When an association makes the decision to invest in an association management system (AMS) or content management system (CMS), it’s a big deal. For starters, it’s a considerable investment of time and money. And it requires a serious commitment of staff time and energy.
What type of people need to be involved? What will they be doing? And what can you do to increase your odds of success?
Our resident team of system selection and implementation experts share some advice based on years—okay, decades—of project experience.
What can associations do to ensure successful software selection and implementation?
Your success depends on having the right person managing the project. Your business objectives, requirements, and rules must drive the selection process. And, throughout the project, everyone must be clear on their roles and responsibilities, timelines, and expectations.
Tobin Conley, CAE
Selection and implementation travel a long road that requires stamina. Know the answers to these questions before beginning the project:
Why are you doing this? What’s the desired end game? How does that affect the member experience? If you don’t know why you need a new system, you can’t succeed.
How will you measure success? Knowing your goals will help you develop better system requirements and success metrics.
What business processes can you improve? Don’t be a hostage to tradition by replicating flawed business processes. Getting a new system is the perfect time to engage in serious reflection about the way things are done. Start that review process during the requirements gathering stage.
How will you foster staff adoption? Staff don’t have to love the system but they do have to embrace it. Staff should be curious about how it will make their lives—and their members’ lives—better.
Gretchen Steenstra, PMP
During selection, very few organizations create criteria to determine the system features that are most important and why. Many systems will provide 70-80% of the core functionality you seek, so it’s the last 20-30% that will help you identify the best fit. Ask your team: can they see themselves using the product? How will you enter as well as extract information from the system using searches, queries, reports, dashboards, and analytics tools?
Also, don’t overlook integration requirements. Too many associations focus on the new system only and don’t include their existing technology partners in the selection process. You must understand what integration is needed or desired. How many of your partners have existing integrations or experience with the proposed software solution? Identify the most critical integration relationships, for example, CMS to AMS, AMS to email software, or AMS to LMS, and develop integration requirements and selection criteria for them.
Loretta M. DeLuca, FASAE
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have solid project management resources on the organization’s side during implementation. Too often, we hear, “The vendor is doing project management so we don’t need additional resources for that.” The vendor does project management for itself, to manage its internal processes. Your organization needs to do the same.
A lack of skilled project management is one of the biggest points of failure on an implementation. You need someone who can keep everyone on task.
- Who is monitoring the project plan and timeline?
- Who is mapping data?
- Who is developing testing scripts?
- Who is monitoring the issue log and following up with the vendor?
Organizations should also start thinking about the ‘afterlife’ of the AMS implementation. What are they going to do with all of the data they’re planning to store in the system? Will they use it for ‘hindsight’ reporting to identify the transactions that occurred over the last 6-12 months, or will they be forward-thinking and use the data to help them make business decisions looking ahead to the future? Data analytics is a key factor in helping organizations use one of their biggest assets, their data, to push them toward innovation and meeting their strategic goals.
What skills are needed on the project team?
Tobin Conley, CAE
The selection process is the perfect time to analyze and rethink your business processes, otherwise you’ll just recreate inefficient ones. Someone on the team must have the ability to speak truth to power—a person with an inquisitive mind who is comfortable playing devil’s advocate and asking tough questions. This is someone who keeps asking “why?”—Why do we do it that way? Why is that? And why is that?
You also need a business analyst who speaks the language of associations and the language of vendors and/or developers, who can translate your organization’s needs into technical requirements.
Wendy Raulin, PMP
Managing the implementation of a new system, such as a CMS, AMS, or financial management system, involves many moving pieces. The team should include people who can:
- Track the project budget.
- Keep an eye out for project risks.
- Communicate the project status to staff and key stakeholders.
- And, most importantly, keep the project moving forward through ongoing focus and dedication to the project.
Gretchen digs a little deeper into some of the specific roles on a project team.
Gretchen Steenstra, PMP
Be sure you make room on your project team for these roles:
Project Manager: The vendor may assign a project manager, but that person is focused on managing vendor resources. Your association needs its own project manager, someone who has the experience and skills to successfully manage a project, manage resources, oversee a budget, and provide updates to the project team and leadership.
Subject Matter Expert: The team should also include someone with a clear understanding of day-to-day processes who can share system requirements with the technical team. Don’t forget to include indirect subject matter experts who may have a secondary interest, such as representatives from the finance, communication, marketing, and other departments. The subject matter expert also participates in user testing to ensure the system can perform the required functions.
Tester: Someone on the team must be able to identify and document the processes that staff must test upon system delivery. You’ll also want to test each piece of functionality, test each process from beginning to end (end-to-end testing), and test staff views vs. member online views. Many members of the project team should be involved in testing as it’s easier to test a system by working in pairs—one person focuses on testing the system while the other reads the test case and documents any issues or comments.
Business Analyst: Ideally, the project team also includes the translator whom Tobin described: a business analyst who works with the staff team to translate their needs into the technical requirements that will guide system configuration and customization. The business analyst also ensures that requirements are ‘testable/ and that the technical team and users have the resources needed to test the system.
Obviously, your association’s system selection—AMS, CMS, FMS certification management system, or something else—requires precious resources. Before you invest your time, money, and staff, make sure you’re following a good process and your team is up to the task. Download our free case study, Demystify the System Selection Process, to learn how DelCor helped one association get their selection on track.