You secured the budget, obtained leadership endorsement, purchased your procurement software, and are ready to implement. Then it hits you – there is no way we can do this on our own! If that sounds like you…you are not alone. In fact, the vast majority of companies preparing to implement procurement automation software have correctly realized they need the help of an experienced, certified software implementation partner.
The journey is full of challenges, some you may not know exist. Software providers do the best they can during the sales cycle to prepare you, but the reality is, there is just too much to know. It can feel overwhelming to look at an 8 – 18 month project plan with more than six workstreams. Planning your team’s resource utilization, understanding how each workstream ties into the others and connecting dependencies – HELP!
It’s time to reach out for help and find an implementation partner. Here are some ideas of what to look for when selecting a partner.
Experience matters. More than anything. You need a partner that has done this before, and not just once. When interviewing prospective implementation partners, the first questions asked should relate to the partner’s overall experience with your software package:
- How many times have you deployed it?
- What versions have you deployed?
- Do you understand our backend systems like ERP, HR, EAM, Inventory, Plant Maintenance, etc.?
- Do you offer Change Management services?
Once you hear the general corporate experience, you must dive into the resources proposed for your project. It’s not enough for the company’s leaders to have 20+ years of experience – you need to ensure the consulting team assigned to your project has the in-depth experience required for a successful implementation. Be sure this is not a team of rookies who will be learning on the job. Find out where the consulting team has deployed, how many times, and if they have deployed your specific use case. You should also ask if they have worked together before. Too often partners will throw together a team of rookies that haven’t met each other and assign a senior project manager to hold it all together. Clearly not ideal. You want an experienced team that knows how to work together and will seamlessly fit into your culture. Meet the actual team that will work on your project.
Most software providers will offer training and certification programs for implementation partners. It is critical that the partner you select have these certifications across all in-scope modules. Most commonly, there will be a certification for the general platform as well as specific areas of focus. For example, you should expect the partner’s consultants to be certified in Sourcing, Contracts, Supplier Management and Purchase to Pay. Multiple levels of certification exist – Associate (basic knowledge), Consultant (senior level implementers) and in some cases Expert level certification. Ensure the partner brings a team of certified consultants to your project who have demonstrated abilities and are recognized by the software vendor as being competent. Software vendor certifications prove that the consultant has studied the application and demonstrated expertise with the concepts and the implementation. These certifications are not easy to earn and will provide your leadership team with the confidence that the partner has the ability to deliver what was promised.
This seems like a no-brainer, but many times the reference check is glossed over. Be honest with yourself – you must check references. If the partner is hesitant to provide references of past projects…run! We have all had challenging projects, but the best partners are those with confidence in their client feedback. Even the most challenging projects can be turned around, and you want to hear from those past clients. This is the best way to get first-hand knowledge of what the next year of your life will look like, and you will learn:
- Were they competent and did they deliver to the SOW?
- Did they manage escalations well?
- How about swapping resources when there was a poor fit, or someone left the team?
- Did they deliver value?
It’s a bad sign when references don’t take time to talk to you. If the project went well and created value, the client should want to tell their story.
Process/Business Advisory Ability
It is tempting to become excited with the partner’s ability to talk about the software’s capabilities and forget one thing – your current business process may not fit perfectly into the new system’s cloud model. It is essential that you find a partner with the ability to speak procurement process and advise on how to best update the operations to take full advantage of the software. All implementations should take into account an element of process design and best practice advice. Ask your partner about projects when they have had to analyze and modify a customer’s business process. How did they do it? What challenges did they face? How did they ensure adoption of the new process?
Leadership and Project Management Methodology
Avoid a partner who asks how you would like the project to proceed, what your methodology is, and what deliverables you think are important. The right partner is willing to open the hood on how they operate. Experienced software implementation partners have spent years honing their methodologies and have strong leadership to manage the project. Some questions to ask:
- Explain exactly how the project will be run – if it is a hybrid of waterfall and Agile, why?
- What does the project governance model look like?
- What is expected from our team and our PMO?
Don’t wait until you are months into your deployment to realize that hope is not a strategy.
Flexibility, Concierge, Pushback
The best partner treats you like you are their only client. You have access to their senior leadership and have their best consulting team on your project. They are a concierge – anticipating your every need and are always two steps ahead of you. This is a reflection of their experience as much as their culture. Uncertainty is certain in these projects, so understand how your partner handles adversity and change. Understand how your partner will create a plan that is flexible enough to handle the realities of an enterprise software deployment, not one that will crash and burn at the first sign of difficulty.
Just as important as having a partner who is flexible is having a partner who will push back. Their experience should be brought to bear when having emotional conversations about the way “things are done today”. Realize that your partner is (well, should be) an expert in procurement process and software. The relationship should be strong enough to allow for pushback when needed. Some software implementers simply deploy what their clients request– that’s not always transformative. You need a partner to consult and deploy – they should have the credibility and confidence to identify issues and diplomatically provide solutions to ensure the best user adoption possible.Follow Through
Finally, be sure your implementation partner can follow through. This will be apparent during the sales cycle, and in the early days of the planning phase. If the sales team does not follow through with requests for deliverables examples, project timelines and resource utilization charts, the odds are the implementation team won’t either. Test their ability to follow through on both simple and complex tasks. Give them examples of PMO documents you will require and see how they respond. Ask previous clients about how well they followed through on commitments.
Hiring an implementation partner for your Procurement Software project is a challenging undertaking but giving your team the right qualities to look for will make it easier. Don’t leave it to chance – make sure they are experienced and have the certifications and endorsements of the software vendor. Get to know their customers and their team to see if there is a cultural fit, if they are flexible enough to work in your complex environment. Make sure they have the confidence to push back when needed, but the diplomacy and tact to do it professionally. And above all, make sure they can follow through.