The purpose of this document is to help buyers discover how to harvest the best returns from their next system. These pages are designed to help:
YOUR BUSINESS FOCUS – What do you want the system to do for you?
KEY CONSIDERATIONS – Five essentials to consider
SUPPLIER SELECTION – Best Practice
IMPORTANCE OF TESTIMONIALS
THE IMPLEMENTATION OPTIONS
MIGRATING TO A NEW SYSTEM
THINGS TO AVOID
IMPACT ON – The Finance Director | Finance / Administration
IMPACT ON – The Managing Director | The Project Manager
IMPACT ON – The Timesheet User | The Resource Scheduler
WHAT DO YOU WANT THE SYSTEM TO DO FOR YOU?
What can the best project and consultancy management systems on the market deliver?
We recently asked consultancy and agency managers about their expectations for new systems. Six factors led the field.
Think of them as the Big Six Classic Wins that you can expect from good systems.
So, when you invest in a system, can you guarantee it will deliver all these? It’s not quite as simple as that. The truth is that different systems focus on different things for different types of company. So you need to be sure what kind of a business you are. Before going any further, therefore, consider this:
Businesses vary in their degree of commercial-focus. How much does yours have? For some companies it’s all about the financials. Others have less focus on those areas. Where on that spectrum does yours sit? And where do you want it to be? What are the biggest gaps between where you are and where you want to be?
With these issues in mind... Welcome! The selection process can begin...
FIVE ESSENTIALS TO CONSIDER
To reach those six classic wins there are several crucial considerations to take into account:
Much software today is very rigid. Users choosing such systems have to change the way they do things simply to fit the software they have bought. And when their circumstances alter later, as they almost always do, there is no easy way for such software to accommodate them. Some software, however, is flexible, so seek it out.
2. Complete Solution
Some systems are designed from the ground up to optimise the commercial aspects of running a consultancy or agency. It’s a specialised area affecting the way the features are written, collect just the right data, connect into an intelligent whole and report crucial information to staff and managers. So, if your firm scores commerciality highly, make sure you include vendors on your shortlist that have a good reputation for delivering on it.
It’s hard to predict how your company might develop over the years. Growth might not be your number one concern today. But why buy a system that restricts your future options? With some systems you would find, one day, that you have outgrown its capabilities. You would have no choice but to start all over again. Whereas others can grow with you, even handling hundreds of users.
4. Can you work with the supplier?
This is one important factor that’s impossible to verify from studying vendor websites. How well will your team get on with the consultant, the implementer and the trainer? How experienced is their team in working with your type of firm? Or in understanding your needs and listening to your concerns?
Find out all you can about them. Ultimately, it’s only by talking with the vendor, engaging in social networking and following up on user testimonials that you can get answers here.
5. Stability of product and supplier
You want your system to serve you for years to come. What is the track record of the software and the supplier? How committed are they to this marketplace? Are they trading profitably? Is their reputation solid? These are important questions to resolve – you deserve a system you can depend on.
Here are six best-practice steps when looking for a new system:
1. Define your key requirements and critical success factors
Consider what you need to be successful. Separate them from things that are important but not essential, and from mere nice-to-haves.
2. Get key people on board and select a system champion
Identify your key people. You want to capture their knowledge, gain their buy-in and select a system champion – someone who knows the business, has the trust of staff, communicates well and will make the right decisions.
3. Resist the temptation to bring someone in temporarily
The system champion will end up knowing a great deal of your business processes and will be training new staff as they arrive. It’s not a job for a temp.
4. Create a list of potential suppliers
You can create this by web searches, asking new starters about systems from a previous firm, and from industry associations and business contacts.
Word of mouth is alive and well in our industry. This includes seeing how vendors are rated in social media and whether one, for example, tries to hijack threads to their own ends. A reputable vendor will let their customers speak.
5. Initial demonstrations
Send your requirements to vendors and ask them to show how they match up. Assess if each feature is fully or partially addressed, needs a simple workaround or is planned for the future. Then decide which to see in demos.
In those, focus on your key requirements. Ask for the demonstrator’s input on best working practices to see how well they grasp it. Be wary of vendors showing functions that look good but don’t show a benefit. Note that you can conduct these initial demos online to save time. They could take 1½ - 2 hours.
The purpose of the demos is to select a shortlist for investigation. You are looking to meet your specific needs, including usability, so don’t be sidetracked. Does it feel like something you could use day to day? Don’t judge a system just on appearance. Just because it has a nice look does not mean it is easy to use.
6. Create a shortlist of serious contenders for detailed meetings, 2-3 max
Prepare sample scenarios that cause you problems today. Have vendors demo separate business areas and invite key team members to each. If a vendor declines to give a detailed onsite demo, think very carefully about their likely level of service. It could also be an indication that they feel they are not a good solution for you in the first place. And always ask for reference sites.
YOUR GUIDE TO THE ESSENTIALS
Here’s a master checklist of top-level functionality you should be looking for when considering a system:
REAL PEOPLE, SAYING REAL THINGS
Learning things the hard way is costly. Why not benefit from the experience of others?
When you’re thinking of acquiring something as important as a system on which to run your entire business, it makes sense to learn what you can from those who have already made the move.
A supplier worth its salt should be able to provide you with any number of references from all types of clients. The full list itself may not be published online for reasons of confidentiality, but if you ask in good faith you should be allowed to see it.
When evaluating references, quotes and case studies, make sure they cover a diverse range of topics so that you can focus on the aspects you are most interested in, rather than merely a single strand. This chart shows topics you might expect from such a list.
IT'S YOUR CHOICE
Here are two classic but very different approaches you can choose from when planning your implementation.
Based on best-practice methods. Ideal for consultancies that:
2. Consultative implementations
In this approach, the configuration of Synergist is very closely mapped to your existing processes and procedures, via close consultation. Ideal for firms that:
Note that not all vendors offer a full consultative approach, however. Further, not all systems offer built-in flexibility of functionality. For agencies and consultancies who value both these traits they should consider vendor selection particularly carefully.
OUT WITH THE OLD...
Until recently, the majority of firms choosing a job / consultancy management system were previously using manual or spreadsheet methods. However by 2012 over 50% of businesses implementing Synergist were migrating from another job management system, exceeding manual systems for the first time. The industry is experiencing a swathe of second-generation switching from one vendor’s system to another. This is almost always because of user frustrations due to lack of needed features, poor end-to-end integration or unacceptable service levels.
When switching from one system to another you will obviously want as smooth an implementation as possible. A note of caution: if your previous system was hosted, termination of the agreement will result in losing access to all your data.
You are advised to seek evidence of your new vendor’s experience in transferring data across. A vendor should have comprehensive migration facilities.
When planning the move, consider quite why you are switching. The important thing is to avoid repeating the same problems with the new system. What were the previous selection criteria?
If you are switching from a manual or spreadsheet-based system, the implementation is more straightforward, of course. The main benefits you will experience are:
DON'T LEARN THESE THE HARD WAY
Synergist, along with Magnifeye (part of The Agency Works team), have been implementing job / project management systems for over fifteen years now, so we hope we might be forgiven for saying that we have learned a thing or two along the way. Here are some things to avoid that come to mind.
1. Involve different departments in the process, including Finance
It’s important to involve multiple departments when implementing your new system. In some implementations we’ve seen, finance team members have not been involved in system choice and implementation. The result is rarely a great execution. But a balance does need to be struck. Don’t let one department make all the decisions. For example you wouldn’t want to over-complicate life by setting up a level of analysis that sounds good in theory but that no-one is going to look at in practice.
2. Don’t do planning during training
You will need to clarify how you want jobs to flow through your business. The implementers can help you. But sometimes we’ve seen people postpone all that and get the training started. It’s not the smart way of doing things: valuable training time is wasted while people debate how they want the system to flow for them, and users can become confused and lose confidence.
3. Free groups up for the half-day training sessions
Continuing with the training theme, it’s smart to plan how the company will function while staff training is in progress. It’s not that training takes a long time – it doesn’t – but you want to get it right. You don’t want to disturb the training sessions if possible.
4. Customer support
The importance of good support is often overlooked. Users who have sudden queries want accurate answers, fast. They may be under pressure. Sadly, our industry has a mixed reputation in support, so this is one factor for prospective purchasers to investigate very fully. Look for suppliers who offer large numbers of reference sites. They can’t do this if they don’t keep their clients happy.
5. Don’t buy a system based on looks
Focus on what’s critical for your business, and check to see if the system really delivers on it. You wouldn’t buy a car without knowing it can perform.
One of the key elements of a successful implementation is how it is presented and sold to key members of your company. To aid in your communications, on these pages is a summary of benefits as they apply to six different roles.
1. THE FINANCE DIRECTOR
FDs seek validation that systems will deliver live centralised data on profits by client, market sector, type of work and team, tracked against target and with drill-down data. They look for tools to aid cash flow, e.g. making billing as speedy and fault-free as possible. Early invoicing is a major profit contributor, considered an ‘easy win’ by FDs implementation veterans. Other needs:
The FD role is also invaluable in specifying the needs of the company at implementation.
2. FINANCE / ADMINISTRATION
These team members naturally want a system that makes their life easier, not more complicated. Changing to a new system can be worrisome. It should be clear to use and make the individual far more productive than before. People in such roles seek: Ease of use. They want to pick up a new system quickly. Good training is important, and this can be underestimated. Don’t take it for granted – check the vendor’s credentials on it. Dependability. Theywant validation that the system will be reliable and not let them down. Have excellent support. Users want to be in safe hands. Check for first class hand-holding when going live, plus high quality ongoing support by phone, email and online. Check if the vendor has good online knowledge-based information systems that users can access. Most of all, the litmus test of service for most people rests on the quality of live telephone support. Is there always someone available to talk to? How knowledgeable is the support team? How quickly are queries resolved? Only user testimonials can answer these questions.
3. THE MANAGING DIRECTOR
Benefits that MDs often value are:
A classic example of the last two bullet points is a quote from a Synergist user Managing Director – Fred Brown of Last Exit (now Draw) – that MDs will look for:
"It comes down to ROI... We have increased our turnover by £200k for an investment of £10k. That is a no brainer."
4. THE PROJECT MANAGER
As the link between client and the company, project managers are the peace-keeper, the diplomat, the grand persuader and the person at the front line of the action. Such a job relies heavily on accurate joined-up information such as:
5. THE TIMESHEET USER
Timesheets are no-one’s favourite. But there’s no denying their immense value. How could any firm manage for long without knowing which jobs and clients are profitable, with time to correct problems before it’s too late? So, the need for timesheets is clear. How can they be made as fast and easy as possible to fill in?
6. THE RESOURCE SCHEDULER
The role of a Resource Scheduler is a world is of deadlines and details. They are the professional jugglers, grappling with resources, availability and capacities that constantly change. They look for
How do you go about choosing a job / project management system? We’d say that when you boil it all down there are only four questions for you to really get to grips with:
1. Does the system offer real flexibility to deliver what you need now and into the future?
2. Does the system pull everything together into one connected whole?
3. Is the customer support so dependable that your mind is put at rest?
4. Are you focusing on your essential requirements? Don’t get sidetracked.
Get these fundamentals right and you can’t go so very far wrong.
Finally, one more question. When is the ideal time to make a decision like this? We hope you’ll forgive us for quoting Steve Revell on it. He is Managing Director of Maleon, a consultancy using Synergist. He said:
"We decided that there’s no magic perfect time to install a management system.
We’d recommend that firms should just do it as soon as they can. Bite the bullet!"
We hope you found this Guide useful. We love to talk about job and project management systems – it’s what we do all the time. So feel free to give us a call to chat about it. Wishing you well with your new system...
The Synergist team
Providing on-site demonstrations, training, experience and consultation.