Monday, December 15, 2014

How To Tell If a Supplier's Lead Consultant is Right For You


I've written many times how I believe that one of the most important things for any database implementation is the database supplier itself. And within the supplier relationship, one of the most important relationships will be that between your supplier's 'lead consultant' and your staff. So you need to make sure that such a relationship is right for you. And one way to do that is to hold 'mock workshops' during the procurement process.

In almost all fundraising database and CRM system implementations you are going to have some sort of initial 'discovery phase'. This might be as simple as two or three days with the supplier where they take you through the options, discuss your needs and configure their system with you. Right through to several months of intense work with many workshops, software prototyping sessions, business analysis work and more.

Personally, I think that this is one of the most important parts of your implementation. Get it right and the subsequent system development will have every chance of going well; get it wrong and you're starting off down the wrong path from the word go. Not good.

So it therefore leads on naturally that whoever the supplier allocates to work with you as their 'lead consultant' has to be someone who you trust and who is right for you. That job title may go under various guises but essentially it is the person from the supplier who will lead you through the workshops, who will work with you in defining how the systems should be for you, will do a variant of business analysis of some sort, maybe even some project management, and will as a result work very closely with your staff.

So to find out if a supplier's lead consultant is good and is going to work well with your staff, one thing you can do is hold a 'mock workshop' during your database procurement. By this I mean that you should arrange a session whereby a supplier's lead consultant visits your office and leads a workshop with some of your staff in order that you can assess how that goes. This should be done in the same way that the supplier would do if this was a workshop during your actual implementation. The importance of this is not so much the subject of such a workshop, but more about the approach which the consultant takes, their connection with your staff, the confidence which they do (or don't) bring to your team, and so on. I have done this a few times and it has always been useful.

I wouldn't suggest doing it with all your potential suppliers and you need to wait until you are some way into the procurement process so that any short-listed suppliers can say who you would be working with if they did win your contract. As such, I would normally do this with, say, just the last two short-listed suppliers when we are getting close to making a decision. It is therefore one of the things we can bring into the final decision process.

And if you want to take this a step further, then don’t just ask for a mock workshop, but ask the supplier and lead consultant to then go back to their office for a few days/weeks and then return to show you what they would do with the knowledge they have gained from you. E.g. ask them to configure an aspect of their software for you based on the workshop subject, and/or ask them to show what documents they might create from such work. Don't take advantage of a supplier's time if you do do this - i.e. don't expect them to spend many man days customising a complicated part of your system - it should be just enough so that it shows they have put in some effort.

Yes this is more time and work for you and your staff, and of course for the supplier(s) too, but it is definitely time well spent. It's such a critical part of your project that anything you can do like this to try to improve the chance of success can only help.

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