Three Tips for Setting Expectations for a System Implementation BEFORE Signing the Vendor Contract

At AJC, we help clients implement new software systems. We don’t code or perform technical configurations, or even clean up data for migration, but we help as the “Owner’s Rep” as Project Managers, Accountability Partners, and Change Managers – ensuring the entire team at the company implementing the new software is ready to go and feels supported even after Go-Live on the new system.

Companies often ask us why they need an outsourced Project Manager for their system implementation when the Vendor has their own Project Manager*. The bottom line is that we represent YOU and your company, and the Systems PM represents the Vendor and their company.

*If you want a more in depth explanation, please watch/listen to this Lunch and Learn presentation on “ERP Implementation Rescue” by AJC and CSG Pro a few months ago. 

Because we represent our clients’ companies, we are often the liaisons with the Vendor’s team on our clients’ behalf, and we get to know the concerns our clients have with their software implementations.

Below are three tips for setting Expectations for a system implementation that you can use during the Sales process, before signing the vendor contract.

1. Gain Clear Expectations on Implementation in the Sales Process

You are choosing a system based on the features, functionality, pricing, timeline, and risk mitigation it offers your company.  A robust Selection Process will help ensure that the systems you evaluate meet your criteria.  You will work with vendor sales teams to discuss these needs.

How do you ensure that what you are promised in the Sales process will be what gets delivered during Implementation?

Beyond diligence in observing demos (ask if these can be done using a small subset of your own data), be sure to talk to a few references.  If possible, find others who have implemented this software that you found on your own, not only references provided by the vendor.  Ask the references about parts of the implementation that you are concerned about, whether the vendor had checklists or templates for Privilege Settings, Accounting Setup, Data Migration, or Go Live.  Also, ask about the overall implementation process flow – whether the vendor had standardized this as much as possible, or if it felt like every request for advice on “how this should be done” was met with one-off meeting explanations or “custom” responses.

These answers will likely not make-or-break your decision about the software.  After all, if this software is a clear winner in the functionality/features area, it is probably worth the additional implementation consulting fees in the long run.

2. Request a Sales to Implementation Team Handoff Meeting

If you are confident in the software that you intend to purchase, consider requesting a Sales to Implementation Handoff Meeting just prior to signing the contract.  Ask to meet the team who will be partnering with you to implement your software – both the Analysts and the Project Manager – and request that the Sales leader also join.  Bring the list of functionality/features this software has which caused you to select it in the first place. Describe, at a high level, why that feature is important, and ask if the Implementation Team feels comfortable advising in those areas.  Ask the Implementation Team how they would escalate anything that they do not feel comfortable with.  If additional resource “experts” are required, how should you anticipate being billed?  Will the vendor bill for both the expert and the assigned Analyst in those meetings at their regular rates?  Or will they just have the expert in the meeting?  Or will they have both, but only bill for the expert?

One very common frustration with an Systems implementation is that the client feels the vendor is invoicing too much for whatever reason.  Level setting expectations up front can help.

3. Add a Buffer to Your Budget

No matter what you think this Systems implementation is going to cost you, it is very probable that it will end up costing more.  There may be additional customizations you require, integrations you determine will be helpful, new hardware to purchase (barcode or QR Code scanners, iPads, etc.), or additional consulting time beyond what you originally anticipated.

It is a great temptation to try and “cut budget” before a project even starts – this is a common tactic to gain approval on the project.  However, we recommend that you add a pretty hefty Buffer – at least 30% of the anticipated costs – to be used for anything which may arise over the course of the implementation.  If you don’t use it, all the better. However, if you have that Buffer approved, chances are that you’ll stay “in budget” overall.  How many System Implementations can say that?

The pain teams feel during implementation when expectations are not clear up front are very real.  A System Implementation is stressful enough on its own, no need to let misunderstandings about performance or fees add to the load.