My wife is a great cook. We often go to the store together to buy the ingredients she needs – she buys the freshest stuff, and the right type of things, etc. We get home and there are two possible scenarios: I cook the meal; or she cooks the meal. If I cook it, the results will be questionable with a high possibility of burning and getting an inedible meal. If she cooks it, it will come out wonderful, the right temperature, the right taste, everything! Same ingredients – different cooks. She’s a great cook and I’m a lousy cook. She has skills and experiences I don’t have. At my company, we get involved with vendor selection for a lot of campuses. Invariably, the school will put tremendous effort into picking the best product that matches their requirements. (P.S. A lot of software is purchased by campuses with NO requirements! But that’s for a different blog…). This requirements development effort is time well spent! However, the campus then wants to put minimal effort into selecting the implementation consultants.
The requirements and the software are the shopping list of ingredients.
The consultants are the cooks for the meal.
For most higher ed ERP-type projects (Finance/ HR/ Payroll/ Student / CRM / Student Success) there are just a few good products to meet most needs. Software is expensive.
However, the implementation consultants cost 5-10x the price of the software. Why is evaluating the consultants not seen as important as the software to many schools?
They have forgotten the end goal is a great meal/solution, not great ingredients.
And yes, I understand that a great cook, with lousy ingredients isn’t a good combination either. You need them both to be great.
Lately, we’ve been seeing vendors in the higher education marketplace with very good software products, but, honestly, lousy implementation consulting teams (if internal) or partners. A good implementation consultant can get good software to do great things. Honestly, a good implementation consultant can get the software to do things that the actual developers of the software didn’t know could be done.
Most developers only know what they wrote the software to do – the best implementation consultants know what the software can actually do.
When you’re picking a software solution, make sure that you:
- Know the humans who will be helping you implement the software (while it’s important for potential vendors to has a good reputation installing the software, it’s just as important that the humans who come to your campus know what they are doing).
- Interview each consultant who will be working on your project to make sure they are a good technical and cultural fit.
- Understand what training each implementation consultant has attended in the past two years – are they familiar with their specialty area?
- Insist that there is a ‘solution architect’ assigned to your team who understands the entire suite of software that you are getting installed. Many consultants are trained in silos.They often have no idea how their area interacts/impacts other areas of the system.
- Insist on being assigned a project manager who has implemented the products multiple times in the past at similar schools .
- Insist that the consulting team really use project management best practices! Will they be continually maintaining a project plan that has all the vendor and client tasks in it?
- Call other schools who have used these consultants in the past. Yes, you can contact the references they give you, but feel free to call other schools to find out how good the humans are that are going to be on your project!
Making sure that you have the right cooks to make your soup will significantly improve your odds of success!
I make this point because I’m tired of seeing schools spend precious money on implementing a new system, only to have them unable to go live because poorly run systems implementation teams.