Major systems implementations can have significant impacts on the success of an organization and its employees, vendors and customers. If done well, the project can improve transaction speed and accuracy, can elevate customer service, strengthen controls and add value. In part one of the series, we discussed the early phase of an implementation project up to initial Board approval to proceed with the project. In part two, we reviewed the start of the procurement process and now in part three, we will focus on the selection process.
If you missed part 1, click the following link: Surviving a Major System Implementation, Part 1
If you missed part 2, click the following link: Surviving a Major System Implementation – Procurement
The Selection Process
The final stages in picking the system you will implement are amongst the most critical. The preparations you make will help to select the system that best meets the requirements that your organization defined. Following a clear process will also help gain agreement from stakeholders and will provide useful insights for presenting the selection to management or the Board. This article will cover establishing a selection committee through to the final selection. Along the way we will also cover scoring proposals, down-selecting and coordinating vendor presentations.
The selection committee is the group of stakeholders who will be responsible for ultimately making the selection recommendation to senior management. The committee should have members from each major area of system requirements. The size of the committee can vary, but if it gets too large (over 6-8 people) it will become very hard to schedule meetings and make decisions. All committee members should be aware of the organization’s expectations for the project. As members, they will be responsible for managing competing requirements, so they must understand the broader requirements as well as their own area of competence.
The Committee should have diverse perspectives from across the user community. It is not unusual for support service organizations to select support systems (such as Finance or HR applications). This can cause huge issues since the people most impacted by the system, the users, are often not part of the selection process.
The responsibilities of the committee members are:
- Gaining a clear understanding of project objectives
- Engaged in the preparation of system requirements and scoring parameters
- Reviewing proposals
- Scoring proposals
- Preparing answers to vendor clarifying questions
- Preparing questions to vendors, if needed
- Participating in vendor presentations and/or demonstrations
- Final selection decision-making
- Ongoing support through the implementation process
During the preparation of the Request for Proposal (RFP, covered in Part 2), requirements were identified and prioritized. The steering committee must identify the most critical requirements, weight them and devise a scoring methodology.
There are many scoring methods. Weighted averages are popular, scales (1-5), pass/fail or a combination. For each requirement, identify its priority to the overall objectives of the project. There will be technical requirements and subjective measures, such as installed service base or customer service reputation. Of course, you must also consider the relative pricing of the solutions. Prioritize all of the different types of requirements with a relative weight and a scoring method.
Regardless of which method you choose for scoring, it is very important that you lock down the scoring methodology before you receive any vendor proposals. If any proposals are reviewed before the scoring process is set, there is a risk that scoring can be biased. The time between RFP release and when questions are due is a great time to complete this step.
Complete preliminary scoring once the selection committee members have reviewed vendor proposals and have asked and answered questions. If you will receive proposals from multiple vendors, you may not want to invest the time in holding vendor presentations with all of them. The preliminary scoring will allow you to separate the stronger proposals from the weaker ones. This process, called down-selecting can permit the steering committee to decide which vendors they what to bring in for presentations based on their relative scores.
Check the method! If the first round of scoring provides only one strong proposal out of four or five submissions, then the scoring may be biased or the weighting may be favoring one requirement too heavily (or not heavily enough). If the vendors have different tiers of service and pricing is a very important criterion, then one vendor may be proposing a less capable solution and you may not be reviewing comparable solutions.
Once you have down-selected to a relatively small number of vendors, it is common to ask vendors to meet with the selection committee for a formal presentation. This gives the vendor the opportunity to point out features not emphasized in the presentation. The presentation also allows the steering committee to interact with the vendor to get more context for their subjective scoring. For this step, the important consideration is fairness. The vendor presentations should be time-limited and all vendors held to the same limit. Much like page limitations in the proposal, time limits force the vendor to manage their presentation effectively.
Another best practice is to have all of the vendors meet with the steering committee over the course of only one or two days. It is best for the committee to have the presentations fresh in their minds to identify differentiators.
After the vendor presentations, the steering committee should review their scoring and update it with any new information or clarifications gained via the presentations.
The steering committee should then meet together to review the scoring on each section as well as the overall scoring and with luck, there will be a clear front runner. If that is the case, the steering committee can choose to proceed to preparing the recommendation to senior management.
If the scoring is not significantly different, then the steering committee must work through a decision process. This process can work many different ways; however, it is very important that committee members respect the requirements of other stakeholders and work toward a consensus decision. You should be able to reach a consensus, if the requirements were complete and the scoring methodology sound.
Once the selection is made and ratified or approved by senior management, you can notify the vendors. The losing vendor(s) will want an explanation of the decision. If the vendor put time and effort into the proposal, then they deserve to get feedback.
The selection process is critical to surviving a major system implementation with your team and your sanity intact. The effort in establishing a selection committee and setting the scoring process spreads ownership for the new system. Scoring proposals, based on concrete requirements provides support for the final selection. If all members of the selection committee understand the overall objectives of the project, as well as, specific requirements of their part of the system, then it is likely that you will be able to reach a consensus selection on the vendor. All of the work to this point forms the basis for the implementation planning and execution processes. We will review those processes in the next parts of this series.
Learning is a shared experience, so please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.
If this article has been valuable for you, please check out the rest of my blog, Not for Profit Beyond the Numbers – click the following link. NFPBeyondtheNumbers