Well perhaps not entirely painless. Encountering some unexpected issues is normal when implementing a major system such as an Association Management System (AMS). However, with a well thought-out plan in place, the unexpected can be managed with minimal disruption as you move along the path to an on-time, on-budget implementation according to specifications.

In working with our clients some of the keys to success that we have observed are:

1. Establish a strategic vision and clear goals

A successful project starts with the realization that implementing a new system is not just an IT project. The system design and requirements should be driven by the strategic plan. The link between organizational strategy and the system should be well understood and clearly communicated across the organization so that there is widespread understanding of the benefits that will be realized—both in terms of value-added to the membership and other customers, as well as enhanced efficiency and effectiveness for the staff.

2. Recognize that you are engaged in a change management process

A new system cannot just be overlaid on existing processes. Processes—and the allocation of resources—will need to change based on a comprehensive examination of how work is accomplished and where improvements can be realized. The implementation of a new system represents an opportunity to develop a rigorous approach to process improvement, developing and codifying Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

3. Develop an oversight structure

In addition to the project sponsor and project manager roles, there should be a well-defined project oversight committee including members of senior management. The project oversight committee would be charged with providing strategic guidance for requirements and implementation decisions, as well as monitoring cross-divisional impacts related to system design, scope and functionality.

4. Put the right monitoring/project management tools in place

Guiding the project is dependent on reliable and timely information. For the project oversight committee, such information may take the form of a dashboard highlighting project status (scope, schedule, cost and quality/requirements). The dashboard should inform discussions about key milestones, proposed changes, impending risks to staying on track, and resource implications related to resolving issues.

5. Allow enough time

Don’t rush. There needs to be sufficient time for tasks such as ensuring that requirements are well defined and support the organization’s strategic goal,  for determining how the system will impact workflow across organizational functions, and for developing standard operating procedures, designing integrations with 3rd party systems, testing cycles (including scenario development) and undertaking data mapping/conversion.

6. Maintain frequent and open communication

It is important that everyone be well informed about what is happening, their roles and what to expect. The communication process should help avoid a multitude of potential problems such as: An SOP created by one division that unknowingly impacts another; divergent definitions for a data field during the data mapping/conversion process; or scheduling divisional staff for testing scenarios when they have a particularly heavy workload.

7. Don’t forget about training

A new system with new SOPs means there will be a significant learning curve for staff. A one-time session will not be sufficient for staff to learn and internalize new procedures, particularly if it lacks sufficient hands-on experiential learning. Careful consideration should be given to adult learning models and the amount of time required for a comprehensive, ongoing training program.