Mistakes to avoid when staffing your Microsoft Dynamics project
Whether you’re implementing a new solution or updating an existing system, executing a CRM or ERP project in your business is no easy feat—and recruiting for Microsoft Dynamics professionals is no picnic either. Here’s how not to mess it up.
Staffing a Microsoft Dynamics job can seem a daunting task—the various apps within the family are complex, and businesses need to have experienced professionals in their corner to help them maximize the return on their investment.
Rolling out or upgrading a piece of business software without disruption is a near-impossible task at the best of times, but when you’re dealing with CRM and ERP solutions—platforms that form the backbone of many business operations—it can feel like trying to change the oil in a moving car.
During a Dynamics project, data may need to be migrated, processes have to mapped and configured, and customizations developed, often while users are still working with some version of the software.
With huge amounts of time and money invested in business management software, a successful implementation is imperative to generating ROI. If a new or updated system doesn’t work well out of the gate, businesses risk having to throw more money at the solution to fix issues, facing increased resistance to user adoption, and dealing with delays that can put a serious dent in productivity.
Preparation, planning, and proper training can all help give your Dynamics project the best chance of success, but there’s one aspect that’s especially crucial; staffing.
How you staff your project can have a major impact on its outcome; having the right people—with the right skills—on your team is essential to ensuring your project is a winner. So, how can you make sure you’re making the right choices?
Let’s take a look at some common pitfalls to avoid when staffing your Dynamics project.
Not investing enough in staffing your project
Whether you’re implementing a business management solution for the first time, migrating to a new platform, or upgrading your current setup, a Dynamics project requires investments of both time and cash. If you’ve already forked out for the software itself, plus any necessary hardware or bandwidth updates, additional storage, add-ons, and anything else you might need, you’re probably not going to be too keen on the idea of spending more money to get your system up and running.
No business particularly enjoys parting with its cash, but staffing for your project is definitely not an area to skimp on. Think of your Dynamics solution as a house; a top-of-the-line smart home that’s going to allow all your staff to work in harmony under one roof. You wouldn’t stump up for the best building materials only to hire a cheap builder of dubious skill to put it all together.
Even the best, most comprehensive software in the world can be a flop if it’s not implemented and configured correctly. No matter how dazzlingly efficient and intelligent an app may appear, no software works by magic; you get out what you put in, and that means making sure all your processes are mapped, your data is imported and labeled accurately, and roles are set up to ensure users can access the information they need.
Software is an investment, and paying for the services of skilled professionals is a big part of that venture. You’ll never generate a return on your investment if the software is set up to fail. To go back to the building analogy, a cheaply constructed house isn’t going to stand the test of time, even if it’s made of the finest components.
Plus, if your house isn’t fit for purpose, no one is going to want to live in it, and that can lead to more problems in an already notoriously tricky area for businesses; user adoption.
If your new or updated software isn’t performing the way it should when it goes live, staff may be reluctant to use it. If your users don’t adapt to the system that’s supposed to help them do their jobs, you’re going to be stuck with a very costly and extremely useless vacant property.
Lack of planning
The amount of planning and strategizing ahead of a Dynamics implementation can be astronomical. From choosing the vendor, and deciding which apps to use, to mapping out objectives, and plotting the implementation itself, by the time the project begins in earnest, businesses may feel like they have every inch of their roll-out nailed down.
But what many organizations fail to fully outline is who is where their implementation team is going to come from, what skills they’re going to need, and how much the business is willing to shell out on personnel. Then when it comes to the crunch, project managers and sponsors can find themselves scrambling for answers when they should be onboarding the people who’re going to be working on their extremely imminent project.
It’s an issue that Nigel Frank Manager David Foster has seen many businesses faced with over the years.
“While it’s important to take your time in locating the right resources, it’s really crucial to have everything set up, budgeted, and signed off so that you can move quickly to attract the right personnel when the time comes,” said Foster. “Many businesses tend to hold off on fulfilling their staffing needs until the last minute.”
Another very common mistake, explains Foster, is making the parameters of the job too limited or rigid: “This can really limit the quality of the resources that can be provided within budget.”
In many areas, the Dynamics market is candidate-scarce, and high-quality professionals are hard to come by. Drafting a job description and leaving no room for yield can make staffing your project much harder than it has to be.
Though the skills needed for implementation are technical, and often highly niche, you often find that certain roles can overlap, meaning it helps to look at Dynamics professionals individually, based on their experiences and aptitudes, rather than sticking to an inflexible hypothetical profile.
“For example,” says Foster, “if you only want to pay $100 an hour for a contractor, you’re might struggle to find someone locally that’ll fit your requirements exactly, and you’ll probably need to look for a remote resource to find a strong fit.”
When you’re outsourcing certain roles on your project team, it’s likely because you feel you don’t have sufficient knowledge and skills in-house to carry out a project involving Dynamics. This is entirely reasonable, of course; the Dynamic suite is complex and sophisticated, with each app requiring specialist knowledge to implement and configure correctly.
If you don’t have the know-how to staff the project using internal resources, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a thorough, in-depth understanding of the skills and aptitudes required to carry out a Dynamics project either. And when you’re not sure what you’re looking for, it can be extremely tough to find the right people for your project team, and harder still to verify the quality of their work.
As we’ve mentioned already, staffing your Dynamics project is one area in which you cannot afford to take risks. Even if you’re a diehard do-it-yourselfer, you’ll be much better off working with an experienced staffing partner who knows who you’re looking for, the skills required for the job, and where to find them. Like every other aspect of project staffing, employing a staffing partner is an investment; you’re trading off the time you would have spent looking for skilled professionals for a fee, and the guarantee that you’re getting the right people for the job.
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Putting all your Dynamics project staffing eggs in one basket
When it comes to putting together your Dynamics project team, there are a few options at your disposal. With hundreds of thousands of companies around the world using Microsoft’s business management products, implementation and upgrades are big business. A vast number of Microsoft’s 640,000 official partner companies specialize in Dynamics, and there are countless more independent contractors out there who work with users on a freelance basis.
Though both partners and contractors provide essential skills and experience, there are some fundamental differences to be aware of when making plans for your project team.
“One of the biggest mistakes that we see is businesses putting too many eggs in one basket,” warns Foster. “They rely too heavily on one resource or single group, and in doing so, leave themselves highly susceptible to human error. They tend to put this faith in one group and trust that they are doing everything correctly and doing what is in their best interest.”
When you hire a certified Microsoft Dynamics partner, you’re hiring a company who will provide you with consultants to help you devise a solution to your business needs, offer advice, and support you throughout the project.
External contractors, on the other hand, tend to be more practical and task-based, carrying out work as directed. You may employ several different contractors to do different jobs throughout the project cycle, whereas a partner will work with you throughout the entirety of the project. Returning to the aforementioned house-building analogy once again, if partners are the architects you hire to design and project manage the build, contractors are the laborers who come in to pitch in on important tasks on an interim basis.
Of course, the alternative to bringing in resources from outside is to use your existing IT or business team. This option is a luxury afforded to precious few businesses as not all end users will have the budget, or even the need, to employ a Dynamics professional full time, but some organizations, the idea of keeping a project in-house can be tempting.
Microsoft partners, independent contractors, internal resources; all of these approaches have advantages that can prove enormously valuable to your project team:
Benefits of using a Microsoft partner
Microsoft partners are certified, unsurprisingly, by Microsoft, and must uphold certain standards of service and knowledge before being admitted to the Partner program.
Working with a partner gets you access to vast amounts of knowledge and experience, accumulated through previous projects. A Microsoft partner will have extensive know-how both in terms of your Dynamics product, and the project cycle. Partners are usually dedicated to a specific technology, meaning they are always up-to-date with the latest developments that might affect your product and your business.
A partner’s role in a Dynamics project is not only to carry out any work that’s required, but also to advise and support you, and help find the right solution at every stage of the project.
With so many partners operating in the Dynamics channel, you’re likely to be able to find a company that has worked with similar clients in the past, allowing you to benefit from that experience with your industry and its particular needs.
Benefits of using independent contractors
Using an independent contractor is often more cost-effective than engaging a partner, as you can bring them on board as and when you require them. Also, because they don’t typically need to be involved in the overall planning and decision-making phases of the project, using a contractor cuts down on ramp-up time; they simply receive a task and get to work.
Contractors take their direction from you, so although this means you need to be able to give clear instructions about the work that needs to be done, it also means that you have greater control over decisions about your project.
You also have a better grip on who is actually carrying out the work on your project when you use a contractor. With independent contractors, you hire a particular professional, rather than their firm, so you know exactly who you’re working with. This allows you the freedom to select a more senior contractor if necessary, rather than having to “get what you’re given”.
In addition, independent contractors are free agents, untethered by the policies of a partner company; they choose their own hours and have more flexibility when it comes to travel arrangements. As a result, contractors tend to have a lot more agility when it comes to when and where they can work on your project.
“It‘s always good to have a partner to lean on, and to undertake a large part of the responsibility and work load,” says Foster. “There are tons of points in the project, however, when independent resources can provide huge cost savings, and often provide a more efficient delivery. Reporting, post go-live support, testing, systems optimization, training and project management— all of these tasks can great areas in which to go independent.”
Benefits of using your internal team
Using your internal team, although it may lack the technical product expertise that comes with a partner or contractor, allows you to put inherent, business-specific knowledge at the core of your project. No one knows the inner workings of your organization as well as an existing team, and utilizing those in-house resources means you can truly ensure that any solution put forward will work for your company.
Involving only in-house staff also gives you maximum input into project decision-making, and the assurance that any resolutions made will put the best interests of your organization first.
Using native resources can prove useful in the long run too; any skills built up during the project won’t walk out of the door once you’ve gone live. Having that proficiency on hand can help in a big way when it comes to ironing out any teething troubles and encouraging user adoption.
With each option boasting its own advantages, it can be difficult to decide how to best staff your project. However, narrowing your project staffing strategy down to just one of these approaches may not always be the best road to take. In fact, relying on any single staffing method exclusively can throw up hazards.
Challenges when using partner services only
Using a partner may seem like the most comprehensive method of staffing your project, and though a partner is an invaluable resource to have during any Dynamics project, relying solely on a partner throughout the process can present certain challenges.
Firstly, bringing a Microsoft partner on board can be costly, and working with a partner involves a great deal of consultancy; this can make it difficult to gain buy-in from internal decision makers who want to keep costs down, and a tight grip on the reigns of the project.
Secondly, using a partner alone also means that you’ll have little-to-no control over the personnel employed throughout your project. More often than not, you’ll be assigned consultants, architects, and developers by your partner, and your project team could well change mid-implementation. In addition, partners often work with multiple clients simultaneously, which can affect their agility and availability when it comes to working on your project.
Coming in from outside your organization, partners also won’t—and can’t be expected to—have the kind of proprietary knowledge of your business and users that may be useful when working on a tailored solution.
Speaking of knowledge, by involving only external forces to work on your Dynamics solution, you’ll be left with a shortage of product know-how when the project is complete. Without at least a foundation of technical wisdom in-house after you go live, you can find yourself reliant on other avenues for support, which can prove inconvenient, costly, and time-consuming.
Challenges when using contractor services only
Contractors are essentially “hired guns”, and tend to be task-oriented rather than goal-oriented. This can be an advantage, as they’ll be laser-focused on the work at hand, but it can also mean they lack appreciation for the overall outcome of the project.
Unlike partners, contractors won’t necessarily be with you throughout the project cycle, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll be available to follow-up on any additional work, or provide support if needed.
Also, since contractors tend to operate independently, it’s much harder to verify that their work will be of a good quality, as there’s no regulatory certification structure like that which Microsoft partners are subject to.
Challenges when using internal resources only
The most obvious drawback of delegating responsibility for your project exclusively to an in-house team is that they are unlikely to possess the product-specific knowledge required execute a successful Dynamics project.
Without a stabilizing external force, in-house project teams can often find themselves derailed by internal politics, or held up by change management.
There’s also the very real possibility that using existing resources will put additional strain on your staff, and that could mean that your project may take much longer to complete than initially scheduled.
A three-pronged approach to your project dream team
With partners, contractors and internal resources all bringing their own advantages to the table, but depending on just one of these resources alone can be limiting, and potentially detrimental to the success of your project.
Relying on only one approach to staff your project can mean putting all your eggs in one basket, leaving you vulnerable to personnel changes, stretched resources, and a lack of in-house knowledge and skills once your Dynamics solution has gone live.
So, how do you make sure you’ve made the right choice?
Simple—don’t choose. The best way to enjoy all of the benefits these approaches afford, while avoiding the pitfalls of a singular path to project staffing, is to utilize all three options.
By building your project team from a combination of partners, independent contractors, and internal resources, your organization will be able to benefit from external knowledge without sacrificing flexibility. You’ll be able to develop in-house skills with the help of experienced professionals at every stage of the project cycle. You’ll have a team at your disposal that knows not only your industry, but your business, inside and out.
Giving your Dynamics project the best possible chance of success means putting together the right team; partnering with a staffing organization who can help connect you with the best talent, diversifying your approach to building your team, and not being afraid to invest in your project.
Deciding to utilize both a certified Microsoft Partner and independent contractors to carry out your project is the first step towards success. The second step is finding them. Locating and qualifying excellent contractors with the right skills can be difficult, especially when you’re busy running a business and planning your Dynamics project—that’s where Nigel Frank comes in.
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