practices in software product management to your company and products, creating competitive advantage through better product roadmaps, product requirements and product launches. Read more of his articles on this site or on or via email at

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