4 Cautionary Thoughts Prior To Working With An Implementation Partner

Two teams can be stronger than one – as long as the respect, teamwork and goals are all … [+] authentically aligned.


Much like a cybersecurity event, a massive, full-scale business solution modernization is always when, not if.

If you are a technology leader that finds herself firmly rooted in the mindset of, “I did not become a Chief Information Officer to implement an ERP system,” you might want to reconsider career paths.

As more and more businesses need to embrace data to make the smartest strategic decisions for success, those sprawling data repositories, aging systems of record, and cobbled together archaic software solutions are at this very moment hiding in a corner, praying they continue to go unnoticed.

Directly behind that shivering mass are the staff members who ground-up built those systems and have assumed for a long time that their specific expertise of understanding the structure of the onion-layered puzzle of finance and people systems surely results in a fortress of job security not even the Avengers could penetrate.

And yet, here we are. Older systems cause risk. Poorly implemented or barely used solutions do just enough but not enough to drive success. Staff that have programmed today’s entire tech stack are fearful of next steps and/or simply nervous about learning something new.

Today’s technology leaders are well-aware there is plenty of room at the table for those nervous team members – let’s do this! Up-skilling is critical, one of the best investments a company can make and will continue to be of utmost importance in our ever-changing environment.

So it’s time to modernize. You find a solution. You need help implementing that solution in the cleanest way possible. Surprise! There’s a partner for that! You find your partner.

Now what?

Lean into the partner’s expertise

At its root, the goal of your big, scary project is improvement which has many meanings – decreasing customizations, increasing the ability to scale, setting up better mechanisms for accurate, real-time reporting, eliminating duplicative solutions, and more, or even all of the above plus some.

If you walk into implementation meetings with ideas of doing things the way you’ve always done them, demanding to adhere to processes of the past or breaking your newly-selected modern solution to rebuild it to mirror how your old one worked, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Assuming you’ve selected the right-fit-for-you implementation partner, download your current processes to them and request their proposal for best steps forward. They know these solutions, they know best business practice, and they know how they carried similar businesses where you need to be. They are also not weighed down by your businesses past processes and politics. They are fresh eyes – use them.

Caveat: There might be certain instances where your implementation partner might need to know a non-negotiable business process – for example, if you support multiple businesses that have different fiscal year-ends for a legitimate reason, they will need to make sure the environment they create can accommodate multiple year-ends.

Though you may have similar non-negotiable requirements, they are always a much smaller number than new ways of doing things that dramatically improves any business.

Not a great fit.


The importance of the partner-side project manager

Think about the team you contract with to execute your large technology project. This work – implementations, integrations, project management – is their sole job. They are not consumed by the need to provide monthly budget updates to executives or negotiate benefits every year for thousands of employees. They implement technology solutions.

Your assigned project manager wrangles the consultants that get that heavy lift from in progress to complete.

Is your assigned project manager:

  • Your biggest advocate
  • A strong supporter
  • Solution-oriented
  • Communicating across all business lines – on their side and yours – keeping the project moving forward
  • Respectful, honest, calm

And as for the basics:

  • Do they keep the project dashboard updated?
  • Do they look for ways to improve relationships and communication between consultants and customers?
  • Do they display accountability when their team misses the mark and show grace when your team hits a total foul ball? Both definitely happen.

Projects that involve implementation partners are large, complicated and, frankly, terrifying. There is so much room for error. And another error. And another. It is imperative that those errors are raised up, owned up and learned from.

We all make mistakes. I tend to make the biggest, gnarliest mistakes. Asana shares of mistakes and failures, “Ultimately, it’s how you pick yourself up that matters.” If you learned from it, that’s actually a bigger win than you could ever imagine. The greatest things come from mistakes. Embrace them, own them, grow from them.

If you are the only partner in your two-prong customer/contractor partnership holding yourself accountable, it might be time to take a breath and listen to your inner voice.

Always Trust Your Instincts


Trust your gut

Intrinsically we all know what’s up. In projects big and small, we know underlying issues. Do we push them to the back of our minds, bury them with sand? That is always the easiest path to take. It’s also the most damaging from both project and investment perspectives.

When you are a paying a team a fair amount of funds to provide help to you and your business to complete a project, excellent customer service, support, and response are entry-level table stakes. The bare minimum expectation. Always negotiate your ‘out’ or ‘termination’ clause before any documents are signed. Think of it as a pre-up before a ceremony with a partner you met sixty days ago. Some partners are not a great fit – and that’s okay. When your gut starts rising in nerves and you start to notice signs of unacceptable service, step number one is speaking with the partner leadership. Projects are stressful. Larger projects are, as shared before, a bit terrifying. But good service is good service. Everyone knows good service.

Trust your gut. If your partner doesn’t feel like your number one hype squad, cranking out expert advice and rock-solid-yet-clean work, there might be a tough decision looming.

When it’s time to fold ‘em

It’s never too late and it’s never easy to question the effectiveness of you partnership mid-project. Don’t dawdle. Circle the internal wagons and open the wound – start the conversation. Tossing in the partnership towel is not a norm, but it’s also not abnormal and it certainly doesn’t represent business failure if the hard decision needs to be made. It simply happens. We’re not for everybody.

But know this, if you do need to consciously untangle, do it with grace and professionalism. And feel free to share your experience with others in your business, that might be looking to you for your tech trajectory and improvement path. Make sure they know your strong partners and warn them of your less-than-strong partners.

Any way you slice it, the project will be completed. And it will be a raging success after a few months of tweaking and recalibrating. Then you get to pivot from implementation to continuous improvement, which is the true crowd pleaser.

Lessons learned

Oftentimes it takes experiencing an excellent consultant partnership to recognize acceptable service levels. There is no shame in missteps, in selecting a less-than-stellar partner. Larger solutions and consulting firms are larger for a reason – they have legions of rockstar sales executives driving business relationships. Know that going in. Take a peek under the hood before signing on the dotted line. Make sure that the scope of work you agree to is adhered to.

The biggest lesson learned? You will find success in your new technology platform. Although every step of the way will be exhausting, you will also never learn more, level up faster, or exponentially increase confidence in yourself and your team than during and after a large-scale solution implementation. Embrace those experiences and learn from the mistakes. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” And in our world of technology, you either move forward and find success or you stagnate and become irrelevant.

Tech projects are laden with good and bad. It’s how you learn from the bad and double – no, triple – the good that takes your business from existing to excellent.

Remember, many don’t take on massive business solution overhauls for ONE reason. For MANY reasons. They are huge. They are very visible. They are ripe with failure opportunities. They are expensive. They are scary.

You know what else they are? They are business game-changers. They provide significant relief to staff members. They eliminate duplicative, manual work and empower automation. They turn mindless tasks into opportunities to grow and learn. They elevate business success and efficiency. Lean in, put on your brave pants, tackle the project, pick a partner, celebrate wins and losses, shower your team with appreciation, do the work – transform the business, together.

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