Here’s AMS implementation advice you can bring to your next project

An AMS implementation is just like other major software projects — they carry some amount of risk. Since we’ve walked through the implementation planning and execution process hundreds of times, our team at Cobalt has heard all the horror stories of how these projects went badly with other AMS vendors.  

An AMS implementation typically gets sideways in one (or more) of three ways.

  • The AMS search process drags on … or gets short-circuited in a rush … and your association team winds up with a system you don’t have much confidence in.
  • Blown budgets and timelines often make an AMS implementation project spiral out of control and spawn problems like dissension among your staff, a loss of invaluable data, AMS functionality, etc.
  • The initial training and change management goes badly, and so does the adoption by your staff and members. This is especially common when the planning or implementation haven’t gone smoothly.

I’m not trying to be an alarmist or melodramatic, but our team at Cobalt has seen significant challenges for clients at each of these stages. One of the reasons our long-standing client partners value us is because we help them avoid or mitigate the pain and problems along the way. The radical commitment to transparency (it’s one Cobalt’s core values) means our implementation process, data migration, contracts, training, and everything we provide for associations is an open book that puts the customer first.

So, today I’m going to briefly break down four fictional scenarios that reflect different real-life scenarios we have encountered to illustrate how an AMS implementation can turn sour. I’m also including my best, brief advice for avoiding each of these pitfalls. If you’d like to talk more about your AMS implementation concerns, questions, or the needs of your staff and members, let’s connect for a brief intro call or initial AMS product showcase!

Scenario #1

A Universe of Possibilities!

Wouldn’t it be amazing if our new AMS could do the following 450 things? Every one of our major stakeholders and key team players is angling to have their pet feature included. We’ve been building this list for 10 years and now is our chance to do everything!

The image is a dark blue cartoon depiction of a stall stack of papers to represent an overwhelming checklist of association staff requests for their new AMS implementation.

The Problem:

In this situation, an organization’s ideal, perfect expectations can crush the plan for implementation because you cannot implement every great idea at one time.

Your First AMS Implementation Takeaway:

You know how decisiveness creates project momentum, and analysis paralysis destroys it! As you and your team are thinking big and planning for your next adoption, don’t let great get in the way of good. Take some of your great ideas and dedicate them to your next release. You’ll save planning time in the future, and free up resources for making the great ideas in this release even stronger.

Also, commit to making a project charter before implementation. It is such a helpful, guiding resource for keeping everyone clear about the plan and expectations. These have been invaluable to the Cobalt team and our partners.

Scenario #2

Busyness That Hurts Your Business!

How important is this CRM implementation? Well, it’s going to impact the daily productivity and effectiveness of our entire staff and have a massive impact on how our members view our association and interact with us. We’re busy, but this implementation is a top priority for us. We’ve got a whole half-day blocked off for the staff to get up to speed on the basics. Plus, Todd and Susan have a few hours scheduled to tie up any loose ends.

The image is a dark blue cartoon depiction of a stall stack of papers to represent an overwhelming checklist of association staff requests for their new AMS implementation.

The Problem:

Implementation projects fail when they don’t have enough quality time dedicated to them.

Your Second AMS Implementation Takeaway:

You don’t have to go overboard in setting aside time and resources for implementation. It doesn’t need to take over your organization and your other priorities. However, don’t let that lead you to shortchange what resources you’re allocating for this phase, either.

You need adequate time from both key stakeholders and your whole staff (at least the ones that will be using the system) for this to be a success. Cobalt tells its customers to budget 20% of whatever time we spend. So, if we’re spending 1,000 hours, you’ll need to carve out at least 200 hours to be successful. Make it quality time, while you’re at it!

The more you can schedule blocks of time, the better. Dedicated time is much better than trying to squeeze testing and feedback in between other meetings and calls. At Cobalt, we even offer to host our clients at our offices for “war room” testing. Getting away from your day-to-day and focusing on the task at hand makes a huge difference. Plus, we provide food, drinks, and lively conversation.

The single most important thing I can advise you on this front is to make sure the executives champion this project. If you start there and maintain that visible support, it will solve untold numbers of potential implementation headaches.

Scenario #3

There Was Much Grumbling …

Well, no. Not everybody was onboard with the new system. Most of the major team leaders seemed okay to move forward, though. Just a few sharp disagreements. Everybody that needed to know what direction we were headed was pretty much giving it the green light. We thought about doing some user testing with our customers, but in the end, it just wasn’t feasible to organize that with everything else we had going on.

The image is a dark blue cartoon depiction of a stall stack of papers to represent an overwhelming checklist of association staff requests for their new AMS implementation.

The Problem:

If you don’t have internal consensus and customer buy-in, your system won’t get used, and there will be resentment, frustration, or both.

Your Third AMS Implementation Takeaway:

Survey your staff and let them know you’ve heard, understood, and captured the parts of their processes and workflows that they need to do their jobs. Schedule meetings with critical stakeholders and your new vendor so everyone can voice any questions or concerns before the implementation work begins. Don’t ignore or overlook key stakeholders that aren’t engaging in the preparations for this transition.

Also, getting feedback from your existing members or customers can be incredibly helpful. Just as you need executive champions to pave the way internally, some key advocates from your end-users will sometimes create a groundswell of goodwill and excitement about the change that comes with a new system.

Finally, I would say you need some internal walkthroughs and training demonstrations led by seasoned subject matter experts. Trust me, and trust the Cobalt team’s 20 plus years of helping organizations get up to speed on a new system. Those walkthroughs will make or break your implementation.

Scenario #4

Your 15 Ducks In a Row …

Things might be tight or a bit crazy for a little while, but if we reassign some tasks and shuffle our resources around, we should have pretty much what we need to make this AMS implementation happen alongside our website overhaul. And getting our new accounting system in place. And upgrading everything else while we’re at it. We’ve got a resourceful team, and we’ll find a way to get it all done!

The image is a dark blue cartoon depiction of a stall stack of papers to represent an overwhelming checklist of association staff requests for their new AMS implementation.

The Problem:

When you split your focus between major projects happening concurrently, all projects suffer.

Your Fourth AMS Implementation Takeaway:

Cobalt is like your organization and every team trying to maximize productivity. We want to work efficiently and effectively. Also, we encourage strategic timing and plans for scheduling your next implementation. There are some great times to slot this project in your calendar, such as just after your big annual conference, or when you are three months ahead of running your annual dues.

Not overlapping major projects is one key to getting the most out of your investments in both cases. As you’re talking about implementation possibilities with your vendor, make sure you break out your project calendar so everyone can see the other priority tasks to work around.

What Should You Plan For? (Positive, Proactive Possibilities)

The scenarios we’ve outlined throughout this article are, unfortunately, very real and very common.

Before we wrap up, let’s briefly touch on some of the top best practices for a smooth and successful AMS implementation.

Project Charter: Guiding Implementation Success

Crafting a project charter serves as a beacon illuminating the path to success. Think of it as a meticulous roadmap, carefully created by our consultants, outlining the paramount objectives of your software implementation project.

This charter acts as a North Star, providing unwavering guidance when unforeseen detours appear on the horizon. As a measuring tool at the project’s culmination, it not only assesses success but also serves as a profound learning tool for future endeavors.

Preserve the Tapestry of Historical Data

Embarking on the journey from one AMS to another necessitates preserving intricate historical data. The heartbeat of robust reporting lies in this historical data, and the choice of a migration partner becomes pivotal.

Opting for an experienced partner to conduct in-house data migrations becomes more than a precaution; it becomes a strategic move to avert potentially severe data issues. In the realm of thought leadership, it’s about understanding that historical data is not just numbers but a narrative that shapes your organizational journey.

A Non-Negotiable: Staff Training

The role of your software partner extends beyond the AMS implementation to the empowerment of your teams. The key lies not just in training but in fostering a culture of continuous learning. Quality time dedicated by key stakeholders and the entire staff, especially those directly engaging with the system, becomes a crucial investment.

If your potential AMS partner mentions staff training as a part of their implementation plan and stresses the importance of ongoing training, that’s a good sign you’re in the right hands.

And don’t forget what we said about the impact of ‘war room’ testing. When your team is not just trained but immersed in a focused environment, but also away from daily distractions, they get a lot more from the experience.

Thought leadership here is not just about functionality; it’s about creating an environment where your teams thrive in mastering the technology that propels your organization forward!

Post AMS Implementation Retrospective

In the symphony of software implementation, the crescendo doesn’t mark the end but rather the beginning of a reflective tune.

A post evaluation for your AMS implementation is imperative. This thoughtful retrospective, assessing against the goals set in your project charter and initial needs assessment, becomes the catalyst of continuous improvement. Not only should you provide constructive feedback on what worked and what can be improved, your partner should be proactive in soliciting that information.

Don’t just think of it a glance backward. It’s a visionary step forward, shaping a narrative of ongoing success and refinement in future endeavors.

The Best Implementation Starts With the Best Search Process and Plan

Over the years, the vast majority of Cobalt’s implementation projects have gone as well as anyone could hope. By the time we get to implementation, we’ve got such an excellent groundwork and communication channel established that we can work through the inevitable unforeseen challenges with a significant, dynamic implementation project.

We work hard to make sure there’s a good fit with our clients, and we’re transparent each step of the way. If there’s a trick or best practice we’ve unearthed in previous projects, you’ll have the benefit of that with our team. We’ve also invested a tremendous amount of energy in helping associations make the most of the search process because that helps you, us, and the project! Read more about that in our 2024 Association Management Buying Guide.

Get a Complete Copy of the 2024 AMS Buying Guide

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Association Management Software 2023 Buying Guide cover image. It includes a large version of Cobalt's logo, the AMS Buying Guide title, and photograph of Cobalt's Washington, D.C. lobby.