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Engagement Management is Key to Implementation Success

  • April 01 2004, 1:00am EST
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During almost 20 years on the management teams of different business performance management (BPM) software vendors, I saw hundreds of implementation projects. My colleagues and I were always surprised and disappointed on occasions when a large, important customer project would go astray. The problem was rarely one that could be blamed on lack of ability. We had put the best project managers on the job, and the customers assigned their best teams as well. Yet some of these projects did not achieve the anticipated results. For some reason, BPM projects were not behaving like the typical IT implementations we had all seen before.

Searching for a cure, we discovered that a necessary role was not being filled in these projects. The most appropriate label for this role is engagement management.

BPM projects, more than other software implementations, often resemble construction projects in their complexity. If you were building an office complex, you would certainly hire an architect and general contractor. Together, they need to coordinate the separate efforts of everyone involved, make changes while still fulfilling the architect's vision, and deliver your building on time and on budget.

Think of the BPM engagement manager as a combination of the architect and general contractor. Without them, construction becomes a comedy ? or tragedy ? of plumbers and electricians bumping into cement trucks. Regardless of how well they work individually, the result is a mess.

Why does BPM implementation require engagement management?

Complexity. BPM typically requires multiple applications, such as a portal, planning system, consolidation system and dashboard, to be implemented. These applications often overlap, as do the various IT subprojects involved. There are often multiple products/modules from one or more vendors to learn about, implement and integrate. All of this will lead to having multiple project managers: one or more in IT, one from the vendor and, most likely, one from finance. Who will manage the project managers?

People-based issues. Many people in your company will be affected - from end users to the CEO. These individuals are likely to represent different business units or departments. All of them have business requirements to be considered, consolidated and prioritized. On the service side, external implementation experts ? vendor or other third party - may need to be integrated into the team along with management consultants to review process or help manage change. Difficult tradeoffs may need to be negotiated between departments, vendors or consultants.

Planning and communication. All the activities and personnel, including high-ranking stakeholders, need to be coordinated in advance. Communication can be haphazard if it isn't planned within a unified framework. Business requirements need to be converted into detailed calculations, reports, and account and organization structures. It's not only a matter of having a person empowered to call all the shots; this kind of project raises issues that are best handled by an individual who is generally regarded as impartial and knowledgeable, and whose vested interest is to fulfill the strategic goals of the project.

You can see why we suggest you have an engagement manager, and that you choose this person with care.

It is easy to underestimate the complexity, visibility and impact of performance management projects upon the enterprise. Placing a traditional, technical project manager as the overseer could set that person up for failure, through no fault of his/her own. It is unlikely that such a project manager would do well arbitrating a tug-of-war regarding moving to a standard chart of accounts between finance, the vendor and another business unit.

It is also asking a lot for a technical manager to focus on the technology implementation, yet constantly monitor and adjust to ensure that the strategic goals are fulfilled and the company selects the right metrics for its dashboard. The engagement manager needs to add a layer of management and communication to the work of the technical project managers, and will be responsible for the framework that ties their projects together.

We have learned that to be effective, an engagement manager must understand the needs and abilities of all concerned. He or she should have a background that is equal parts business and IT. He or she needs to play with the team, rather than take a dictatorial approach. Additionally, he or she must have the perspective on BPM that usually comes only with direct experience.

The engagement manager should be independent of vendor interests, and as free as possible from your intra-company politics and turf battles. The engagement manager may be called upon to tell the senior project sponsor that his requests will take the project off-course, something that employees and vendors naturally find awkward and hazardous.

There are a few possibilities for filling the role of engagement manager. One option is to not fill it; to ignore the advice here and treat this as just another technical project. To return to the construction analogy, there are people who can take an architect's blueprints and oversee tradesmen in building a house - in other words, fill the role of general contractor and architect themselves. Those most likely to succeed are those with direct experience.

Alternatively, you can look outside for consultants who have the right experience and will be able to communicate well with people at different levels of your company. We do not recommend placing a vendor's representative in the role, because this can place the representative in a spot where he/she must choose between your strategic goals and the vendor's. An unbiased third-party perspective is a great asset here.

Finally, you could try an employee in the engagement manager role. To minimize his or her involvement in company or department politics, it should be a relatively senior person who is newly hired and has enough BPM experience to carry credibility. The individual should also be instructed to focus on the project and its goals and delegate the daily tasks of his or her job to someone else to minimize distraction.

Once your engagement manager is in place, you should see certain signs of effectiveness such as an overall project plan that describes the timing and nature of each subproject and team and how it all fits together. Expect the engagement manager to manage weekly deliverables and provide ongoing status reports to your stakeholders. There should be channels to report any problems identified and to handle change requests. The engagement manager might well arrange separate demos of the new system targeted to the relevant IT staff, executive-level stakeholders, the intended users and field locations.

Placing the right person into the role of engagement manager is not an easy task. It means finding the individual who can effectively and objectively work with your leadership, your IT staff and numerous third parties to guide your BPM project from start to successful finish.

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