Deployment Vs. Implementation – Is There a Difference?

This is an update to the original post…

Short answer? Absolutely there’s a difference; a very significant difference despite the fact that many in L&D and other business disciplines use the two words interchangeably. The most critical mistake is treating Deployment as the finish line. The difference leaves a gaping hole between a successful launch of anything effective and full adoption of any solution mix into the flow of work designed to sustain measurable business outcomes.

There Are Really Five Phases to Successful Solution Integration

1 – ASSESSMENT – Reaching Deployment [GoLive] – is not the end of the effort, nor is it the beginning phase. Our first challenge is verifying we should be deploying anything…or something else. If we have not completed an assessment of the Point-of-Work (Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA). Too often we (L&D) receive a well-intended order from an operational stakeholder for training…and then we build it per the request. These requests are a function of a long-held paradigm that Training Drives Performance when all training events can prove is evaluation at levels one and two. Point-of-Work has not been impacted yet. Point-of-Work is where Performance and outcomes are generated. Sadly, if a PWA has not been accomplished, there is no real proof a training solution is all or part of an effective solution.

Whatever solution mix is built for GoLive should be a validated intervention(s) based on identified performance restrainers at the Point-of-Work. At the core, a PWA requires a performance consulting mindset and root cause investigative skills. My experiences have seen these skills lacking in many L&D shops.

2 -DEPLOYMENT – Deployment aligns with a moment in time referred to as GoLive. There is often a big gala GoLive party with clowns, 3-bite shrimp, face-painting, and possibly an open bar if the deployment is large enough…and IT has some budget left over…celebrating the system going live and delivered to the business. Training relaxes because they met the unreasonable deadlines to get everyone through the training gauntlet and the count of butts-in-seats matched the number of sign-on credentials issued.

Too often L&D’s role ends after the GoLive launch and we move on to attack the next order for training. Many of us have plunged down this rabbit hole shortly after successfully reaching Deployment of a new enterprise business system…or a new product launch to the sales force…or releasing a new learning intervention to a targeted workgroup. The GoLive grand opening ribbon gets cut as a new course launches and the celebration begins…and somebody with a bull horn turns toward the Help Desk and screams, “INCOMING!”

3 – IMPLEMENTATION – Deployment cannot be our final destination; rather it should mark the beginning of Implementation. Implementation of any solution into the workflow at Points-of-Work represents the only area within our ecosystem where we will find verifiable analytics (measurable proof of impact) at levels three and four.

Reactionary damage-control and mad scramble by support staff, help desk, subject matter experts, emergency consultants, and on the rare occasion, a few EMTs with defibrillators are not sustainable. Included are those in leadership who look back at Training with that look of disgust on their faces inferring we did a lousy job of creating a state of readiness in the workforce. Excessive finger pointing to place the blame on somebody…anybody else…ensues. Slowly, with significant errors experienced and mistake isolation delays and redundant rework occurring, familiarity of Implementation shortfalls build at the speed of a freshly planted corn field in a drought. The workforce learning curve is largely defined by trial and error creating unnecessary cost to the business.

4 – ADOPTION – Implementation is not the ultimate destination. We cannot overlook the prized goal and most critical phase known as full Adoption. We want users reach unconscious competency…meaning they willingly use the systems as a matter of routine without threats or bribes of earning blue jean Fridays. Using the system becomes as routine as sending an email…users don’t even think about which application to use, they just do it.

Leading Change to full Adoption is a success factor to any solution whether course-based, technology-oriented, or any other intervention that introduces Change into the flow of work.

5 – SUSTAIN – There must be steps taken to Sustain the state of Adoption. I’m sure you can see how these phases line up nicely with a new Enterprise Resource Program – ERP launch…or a Client Relationship Management – CRM system…or a new Electronic Health Records – EHR. BUT…and this is critical…these are all technology systems. What about the workforce user population that is supposed to leverage the power of these systems…after GoLive…and during Implementation and ensuring Adoption?

L&D Resource assets (including training) should receive the same urgency and the same attention to established protocols for maintenance and currency as IT showers on system maintenance, updates, upgrades, and post-GoLive tweaks to ensure system optimization. Protocols should exist to maintain visible, accessible lines of ownership to ensure currency of content via technology designed to track content development though the entire 5-phase process from pre-deployment PWA to ongoing sustainability.

Closing Thoughts

Yes, the definitions above are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but when you consider much of learning failure never happens until the Deployment gala event has been cleaned up. Even the technology L&D depends on is staged to accommodate everything regarding learning up to the GoLive deployment event. When training completion data is in the bank, the job is done for the most part. Precious little extra effort takes place to shorten the learning curve or divert Help Desk call volumes during implementation; in fact, L&D does not have an implementation role short of re-training the problem children and those who had a doctor’s note during the main training event.

L&D should have a role in all five phases starting with assessing performance at Point-of-Work with a PWA. The results will reveal attributes of task-centric, roles-specific performance at Point-of-Work that restrain performance. What better data for designing a training solution could you find?

The PWA is not limited to training needs but is inclusive of other non-skill related performance needs in the workflow. Root cause(s) are not always deficient skills or knowledge. Consider broken processes…access to the right systems…the ability use those systems…access to the right information resources at the moment of need in the workflow…effective leadership skills of the managers and supervisors…and so on.

If L&D spent half the time enabling human performance at Point-of-Work to overcome performance restrainers as IT spends in fine-tuning and optimizing the systems prior to GoLive, think about how much more productive the workforce would be…with shortened learning curves to overcome…not to mention how the Help Desk would fare better with 40-50% fewer distress calls.

Sounds like I’m dumping on L&D’s failing role in effectively training users prior to GoLive doesn’t it? Don’t go there. L&D is doing what L&D has done for eons…we Train. In another sense, we DEPLOY learning. Without effective IMPLEMENTATION there will be decreased ADOPTION, and then…what is there to SUSTAIN if we never implement effectively enough to even reach full adoption?

THAT is where the Training Paradigm fails…versus an epic L&D fail. We live in our traditional paradigm…we take a request to build training…and then we build it.  Done. We DEPLOY and then we move onto the next training project. We fail our workforce despite doing an amazing job of building and deploying training. I must also clarify that the training itself does not fail; its the capability and effectiveness to enable and sustain knowledge retention that fails. And there are Point-of-Work technologies specifically for that, but that’s another post.

Where is this failure clearly obvious? Point-of-Work! L&D does not implement beyond the deployment of learning…does not go downstream to the post-training Point-of-Work where knowledge retention loss routinely takes no prisoners.

We cannot stop at Deployment of learning. We must reinforce learning at Point-of-Work with performance support to ensure successful Implementation. We must ensure full Adoption by intentionally designing assets to address ongoing moments of need as the system and workforce population evolves and matures. And we must build protocols that leverage technology to Sustain currency, rapid updates, and maintenance of critical information resources.

Sounds like a project that never ends right? You bet it is!

So where does that leave us? We have the knowledge. We have the technology. What I fear we do not have is the wisdom. Hang on…calm down…Wisdom is not lacking as a function of insufficient intelligence; rather, wisdom is limited by blind-spots. Paradigms do that sort of thing. Not the new paradigms but the old ones in which we find ourselves trapped.

Thanks for reading and take good care!


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning