If your software business provides implementation and training, you can probably relate to the balancing act of satisfying customer demands while making a profit.
Most of the software businesses in our portfolio provide implementation and training to complement their products. Project timelines can range from a few days to a few months depending on the relative complexity, and customer profile.
When a prospect asks us: “what is the implementation timeline?” More often than not, the response is that “it depends” on many qualifying variables including client resource availability, hours committed to the project, internal resource availability, project complexity, data conversion required, etc.
While it may be an honest answer, no prospect wants to hear “It depends”. Vague timelines slow down the positive traction established during the sale process, often result in project delays, and can start the customer relationship off on the wrong foot. Most importantly, a delayed plan is lost revenue. You do not want to be in a position where you sold 10 modules, yet only 5 get implemented in the first year.
To streamline customer implementations and manage expectations, we developed a process to maximize the chance for success and customer satisfaction. The basic framework is:
"Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now." — Adam Larkin
To start, we recommend discussing your implementation process with your entire Professional Services team. This allows you to take a step back, identify each stage, and brainstorm areas for improvement. Key questions to ask at this stage include:
A sample process is shown below:
Eliminating friction points is key to keeping your process moving. We recommend reviewing all the implementation projects completed over the last two years. This review is best done as a whiteboard session with the entire Professional Services team.
As an example, in the process outlined above, our team struggled with the following step:
The friction was not limited to a couple of customers, but rather was present on every implementation project. This was an insight gleaned by having the entire team present for the brainstorming session.
To address this issue, the team created a standard 8-week implementation plan for the first three phases of the project (Business Process Analysis, Master File, and Proof of Concept) to follow with all clients, regardless of size or location. This plan included three on-site weeks.
"We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right — one after the other, no slipups, no goofs, everyone pitching in." — Atul Gawande
Once key issues are identified, the team can move forward with setting up a more thorough plan with detailed phases and realistic durations based on actual experience.
A key part of developing better planning and assigning realistic timelines is a shared understanding of how long things actually take, rather than how long a customer (or a sales representative) wishes they took.
It is important to have the team’s input on timelines so they are both reasonable for the customer and realistic for the people executing on the work. This avoids overpromising and underdelivering.
A sample of a step-by-step project plan is shown below:
Resource allocation is the next critical activity for ensuring success. When Professional Services teams grow beyond a couple of people, it becomes increasingly important to take inventory of the skills on hand.
We found that a skills matrix can be an effective management tool to summarize product knowledge and identify gaps. From a resource allocation standpoint, this can help a manager select the most appropriate consultant for the job.
Here is a sample of a basic skills matrix, which shows the competencies of different consultants on different parts of the software. Skills are measured using the following key:
0 = No knowledge or experience: I can provide no assistance in this area.
1 = Limited knowledge, little experience: I would attempt to handle a customer question.
2 = Good knowledge or experience: I can handle most support questions in this area.
3 = Strong knowledge and experience: I can train customers on the use of this area.
4 = Excellent knowledge and experience: I can configure this system area, I could train another consultant and I can provide business consultancy to customers.
In this example, there are three consultants on the team who did assessments on different section of Acme’s software.
As the results show, Mike is the most experienced team member. Sandy and Miguel require additional training to get their Invoicing and Group Maintenance ratings up to the target score of 3.
Advantages of creating a skills matrix include:
Within our portfolio, we typically allow consultants to conduct self-assessments. Although results are subjective, we find that most consultants are not inclined to inflate results. These matrices are not considered a “score board”. Some teams prefer to show results on a group level to maintain a sense of cooperation within the group.
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." — Peter Drucker
The final step in the process is to evaluate your compensation scheme. We prefer merit-based compensation plans that align with business goals. As an example, our compensation plans reward:
When customers purchase software that is integral to their operations, they hope for a smooth, timely and painless implementation. It is important to start the customer experience positively.
Additionally, our companies greatly benefit from streamlined implementation processes:
An unexpected benefit was that developing the process together and understanding the collective skill set also helped our Professional Services teams work better together.
Perseus Group, an operating group of Constellation Software Inc., acquires independently managed software companies around the world. We provide them with the strategic guidance and the financial security that they need to become leaders within their respective markets. We prefer to treat our acquisitions like people, not property. That is why we ensure their growth and development through a fostered culture of sharing best practices. Contact our team to learn more.
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