Getting Started with Membership Software: An Ultimate Guide Sneak Peek
Your Playbook to Getting Started with a New System
The implementation phase is that difficult time where a lot of work has to happen before you can reap the rewards of your new system. There are long hours, conflicting ideas, and various obstacles along the way. The excitement from the selection process starts to wane and you’re faced with new processes, new procedures, and new things to learn.
But the news isn’t all bad. This is a time of opportunity.
Implementation allows you to look at the processes you’ve been doing before and change what hasn’t worked. It gives you permission to question priorities and to build a team that will lead your staff into new territory.
Change is hard, but it also can be rewarding.
The Ultimate Guide to Implementing Membership Software will show you:
- how to keep your implementation on time and on budget
- how to build the right team and communicate with them so everyone stays on pace
- how to set the right expectations with your entire staff so that you’ll have organizational buy-in throughout the experience
- how the implementation timeline is built, so you have full insight into the process of what happens when
The first two sections can be found in this post. The full Ultimate Guide eBook is just a download away.
Let’s get started…
There’s no disputing a new membership system is a major investment. Managing the costs of your new membership software extends well beyond the shopping and selection stages. As you enter the implementation phase, there are several strategies you can employ to make sure the project stays within budget and in scope.
Be Prepared for Change
Successful implementation projects require time, patience, and flexibility. Rarely does the initial plan that organizations create turn into a reality, as changes to the plan often have to occur. Going into this process with realistic expectations is essential and will help you tackle each phase of the project in a more productive manner.
The key to keeping your implementation within budget is to look to best practices—an implementation that’s done in the way that others have done it in the past means there’s no recreating the wheel. The more you can commit to following best practices, the more predictable and the lower your implementation costs will be.
Following best practices, though, is directly tied to being ready for change. Chances are, what you’ve always done in the past won’t be the best way forward. After all, if you’re not looking to make a change in process—if you’re looking to do what you’ve always done—do you really expect different results?
Be open to the idea of change when your implementation team suggests a best practices rule. Sometimes this means that you’ll need to prompt those in senior management to accept something new, other times you’ll have to finesse a conversation with the board about changing policies and bylaws to adopt a new process.
Remember, the end result is a system that best helps you achieve your organization’s goals. There may be new paths to get there, but the result will be better—and less costly—in the end.
Here, we’ll show you some cost-saving techniques that apply directly to a software implementation. For a full look at what you can expect to pay for an entire system, along with some tips about gaining board approval, check out the Pricing Toolkit.
Work in Phases
Most organizations have complex needs, so when mid- to large-sized organizations set out to gather all their requirements, the list can get very long, very quickly. The best way to tackle this—and to keep costs down—is to work in phases and focus first on a subset of what’s needed. For instance, plan to implement half of the full requirements in the first phase, then in the next quarter the second, and remainder in the third. While this could be seen as more of a cost-delay model than a cost-reduction model, it’s not. And here’s why.
When organizations embark on implementing a leaner amount of requirements right out of the gate, they end up needing to implement less in the long run. Those who decide to implement in phases find that, once they go live after phase one and get comfortable with working in their new system, their total requirements are actually reduced.
Again, this relates directly to being prepared for change. Those organizations that are open to change will find that, with phase one fully implemented, there are new processes available and new ways of doing things that eliminate the need for additional configurations that were originally planned.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will be taken care of in phase one, but you may see your list of original requirements start to shrink after go live. Familiarity with the new system after phase one is also beneficial because you and your implementation team will find that it’s easier to work in a system that’s already up and running. Releasing incremental functionality after you’re live will save more time and money than if you converted everything all at once. Plus, you’ll be able to stop paying maintenance fees to your outgoing vendor once you turn your new system on. A phased implementation will have you doing that much sooner.
Stop Scope Creep
We’ve all been there—it’s halfway through a construction project and, as long as everything is ripped up and exposed, why not add another bathroom or redo the floors. The inclination to add scope to a project is a natural one.
The same goes for membership software implementation. You may have been as detailed in your requirements gathering as possible, but once you get into the implementation, those seemingly “little” requests and add-ons start appearing.
Scope creep is, naturally, one of the biggest areas you can manage to stay within budget. The bulk of this management, however, takes place not when you’re in the thick of it but right from the start. A good implementation methodology strongly assumes that spending time upfront will save an organization a considerable amount in both time and money than discovering things toward the middle or end of the project.
To that end, spend time talking to your vendor’s implementation team about exactly what you want and need, no matter how exhaustive the RFP is. That’s not because the RFP isn’t necessarily complete, but because these discussions tend to reveal deeper requirements. Additionally, the implementation team can bring to light the needs and best practices of similar clients. They may be able to suggest a requirement you’ll need for processes that will save you in the future.
It All Comes Down to Change
Staying open to change is your best cost-savings tactic. The less time it takes to go live with streamlined requirements, the less your overall scope will be. And when you define everything you’ll need from the start, you’ll keep surprise costs from sneaking in. As you and your team open yourselves to new processes, you may find that you can do more with less, leaving you with a system that stays within budget while helping to achieve your goals.
Learn the best way to gain organizational buy-in during the start up process and a full timeline of a software implementation when you download the full Ultimate Guide eBook.
A software implementation is one of the most time-consuming projects your team will face and assembling a strong team to play a part in this process will put your organization on a path for success and growth.
The first step is to find your people—those who understand (or will at least listen to) your concerns and who share your goal of getting things right. The implementation team (consisting of both your staff and vendor reps) needs to work together and communicate openly and consistently. Establish a rhythm of communication so that you can work with one another throughout the implementation process by posting questions, assigning tasks, and sharing deliverables. Everyone involved in the implementation should be kept in the loop at all times. With everyone communicating, you’re less likely to run into big problems later on and more likely to build a membership system that best meets your needs.
So, what does that team look like?
The Internal Team
Depending on the size of your organization, it’s likely that many of your staff members will be focusing a significant portion of their time toward the implementation process. And, they’ll be juggling their day-to-day tasks. That's a lot to accomplish each day!
When assembling your internal team, you want a broad representation from your organization—preferably at least one to two people from each department. Input from across the organization is essential, because each team and department has different needs, processes, and problems to be addressed. Get input from everyone, and then allow an informed committee to make an educated decision, keeping everyone's issues in mind.
Your internal team will include the following:
The executive sponsor offers support, direction, and guidance to team members at all levels of the organization. This includes assisting with the change management strategy and rolling communication out to the greater organization. This person is the ultimate cheerleader for the project, advocating for continued support and commitment from within, as well as resolving any escalated issues.
Your internal project manager will work with the project manager on the vendor side to monitor and control budget, schedule, scope, and quality. This role is responsible for addressing resourcing issues and removing obstacles from the overall project, as well as ensuring key milestones are completed.
Subject Matter Experts
Your subject matter experts are tasked with providing business process input in the early stages. They also author key documentation, provide data and functionality validation, and are key to making sure staff are properly onboarded in preparation for go-live.
The technical team provides the necessary infrastructure and administrative support, including data conversion assistance and testing.
The Vendor Team
When evaluating member management system providers, it's best to take into consideration their experience level with implementations, especially ones that are similar to your organization and the industry that you work in. And, generally, if the providers have that experience, they're able to deliver faster and also provide you more realistic estimates on implementation. They can even re-leverage prior work.
Exercise some degree of caution when dealing with software vendors that don't implement the software themselves or have control over the underlying platform. If they don't do the implementation, then sometimes it's difficult to determine which party should be held accountable at the end of the day when there are support issues or system issues. It’s good to set those guidelines and expectations from the beginning.
Implementing a new software requires you to "spill your guts" to your vendor and their team. You will have to reveal what you consider to be organizational secrets. And you can expect the vendor to probe you with questions about your processes, procedures, customers, data, and much more. You need to feel comfortable enough to trust them. And of course, the vendor needs to first make make sure they've earned your trust. If you don't, they will not be able to help you get the most out of your software. You need to trust that the partnership you're entering with your vendor is the right fit and accept them as part of your team—they are not only rooting for you, but are working to make your organization successful in the long-run.
You should expect your vendor team to include the following:
The vendor’s executive sponsor is there to provide support and remove hurdles from the overall progress. This role is vendor counterpart to your internal executive sponsor.
The vendor program manager operated much the same as the internal PM does—monitoring and controlling the budget, schedule, scope, and quality. Additionally, it is this person’s responsibility to listen to your changing needs and make adjustments as necessary.
The solution architect leads the early stages of implementation, identifying the design and approach for the project and promoting industry best practices.
This position is an asset to the team, as the business analyst examines and documents your business processes and requirements while acting as a liaison between the internal and vendor teams.
Lead Technical Consultant
The lead technical consultant builds the technical design document based on specifications from the solutions architect and the business analyst. This person creates the effort estimates for work products and has overall responsibility for design, development, and deployment activities.
Other Vendor Personnel
There are many more staff working behind the scenes to support the main players listed here, including those in development, quality assurance, and training.
With you and your team having to juggle your day-to-day jobs and the impending implementation process, it can be tempting to consider using a third-party implementation party to assist you. If you opt to do this, be sure to do your research. Make sure they are following best practices in the membership software industry regarding implementation practices and that they aren’t endangering your upgrade path. The downside to having a third-party implementer is that they may not follow the software developer’s toolkit and might do what they feel is best practices and what they are most familiar with.
However, depending on your organization's needs and your team's bandwidth, it might make the most sense to work with a third-party. They can provide you with a structure to the implementation process and can help you move things along. Just because one organization chooses not to go that route doesn't mean you shouldn't. Research your options thoroughly before you proceed.
The Importance of Communication
Whether you’re dealing with people from inside your organization, those representing your software vendor, or a team from a third-party, open communication and trust are essential to keeping the project running successfully. No matter how efficient your team is, the implementation stage will take time, and you’ll be spending a considerable amount of your working life with the team you choose. Being honest and keeping the lines of communication open will make the entire experience much more enjoyable and stress-free. And, who knows, if all goes well, you might even want to spend time with the group after go-live!
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About Jennifer Barrell
As the Director of Content, Branding & Buzz at Aptify, Jen oversees the strategy and execution of brand management and content production across the organization’s global offices. She thrives on bringing compelling content and useful information to associations to help them grow and engage their membership. She's also an avid fan of mid-century modern design and all things science fiction.