Why your project management really matters when you’re procuring and implementing new software
Technology companies understand project management - they organise themselves around projects. They have teams - resources - all working together to deliver a new feature or product on time and on budget. The person with overall responsibility for delivering that new feature on time and on budget (and to right level of quality) is the project manager.
Software companies also use project managers when they roll out new software for clients. The client’s day to day point of contact with the supplier will usually be one of the supplier’s project managers.
Clients - the organisations buying the system - don’t always do project management. Their daily work may not be project based and the project manager role may not exist in the organisation. A lot of organisations, particularly in the education world, are much more process based and the people who work in them tend not to think in terms of resources, deliverables and budgets. The tools of the project management trade - Gantt Charts, risk registers and work breakdown structures - may not be well understood.
But there are good reasons why any organisation that’s about to procure a new technology solution should appoint their own project manager. Ideally that person should be there from the start, they should be part of the procurement and they should work alongside the supplier’s project manager during the implementation:
- At the start you need to work out what it is that you really want. That means understanding the business case, talking to stakeholders and prioritising requirements. It’s a job that’s often underestimated. There’s a project there - delivering a requirements specification and timescale for roll out - and it makes sense to give someone the responsibility for that early in the process.
- You want your project manager involved during the procurement. They now understand the business case, understand your stakeholders and they need to be involved in selecting a supplier. They also understand the risks; a good project manager will ask potential suppliers about their experiences with similar clients and they should ask tricky questions about what could go wrong.
- Our experience is that clients often underestimate the time and energy required to roll out new software. Bigger organisations, particularly ones with external partners, can face a real challenge when it comes to implementation. You need your own project manager to organise internal staff, communicate plans and to make sure the supplier always has what it needs to complete the implementation on time.
- You need to proactively manage your supplier. You need to agree an implementation plan that works for your team and you need to make sure the supplier delivers on time. It makes complete sense to have your own project manager who can work alongside the client’s project manager. And it’s important that you give that person the delegated authority to make decisions.
You don’t necessarily have to bring in an external project manager. You might have an employee with the right experience and skills and you might be able to free them up to do the project management role. It’s important though to see it as a distinct role - a secondment almost - and to give them the time (and even a bit of training) to do it well.