Power of Strong Project Managers

To see how these concepts played out in our project for this client, please visit Managing a Complex System Implementation Project.

Todd Herman

In the context of system implementations, the "Project Manager" role oftentimes feels like the "red-headed stepchild." After all, project management seems so easy – all you have to do is start with the task list supplied by the vendor, turn it into a project plan, chair weekly status meetings, and ensure people complete their tasks. Easy, right?


What a Project Manager Does

For a system implementations of even moderate size or complexity, strong project management makes the difference between successful and mediocre – or even disastrous – results. What does a good project manager really do?

  • Begin with the vendor's task list – and then review it for troublesome areas, such as time allowed for designing and testing interfaces with other systems, and post-implementation shakedown and issue resolution.

  • Scrutinize the vendor's budget – especially when presented in the form of a range between "best case" and "likely case" – and ensure all assumptions are flushed out and documented, and then tell the vendor what number you expect them to hit.

  • Convert the task list into a project plan, and use this tool to incorporate other events planned over the system implementation period – and inform client and vendor staff under what circumstances vacations and holidays cannot be taken.

  • Chair weekly status meetings – and make them effective by updating the project plan prior to the meeting, keeping persons focused on a tightly structured agenda, summarizing completed and upcoming tasks, holding all team members accountable for results, surfacing areas of concern, and leading effective resolution of issues, including identifying and leading breakout teams to deal with the issue.

  • Perform key user and system testing, especially when client or vendor personnel are overloaded or away (for example, when they are sick or are dealing with an emergency).

  • Resolve process issues quickly, and explain why it is typically better for the client to change its processes than for the vendor to modify – and possibly work against – the system's underlying assumptions.

  • Assess whether issues were truly unavoidable and thus should result in a change order from the vendor, or whether the situation had been properly disclosed to the vendor and thus should have been covered in the initial budget.

  • Review vendor bills with the same scrutiny as their budget, and challenge items which might not be properly billed to the client.

  • Address slippage of tasks, time, or budget quickly, and give concise options to the client, including the tradeoffs required to meet the original budget – such as client staff working overtime or taking over some tasks originally assigned to the vendor.

Strong Project Management

Image of idea, plan, implement, success

Within the past six months, I've spoken with three local and highly reputable business system VARs (Value-Added Resellers) who agreed – strong project management makes all the difference for both them and their clients. Strong project management:

  • Keeps both the VAR and the client focused on their tasks.

  • Helps ensure timeline and budget issues are surfaced early and discussed often.

  • Identifies overloaded team members – whether from the VAR or the client – and explores options to relieve some workload.

  • Makes the client happier because deadlines are more consistently met, actual expenditures are more in line with budgeted amounts, and effective issue identification and resolution yields a highly functional system – as opposed to a system hobbled by many ad hoc compromises.

  • Yields better profits for the VAR, because time is not written off due to lost focus caused by repeated "stops and starts."

And here's what else they shared with me – their firms do not have project managers. Why is that? These firms do not perform enough system implementations to keep a true project manager interested and engaged. All three also assured me they have no problem working with a strong project manager who will hold them accountable for results – as long as the project manager holds the client equally accountable for meeting their deadlines and deliverables.

Clients Hire for Peace of Mind

When a client retains a firm like ours for project management on a system implementation project, what are they buying? The client is buying peace of mind, coming from results such as:

  • Getting things done right.

  • Avoiding burnout of their staff.

  • Sticking to budget.

  • Meeting timelines.

In other words, the client is buying results for their project – Quality (Better), Cost (Cheaper), and Cycle Time (Faster). And in the world of business systems, the cost of mediocre – or even aborted – implementations far exceed the cost of effective project management.

This month's case study showcases how project management – done well – adds value to the overall system implementation project.

Sincerely yours,

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman