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Kristen Knox

Software projects are inherently risky and we’ve all heard of (or have been part of) projects that have not gone well. You will hear the term risk management used constantly by project management experts and consultants, but I have found that most software companies take risk management to one extreme or the other. They either ignore it altogether and hope that they can avoid the typical pitfalls of a CRM implementation or they add so much risk management overhead to the project that the time, effort and cost to manage the risk becomes the reason that the project fails!

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At Cobalt our goal is to minimize risk within reason when we implement CRM systems for our customers. We believe a good project manager knows how to find the right balance between risk management and the scope and complexity of the project. We also espouse open and honest communication regarding project risks and uses a client-facing risk register to work with the customer to track and monitor project risks and issues.

Identifying Risks

When a new project kicks off, the project manager looks through our lessons learned documents from previous projects to start the risk identification process. This has helped to identify some risks commonly seen across CRM implementations and has helped us put together some simple steps that can reduce the probability and impact of these commonly seen risks.

Risk 1: Lack of Client Engagement

Whether you are a consultant working on a customer implemention or an internal team pushing something out to the rest of the organization, it is often difficult to get your clients or end users to stay engaged. Everyone is excited when the project kicks off, but once the real work starts, it can be difficult to maintain the required level of engagement.

Management Strategy:

  • Engage the customer at the beginning of the project with a well written charter that outlines the objectives and success criteria and business problems the project intends to solve.
  • From the start of the project, stress the importance of end user engagement.
  • Always give the customer a walkthrough of the functionality before user acceptance testing begins.
  • Ask intelligent questions about day to day business practices to spark the interest of the customer.
  • Hold as many in person meetings as possible.
  • Explain why end users are critical members of the project team and ensure that expectations and responsibilities are clearly defined from the start of the project.
  • Help the customer choose a project champion at the beginning of the project.

Risk 2: End User Acceptance After Launch

This one goes hand-in-hand with the first risk. If end users don’t embrace the new product or enhancement, the project will be seen as a failure by management.

Management Strategy:

  • Complete training as early as possible in the project and train end users constantly throughout the project.
  • Provide solid, consistent post go-live support.
  • Involve all system users in user acceptance testing.
  • Deliver working software early and often so end users start learning the software early in the project.
  • Help the customer choose a project champion at the beginning of the project and support the champion as they work to get all staff behind the success of the new system.

Risk 3: Complicated Deployment

At Cobalt, we preach simplicity and a phased approach to implementations, but sometimes requirements are complicated.

Management Strategy:

  • Always have documented, thorough deployment steps and checklists.
  • Always do at least one practice run prior to the actual go-live and time how long each step will take.
  • Provide the customer with clear instructions and training prior to the deployment if there are steps that require customer involvement.
  • Set clear expectations with the customer about downtime or interrupted service.

Risk 4: Scope Change

We all know that defining the scope of any project upfront is key to success. At Cobalt we preach an agile approach to implmentations, but agile does not mean haphazard. Maintaining a clear scope even as the project evolves is critical.

Management Strategy:

  • Frequent, effective communications with customer.
  • Periodically refer back to the charter that outlines the objectives and success criteria to ensure the functionality is in line with the project objectives.
  • Invest time learning the customer’s high level business requirements and day to day operational needs at the beginning of the project.
  • Weekly status updates to track project progress and ensure all parties are in agreement regarding progress.
  • Deliver working software early and often so end users start using the new system as early in the project as possible.
  • Complete training as early as possible in the project and train end users constantly throughout the project.
  • Work with customer to prioritize requirements at the beginning of the project and triage and prioritize feedback as it is submitted.
  • During the kick-off meeting discuss the three most significant project constraints with the customer (scope, cost, and timeline) and work with the customer to define the most critical constraint in the project charter.

Risk 5: Unfamiliar Legacy Systems or Integrations

This is another risk that is often unavoidable. There are times when you’re migrating from a legacy system or integrating with a 3rd pary system that you’ve never seen before.

Management Strategy:

  • Learn as much as possible about the source system or the 3rd party system.
  • Get a walkthrough from the customer of the source data or the 3rd party system.
  • Involve the project team in the mapping and migration process.
  • Migrate data as early as possible in the project to maximize time for client testing and review.
  • Develop the integration as early as possible in the project to maximize time for testing.
  • Obtain all available documentation on the 3rd party system and have a direct point of contact at the 3rd party system.
  • Stress the importance of doing user acceptance testing with the migrated data.
  • Review lessons learned from similar data migrations or integrations.

Risk 6: Post Release Performance Issues

You’ve done a great job developing a testing a shiny new feature for your CRM implementation and you can’t wait to get in the hands of your end users, but you’ve got one last risk to get past before flipping the switch. All your hard work and this great new functionality will be quickly forgotten if it slows your system to a crawl.

Management Strategy:

  • Conduct complete performance testing.
  • Identify performance as a risk as early on in the project as possible and work with the technical lead and customer to put in place a system performance management strategy.
  • Implement and test load balancing.

Conclusion

Having a prebuilt list of risks and issues commonly seen on projects and proven and tested strategies to manage these risks can minimize the time spent on risk management and maximize the value for the customer. Because Cobalt believes in continuous improvement and is always looking for ways to make our implementations better and more efficient, we update this template for commonly seen risks throughout and after each implementation.

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