Managing a SAAS / cloud implementation is different from new software development and from software upgrade and maintenance projects. There are certain things to be aware of and to manage differently to ensure success.
If you are involved with an initiative early on, prior to the Statement of Work (SOW) being signed and even as early as part of the RFI / RFP process, you may want to consider aspects beyond software functionality when comparing providers, such as the level of documentation, testing, integration options, and performance. Involving other project specialists in the process early can yield even greater returns. A test lead may point out concerns around how defects will be handled after go-live, a system architect may ask if the solution integrates with your ERP, and a business analyst may ask how certain non-functional requirements, such as availability, are met.
Partner with the SAAS supplier project manager early and often.
Set up an introductory call prior to the project kickoff meeting and talk through how the project is typically handled with that particular provider. There may be some project management responsibilities that overlap between you and the SAAS provider project manager. You will want to determine who will lead which status calls, who will document which action items, and who will send out statuses to which set of people so you don’t duplicate work or confuse your project team members. You may be lucky enough to have a document repository that you can share with the provider, but if you don’t, you’ll want to figure out the best way to share documents. Ask lots of questions upfront about the schedule, the configuration and testing processes, how feature requests are prioritized, and how migration is handled if you’re moving away from an existing system. Ask your counterpart project manager about common bumps in the road he or she has seen with their other customers. They may be able to recommend proactive steps you can take to increase the likelihood of delivering on-time and satisfying and even delighting your customers.
Read the Contract Carefully
If the supplier requires the project to be done in a certain timeframe, make sure you are ready to go before signing the contract. You may need to provide certain deliverables or engage certain stakeholders even before the kickoff call and if so you may want to have an introductory, pre-kickoff call with the subset of people who will perform those early tasks. There may be a penalty for delivering late because it’s costing the SAAS provider money to keep their project team members engaged, and if that’s the case you’ll want to communicate that to the team. Make sure you understand whether the SAAS provider will be providing any documentation such as requirements, test scenarios, and training manuals. If you need those documents and they aren’t provided, then you may need to arrange for them to be created internally. Define gaps in the SAAS provider’s process and how best to fill the gaps for activities such as testing and training as well as how to staff the roles to fill those gaps whether it be with company employees or a third-party provider.
Get Architecture Involved Ahead of Time
Get architecture involved to iron out the integration needs and identify the needed development resources ahead of time. If there are integrations, make sure you’ve looked at options. For example, will you be sharing flat files or using web services or Application Program Interfaces (APIs)? Is there development work needed to match the formatting of systems that you are ingesting the data into? If you understand the interfaces in the early stages of the project, you can save yourself time and headaches later on.
Be Open to the SAAS Way of Doing Things
On a SAAS implementation, you likely have a set of requirements but you shouldn’t need to develop detailed requirements such as use cases before configuring the system because there are finite choices for implementation. Your company will need to be open to the SAAS way of doing things. If the software doesn’t meet your needs entirely, you may be able to put in a feature request with the SAAS provider. If their other customers could benefit from the same functionality change, then they may consider making the change at low or no cost, but if the request is unique to your company, you may need to factor in additional time and cost for customizations.
Involve the Business Team Throughout Configuration
The business team that will be using the software should be highly involved throughout the configuration process. You’ll want to make sure they’ll be available for configuration meetings to answer questions and clarify their needs. You’ll want them to be involved in testing to ensure that their acceptance criteria is met. You’ll want them on-hand to receive training on the system which will come in especially handy if they are tasked with training other users of the system or acting as subject matter experts or support resources for the system.
When you transition the project to the operations group, you may want to provide guidance on determining whether post go-live testing of regular releases will be required. If the SAAS provider puts out two major releases a year, for example, you may want to have your IT or business team ensure that the major pieces of functionality they rely on are still meeting their needs. If a release includes significant functionality changes and impacts a large user group, it may justify a new project just to perform regression testing.
Managing SAAS implementations requires a different project management lens to manage resources and preempt roadblocks differently than traditional software development projects. While there are certain things to watch for and do differently, partnering with another company can yield great results for you and your company. Lewis Fowler can be a great resource to you and your company to help you maximize your investment in a SAAS offering and increase the likelihood of a smooth road to go-live and beyond.