Good news! Your association has finally selected a new AMS. Bad news. You’re the one chosen as the project’s manager, yet you’ve never implemented a new AMS. More good news! Your AMS vendor assigned a project manager to your implementation. Relieved, you think, “Whew! Thankfully, someone who knows what they’re doing can lead this.”
Sorry, don’t get too excited. Yes, your AMS vendor has an implementation project manager (PM), but your association needs your own PM to keep your team on track and look out for your interests.
What You Need to Know Before Starting an AMS Implementation
Many association professionals, like you, find themselves becoming an accidental project manager despite having no PM training or experience. Project management is a profession with its own set of credentials (you can see a few PMPs in our team bios). Without an experienced PM on the job, it’s easy for a project to go off the rails—behind schedule and over budget.
Project management is a huge topic. In the confines of a blog post, we can only share some of the essentials of it. You need to know what you’re getting into so you’re ready to handle what’s ahead. We encourage you to start here but supplement this information with resources from the Project Management Institute.
Gather Your People
Project Manager. As project manager (PM), you’re the project team leader. It’s a job that’s often compared to herding cats; the PM must keep a cross-departmental team focused on your common purpose.
A project manager should be a:
- People person—an excellent communicator who regularly checks in with team members and keeps all stakeholders in the loop.
- Team cheerleader who provides inspiration when motivation is flagging and celebrates small wins along the way.
- Negotiator and mediator who deals with conflict and resolves issues immediately.
You should remain flexible and unruffled (on the outside). Stuff happens—that’s the nature of complex projects, like an AMS implementation. You must constantly scan the horizon for potential hiccups and risks, and tweak your plan appropriately.
Project Sponsor. Every project needs a sponsor or champion. The project sponsor is a person in the C-suite or senior management who is not only a true champion of the project but has the authority to deliver the budget and staff resources you need.
The sponsor serves as a liaison with staff and volunteer leaders. They’re the one who gets stubborn department heads in line and keeps everyone bought in to the project’s goals and its alignment with the association’s goals and strategy.
Project Stakeholders. AMS users and users of AMS data are the project’s subject matter experts and stakeholders. With their understanding of data, reports, processes, integrations, and user experience, they must be involved in requirements gathering. Otherwise, the new AMS won’t meet their expectations.
Project Team. The project team includes a representative from each primary stakeholder group who will use the AMS or use data from the AMS. For example, staff from IT, membership, marketing, meetings, or education could make up your team. Each team member must understand their project role and responsibilities—a RACI chart can help. They must also be available for project meetings, software testing and training.
Get Your “Paper” Together
Project Charter. Start your project with a brief project charter that includes:
- Description, purpose and scope of the project
- Project success metrics
- Project team members
- Decision-making authority
Project Scope. You are the last word on your project’s scope—what the project will deliver, what’s in scope, and what’s not. The project team, sponsor, and stakeholders must also understand the scope’s parameters. They must know from the very beginning which requirements (features and functionality) are within scope and which aren’t so their expectations are managed.
Beware of requests for changes to the project scope. Avoid the need for customization. The short-term impact of customization is not often worth the costs or the loss of the ability to download updates and new releases.
Project Budget. The cost of the new software isn’t the only budget line. You must also consider budgeting for consultants, contractors, or temporary staff to help you with requirements, selection, implementation, configurations, integrations, data cleansing, data migration and helping you with your “real job.”
Make Your Project Plan
Project Schedule. Consult with your AMS vendor’s team when putting together your project timeline so you allow enough time for all project tasks—even the ones you didn’t know about.
Coordinate the timeline with your association’s calendar. You need to account for time not devoted to the implementation such as the membership renewal cycle, major events, board meetings and budget cycle. Then, build in a buffer for the unexpected—you can always count on the unexpected.
Project Plan. With your core project team, develop a project plan and break it down into tasks. Spend some time identifying risks. Make a plan B for overcoming these risks should they arise.
Look into using project management software to keep your team on track, like Asana, Smartsheet, Jira, or, at least, Microsoft Planner.
Project Kickoff Meeting. Invite the project sponsor and team to a project kickoff meeting where you discuss:
- Project goals and scope
- Team responsibilities
- Project timeline
- Meeting and communication tools
- Ground rules and expectations
Project Close. You need to discuss what went well during the project and what didn’t go well so you can document lessons learned for your association’s next project.
It’s a big job to be an association project manager, especially with a complex project like an AMS implementation. While a successful implementation is very rewarding, the tasks leading up to it can be overwhelming. If you don’t have the experience or time to lead an AMS project, consider working with a professional project manager.
We have certified PMPs on staff who can manage your AMS implementation so you can focus on the job you were hired to do. Contact us today to learn how we can help you implement your new AMS in less time, with greater adoption, thus saving you time and money over the total lifecycle of your AMS.