Companies often hire consultants to execute system implementations for software projects with the goal of reducing costs or improving processes. However, implementation often (if not always) go over budget or get delayed.
There are many reasons why a project might go over budget or become delayed, and it is important to understand next steps to avoid common pitfalls.
What typically leads to these delays and added costs? What are ways these issues can be mitigated? As a solution consultant, can you be proactive rather than reactive in delayed situations? Below are a few solutions we've used with great success.
Business conditions and a changing market landscape mean requirements change all the time. The nature of enterprise software is that every customer gets a system specifically configured for their use case, but that configuration takes time.
Even over the course of a project, business needs may be different now than they were when the project started. On the implementation side, these projects often start with a design phase, where a consultant gathers requirements from the customer. After this comes a configuration phase, where the consultant sets up the system based on those requirements. This is where a majority of time is spent, but too often consultants perform configuration in isolation, without talking to the customer. Depending on the system being implemented, it can take anywhere from three to nine months (or more!) to get systems configured. It is common for customers to need alterations or changes to the requirements they had originally set out.
But these changes result in rework for the consultants, and are one of the most common causes of project delays. The solution is to get continuous feedback during configuration. Consultants should not wait until the entire system is ready to then finally show the customer. Set up regular meetings with the customer to review progress and identify misses or new requirements.
If you are a customer looking to hire system implementation consultants, finding providers who regularly check-ins is key. It is also crucial to continually update your consultants as soon as possible on any shifts in your needs. If a change is needed, it's always better to know sooner rather than later.
Another reason that requirements may change can result from either incorrect assumptions made during design sessions, or misses how things actually needed to work. It may seem crazy, but it is not uncommon during design sessions that both consultants and customers may sometimes not actually know how things work in real operations.
It is key to have system designers and implementers working with a team that is apprised of the actual need within the company to really get a sense of the solution required. It's not that this is anyone's fault, more of a miscommunication, but it can lead to heavy delays in implementation.
The solution is to engage with the end-users on the customer team during design. For example, the end-users of warehouse management systems are often associates, clerks, and supervisors in the warehouse itself. Involve them in the design phase as early as possible.
Every implementation requires that the customer furnish large amounts of information to the consultant – this may be operational knowledge, sample data files, IT/network access, etc. Due to a variety of factors out of their control, it is not uncommon that customers cannot provide this information quickly, resulting in delayed projects. Many consultants estimate a project timeline that shows the project getting completed as fast as possible. Those timelines generally assume they will promptly get data or information.
The solution is to set expectations early, on both the customer and consultant side. As a consultant, be very upfront with your customers about exactly what you need and when you need it. Something will inevitably cause a delay in getting information, but the more clear and upfront you can be with the customer, the better they can plan and prepare resources, and the more seamless data transition will be.
And as an end customer, it is also important that you set expectations on data gathering with you consultant. Remember, the end goal of an implementation is system success and ROI delivery. If you have consultants implementing a project, and the timelines they set involve you furnishing data faster than you know is possible, speak up and say something. Your implementation team will be thankful!
The solutions above work to keep systems implementations on schedule and cost-effective, and are some of the tactics we use at PorterLogic when implementing our systems. Being clear of requirements and needs is step one. Have a timeline that both parties can follow through on is the second. Making the implementation a consistent conversation between consultant and customer can be helpful.