IBIS could be a case study in transformational change. Historically a successful GP partner, IBIS intentionally took the risk of investing in a completely new ERP product, aggressively investing in sales and marketing, AND rebuilding almost its entire executive team – and did it starting last year, in the depth of the worst economic environment in 80 years. The above nomination demonstrates the wisdom of that decision and the courage shown by Andy Vabulas, Bill Forsyth, John Koontz and Kathy Fitts in executing on that plan.
Inside IBIS, two groups of people deserve the credit for this. The first is the sales and marketing teams. The did a great job of driving leads in the door, and then making certain those leads got closed and closed quickly. Truly a great effort and its been my rare pleasure to see this unfold. The second is the consulting team. They did a great job at scaling quickly, working hard and delivering great work. And, it wasn’t just the AX consultants – the GP and CRM teams did amazing work, generated huge revenue and provided us the financial wherewithal to make that kind of new investment.
Good work, IBIS!
* Disclosure: Dwight Specht is the COO of IBIS.
Apropos of nothing other than as a counterpoint to Mark’s post, allow me to present behaviors consultants should avoid so as not to annoy their managers and teammates:
Assume Every Decision Management Makes is Stupid
The managers’ of a firm often have a different perspective on a situation because they often have more or different information than the consulting team. So, if a manager decides to give away some time to an unhappy customer, it may not be because they are spineless – they may know of a pending software sale, reference requirement or renewal enhancement that you don’t know about.
Complain and Not Offer A Solution
Consultants of all stripes like to grouse. Like our enlisted counterparts in the military, complaining about management, clients, work, etc is just part of the “over a beer” conversation at the end of the day. But, if you have a real complaint, don’t complain – instead, make a positive, thoughtful suggestion on how to improve the process. Don’t forget to include some thought on cost\benefit, i.e.: how will it benefit the firm and its clients.
Perfect Clarity is Impossible – Live with It
Sometimes, not everything is black and white and perfectly clear cut. You will be asked to go onsite for a day because there’s a problem, but its not well scoped and defined. You will work projects where the scope has to change or isn’t perfectly clear. You will work with clients that don’t perfectly understand how to work with IT consultants. Accept it and understand that you got assigned by your team to these situations because they trust your skills – take the assignment and do your best.
Manage Your Career
The company exists to provide the best possible service to clients and to make money for the investors by doing so. Helping you develop your career is part of what a good firm should do, but the managers WILL AND SHOULD always do it in the context of the firm’s mission not your best interests. You are responsible for taking the initiative to learn new skills, new modules and developing yourself professionally. If you haven’t spent anytime in the last year to learn something new, don’t complain that no one told you what to learn – this is your failing and will result in you being marginalized in your firm.
Blame Everyone Else
If something goes wrong, and you had a hand in it, acknowledge the problem swiftly, take responsibility immediately, and ask for help REALLY fast if you don’t know how to fix it. Don’t avoid, don’t blame and don’t hold the grenade. A clear objective explanation of a problem, a suggestion to fix it, and a request for help gets things solved with less drama, less cost and more respect for you than hiding, avoiding and blaming.
A final point. Mark is one of the five finest consultants with whom I have ever worked and does nothing of the above. Well, except for assuming I am stupid. However, he shares that assumption with my daughters, so I can’t blame him for that.
I just finished Scott Berkun’s project management book titled Making Things Happen. The book is highly recommended for PM’s and managers alike. One of the more unusual areas was chapter 10, How not to Annoy People. At the beginning Berkun covers the kinds of things that annoy people and I found that every item on the list applies to consultants.
It is impossible to run a successful Dynamics GP practice of any size without consultants. Good Dynamics GP consultants are always in demand, even more so as the economy starts to improve. They are also expensive. So why do companies still do things to annoy their consultants? I’m going to assume it’s just ignorance and we’ll see if we can get better together.
How do partners annoy consultants?
Assume a consultant is an idiot
Consultants were hired to implement Dynamics GP. When consultants are treated as if they can’t do that, it annoys them. A 20 step procedure, daily evaluation, rulebook or any other process that implies that a consultant is not competent is annoying. Certainly the company needs standards but until the consultant proves their incompetence they should be treated as if they can do what they were hired to do.
Don’t trust a consultant
When consultants are expected to check in, double check, triple check and report on decisions that are well within their range of responsibilities, it’s annoying. When consultants have to confirm everything with someone else, they aren’t really consultants, they are robots. If a consultant has demonstrated a reason not to be trusted then management should provide a defined path back to trust or cut them loose.
Waste a consultant’s time
A consultant’s time is precious, they know exactly what it’s worth. It appears on a bill every week. Most consultants I know only have two types of time, billable and family. Anything that wastes either of those is really annoying. When consultants have to over document because management is over protective, it’s annoying. When there are flip flops on important decisions its annoying. When poor management decisions lead to rework and wasted time, it’s annoying. When consultants have their time wasted in unnecessary meetings, it’s annoying.
Manage Consultants without respect
When a project is grossly underestimated and the burden put on the consultant to fix it, it’s annoying. When consultants are given assignments that have no basis in reality it’s disrespectful…and annoying. When a consultant is asked to pick up a book and learn enough Sharepoint to teach an advanced class on it tomorrow, it’s really annoying. A consultant should be supported by management not abandoned by them. Stupid processes fall in here somewhere too but that is a whole other post.
Make consultants listen to or read stupid things
For Dynamics GP consultants this includes asking them to learn stupid things. In my career I’ve been to classes for Siebel, Solomon, CRM and Sharepoint. None of them have advanced my career as a GP consultant. Consultants are asked to read, attend webinars, sit in on meetings, listen in on conference calls. Easily half are annoying. Work hard to identify the half and cut them out. Cut out too much. Good consultants will ask to get back in.
Before anyone tries to read too much into this, I have worked for a number of different partners organizations. I don’t find I.B.I.S. to be very annoying. This not true of some other partners I have worked for. Andy and the folks at I.B.I.S. always treated me with respect and been willing address annoyances when I bring them up. Can your firm say the same thing about your consultants?
<Start shameless plug>I couldn’t figure out how to work it into the body so visit DynamicAccounting.net for more Dynamics GP information and preorder my book, the Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010 Cookbook as a present for your clients. <End shameless plug>
Joining a long and august list of contributors is everyone’s favorite Microsoft MVP, Mark Polino. Mark has an extensive background, both as a consultant and CFO, in consulting services and wanted to expand his public commentary to practice and consulting management.
Welcome on-board, Mark!
This article is much more partner focused than my normal blog posts at DynamicAccounting.net so Dwight has graciously given me the opportunity to guest post here.
If there is one thing that project managers and consultants dread, it’s getting client signoffs. I don’t mean signoffs on sales documents. I mean signoffs on the completion milestones as the project progresses. Let’s face it, signoffs are a form of confrontation and most people hate confrontation. This leads to reluctance to ask for signoffs. Couple that with clients who withhold signoff in a bid hold partners hostage and end users scared to take responsibility for anything and it’s easy to end up in signoff hell.
Every partner has been through signoff hell and I think that we have found some ways to at least mitigate the problem for everyone. I make no claim to having created these processes, I’ve simply seen how well they work and tried to document and refine them. My experience is using these techniques with Dynamics GP implementations but there is no reason why they won’t work with other products. The process steps are:
1) Figure out if there is a problem. – Use signature tripwires early in a project.
With a new client, how does a partner figure out if this client will have a problem with signoffs? The answer is to use tripwires. Early on, in the first phase of a project, build in several artificial signature points. Make them meaningless items that anyone would sign off on. Use something like reaffirming already confirmed dates, signoff that the kickoff meeting happened, etc. Whenever possible push these signatures lower in the client organization. This also builds confidence when asking for signoffs because a signoff is expected.
- If multiple levels of people at the client organization sign off without a problem, you may be able to safely move to signoffs at major milestones.
- If people balk at signing these innocuous documents, it’s time to increase the amount of signatures required on this project.
2) Houston we have a signature problem. – Increase the volume and frequency of signatures.
The solution to the problem of obtaining client signatures is to get more of them, more often. I know that this sounds counter intuitive but it’s not. The core problem is that users see signoffs as scary events with potentially negative consequences. The key is to turn signoffs into a routine.
- Communicate that for complete project documentation, there are going to be a lot of little items to be signed off on. Failure to provide timely signatures will impact the timeline and the cost. Communicate this often, especially in front of senior management.
- Get every little thing signed. After a while, management gets tired of the roadblocks and they get tired of hearing about it in the status meeting. In this way, the client figures out how to make signatures happen.
- Workout with management who can provide alternative signatures to deal with signature bottlenecks from vacation or business travel.
- Steer documents that could be signed by several people to the one(s) most likely to sign.
- Don’t skip the big milestone signatures either. These are much easier to get signed with a pile of signed sub-steps behind the document. This signature also provides some protection should a partner miss getting a sub-step signed.
Partners will have to push a little. Some people refuse to take responsibility no matter what but they start to look pretty silly pushing minor signatures up to their manager over and over. Usually, a manager at the client fixes this for a specific problem user.
3) What if they still won’t sign? – Ask what the items and concerns preventing signature are.
When the client still won’t sign a particular document, it’s time to dig deeper. Clients often have very good reasons not to sign documents. The concern may be open items, completeness or understanding of a process. The key is to understand what it will take the client to sign.
- Ask the client, what items or concerns are keeping them from signing the document. This forces a clarification of the issue. The key is to get direct answers not vague generalities.
- Address those items if possible right then and there and get a signature.
- If addressing the open items immediately is not possible, split the document to be signed into two documents, one for signature and one for the open items. This keeps progress moving while providing peace of mind that a critical item won’t be missed. It also forces documentation of the specific issues or missing elements. This provides a commitment to sign once these items are addressed.
- Alternatively, ask them to sign and note any exceptions. This doesn’t provide the same level of comfort as two documents but it does force documentation of the specific issues to be addressed.
Part of this process is to get problem items to move to the surface quickly. Some of these items may need to be escalated to the client or the partner’s management. It’s easier to resolve difficult items when they are found earlier and frequent signatures requirements force these items to the top.
4) What not to do. – Don’t manipulate.
All of this advice assumes a competent, professional partner working hard to implement ERP software. This is not a license to bully or manipulate clients
- Bullying users to sign a document is unethical, don’t do it. The point of this document is to help build a culture at the client that is comfortable overcoming fear and moving forward with the process. Bulldozing through the process and bullying people to sign will not provide the desired result.
- Don’t manipulate clients by sliding in a difficult document with a pile of easy to sign documents. An ERP implementation should be an open process. Slipping documents past customers won’t work for long.
- Don’t end run an approver. If there is a primary approver for a document and they are available, don’t use an alternate approve just because they are more likely to sign. Also, don’t go over an approver’s head to get a signature. Ultimately, you may need to go to a manager to overcome a user who is blocking the approval process, but that is different conversation. You are not trying to raise the approval up a level; you are trying to keep the process moving forward.
The best part of this approach is that it works just fine with Microsoft’s Sure Step project management approach. Getting a signature on each Sure Step document is a great place to start. You may need even more granular signatures depending on the project and the client. There is relief from signoff hell and it’s not as hard as people think.