The ProjectTeam professional services team has extensive experience implementing Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) and over that time, we’ve learned a lot of lessons that we can pass on to our clients. Over the years, organizations have become more knowledgeable about their software purchases. Client requirements have grown from dozens to hundreds. To compete in the market, PMIS solutions have been forced to close the gaps in capabilities.
Today, organizations can feasibly find several products that meet over 95% of their requirements. So, what is the key differentiator when choosing a PMIS solution in 2022? In my opinion, it’s the implementation.
A typical RFP or sales engagement will focus almost exclusively on product capabilities, completely ignoring the importance of the implementation. A couple questions on the RFP and a few slides in the presentation does not provide decision-makers with what they need to make an informed selection. While the variance in product capabilities may be slight, implementation capabilities could be drastically different. I’ll take the third best product expertly implemented over the best product poorly implemented every time.
Consider the costs of a poor implementation. First, there is the easy to quantify, the financial investment. The cost of subscriptions and professional services from the vendor, the cost of internal resources or consultants to select, implement, and support the solution, training, integrations, and travel expenses to name a few. Then there’s the hard to quantify but usually more costly, lost productivity, employee frustration, and client dissatisfaction.
Do you throw good money after bad and attempt to salvage the implementation or start over with a different product? To reduce the likelihood of being faced with this question, you better understand the implementation capabilities of the companies in consideration. Focus on the who, what, and when.
Who will be responsible for performing the implementation? Request a staffing plan with resumes of key personnel. Focus on the implementation lead. On a complex implementation this could be a dedicated project manager, in other scenarios it would be appropriate for a business consultant or implementation specialist to lead. The staffing plan should clearly define this individual by name, who they report to, the support staff they have available to them, and escalation points for all parties. If shortlisted, request that this individual participate in an interview or presentation and field all implementation-related questions. This person should be able to establish credibility as an expert on the product, the implementation process, and the industry they serve. If selected, name that resource in the contract.
What is the implementation process? Look for this in the form of a Project Management Plan (aka Implementation Plan, Work Plan, Project Plan, etc.). I would be cautious of responses such as “We will deliver a Project Management Plan within 30 days of contract award”, a generic “Our proven methodology will ensure a successful implementation”, or a plagiarized chart from the PMBOK of the five process groups of a project. Ask questions and challenge their approach, looking for examples and details in their responses. Does the process include planning and discovery that ensures requirements are complete and measurable? Does it allow for the implementation team to challenge requirements and recommend best practices? Does the change management process allow for flexibility to incorporate improvements without impacting cost or schedule? What is the system of record for implementation documentation? It’s surprising how many Project Management Information Systems are “flexible enough to meet the needs of any project” except for their own.
When will you see value from your investment? Request a preliminary schedule for the implementation. The days of 6, 12, or even 18-month implementations are over with the efficiencies of modern systems. Because of this, there are fewer variables that could impact a schedule. At a minimum, a Gantt schedule aligning with the project management plan showing dependencies should be provided with a list of risks that may have an impact. Ideally, it would also identify the level of effort required by your resources at the various stages of the implementation.
Expanding on these three focal areas with your organization's specific needs will provide a complete picture of the implementation capabilities of the companies in consideration.