IT Reboot: How to Select a Management System With Dave and Gretchen

  • Photo of DelCor Staff
    DelCor Staff

If you’re on the hunt for a new management system—AMS, LMS, FMS, CMS etcetera—you’ll like this conversation between DelCor president Dave Coriale and strategic consultant Gretchen Steenstra. Gretchen has helped many of DelCor’s association and nonprofit clients with technology selection projects.

In a recent episode of our podcast, Reboot IT, Gretchen shared what you need to know before embarking on the AMS selection process. Take a few minutes to read our recap below or listen to their 30-minute discussion on the pod.

So you think you need a new AMS?

Lots of people complain about their AMS, so naturally the conversation drifted in that direction. But, why are you mad at your AMS?

Your reason might be good, maybe the AMS doesn’t have the functionality you need. But, it’s often the association’s fault.

  • You customized the software with extra code that takes you off the upgrade path.
  • You can upgrade it, but you haven’t.
  • You don’t have a training budget. Everyone who comes on board should get the training they need, not a mere half-day of AMS orientation. You must also budget for user meetings and conferences.
  • You’ve never removed outdated business rules and configurations.

Or, the AMS is a victim of lousy processes. Gretchen described an association that couldn’t explain why they had a 60-step dues process. They shrunk it to 10 steps.

Whenever new staff is hired, revisit processes. New people bring new perspectives and experiences. Listen to their ideas. If you don’t change lousy processes, the new system could fail faster than the old one. One of the benefits of working with a selection consultant like DelCor is walking through processes to see where they can be streamlined. Many of our clients change processes immediately without waiting for a new system—and then implementing the new system is easier.

Sometimes, staff get FOMO because colleagues at other associations are implementing new technology. However, new technology might be the catalyst needed to push an organization forward.

What do you want the new system to do?

Establish goals for any new AMS or other management system.

  • What are you trying to achieve with a new system?
  • What are you trying to do for your members?
  • How would a new system help your association achieve its strategic and business objectives?

Kick off the technology selection project

The project and its goals are introduced to everyone at the project kickoff meeting. Ask leadership to show staff how the operational and strategic are tied together—how the new technology will help the organization achieve its goals, the focus of our IT maturity model. Describe what everyone can expect and when to expect it.

Begin a habit of telling the team where they are in the process: “The selection process has five steps and we are on Step 1. Here’s what’s going to happen.” Once Step 1 is done, tell them, “Now we’re moving to Step 2. Here’s what’s going to happen.” And so on.

During a second kickoff meeting with your core team, decide how to communicate with each other. Identify roles and responsibilities:

  • Who’s part of the requirements analysis process? Who gets to state needs?
  • Who approves requirements and makes decisions?

What does a good requirement look like?

Define what a requirement is and isn’t. Pay attention to non-functional requirements too, like integration, performance, reliability, scalability, user experience, and design.

You can write a requirement in five different ways. Pick one or two that work for you and go with it. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.

Verify requirements so they’re accurate, complete, and crystal clear to the vendor. These exercises illustrate how requirements and processes can be interpreted differently:

  • Give everyone a piece of paper, ask them to close their eyes, and provide folding instructions. When they open their eyes, notice how everyone’s paper looks different because they interpreted the instructions differently.
  • Ask the team to give you instructions for assembling a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Notice how easy it is to leave steps out of the process.

“I thought I was giving you clear directions and you thought you were following my directions perfectly.” Not so, that’s why verification and validation are so important. You don’t to put your vendor at a disadvantage.

What else might come up?

Resistance rears its head. People don’t like being changed, but they like being part of change. Include resisters in the project from the start so they understand and get invested in what’s going to happen.

Figure out their reason for resistance. Maybe they fear others will disrespect their work building the legacy system and processes. They fear looking stupid trying to learn something new. Or, they fear their job might be eliminated.

These people barriers represent requirements because the system must be usable for them too. Think about other groups affected by the new system, for example, remote workers or the accounting team. These ‘softer’ requirements may not be functional but they’re necessary for system adoption.

Are RFPs necessary?

Request for Proposals (RFPs) are not a bad thing, but they could turn into a bad thing in the wrong hands. RFPs are a lot of work to put together but they’re necessary for conveying requirements to vendors so they can say, “Yeah, we can do this, but we can’t do that.”

Do a first screen of potential vendors with a Request for Information (RFI)—an RFP-lite. The RFI’s purpose is to figure out if the project fits into the vendor’s wheelhouse. You’re seeking an overview of how their product can help you achieve your goals, their experience with similar projects, their approach to the client relationship, and any other factors that will help you make the “first cut.” Only then do you move on to an RFP.

You can’t rely only on what you learn about a vendor and system on discussion forums like ASAE Collaborate or review sites like ReviewMyAMS. Certainly, talk to people, but don’t base a decision solely on their input. You must do research based on your organization’s requirements, review RFIs and RFPs, and talk to vendor references.

Do you have to talk to vendors during the RFP process?

Sometimes people get weird about vendors contacting them during the RFP process, as if they’re used car salesmen or something, but you must talk to vendors so you can both be sure they are or are not the right fit. Vendors need to ask questions and learn about your organization and needs. If you don’t talk to them, you’re at a disadvantage.

Where does the selection process break down?

Once the RFPs come back, it’s easy to slip into analysis paralysis mode. The association tech market is a mature industry. Many systems have similar features. If you get stuck, go back to your goals. Which vendor is the best one to help you reach those goals?

Just do it, don’t be afraid: make a selection.

Now, implementation, that’s the Wild West. You have many options for setting up a system, but remember, you’ve already made many of these decisions during the selection process. You’re not starting over: you have your RFP. So, keep moving forward. You’ll make mistakes for sure, but you can adjust afterwards. Just keep everyone rowing in the same direction.

Go shop and be happy.

Gretchen was a guest on DelCor’s Reboot IT podcast, Episode 10: How to Select a Management System.

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