By Nicola Wright
Ready to roll out Microsoft Dynamics in your business? It’s time to assemble your Microsoft Dynamics implementation dream team.
Implementing any new software system is a major undertaking, and businesses have a startlingly high failure rate to contend with. There are a handful of common missteps that companies should endeavor to avoid, but one of the biggest impactors on success is having the right team for the job.
Executing a successful Microsoft Dynamics implementation requires a strong team made up of various organizational and technical skill sets. Of course, even large organizations are unlikely to have the kind of in-depth, product-specific knowledge required to install and configure a complex business software platform like Dynamics in-house, especially if they’re implementing a brand new solution.
The ideal project squad should comprise of a mixture of people; some with specialist implementation experience, some with people with proprietary knowledge of the end user business, and some with great organizational and project management skills.
To obtain that optimal balance, you’ll need to draw your crack team of implementation experts from a number of sources, both internal and external.
Before you can start putting together your team, you need to know exactly what skills and proficiencies your implementation will require.
Many of the finer details will depend on your company’s individual circumstances; the size of your business, the number of departments involved, the complexity of your implementation, whether or not you need custom development work done… but if you’re at the stage where you’re looking at staffing your project team, you should have a pretty good idea of how your implementation is going to look.
While the size of your team, and the specialist duties of certain members, will be specific to your business, there are many core roles which are essential to every implementation project team.
The people taking on these roles will share joint responsibility for the project’s success, so it’s important that you select people with a proactive approach and a positive attitude. Your team will oversee the progress of the project, and take on a variety of tasks throughout the implementation cycle, like developing a strategy, delegating workloads, creating a schedule, and measuring the outcome.
Implementation teams generally consist of two tiers. The steering committee, which tends to be made up of stakeholders, CIOs and CFOs, and other executives, handles all the planning and gives the necessary approvals before implementation begins. The project core team will feature the project managers, consultants, key users, and anyone else with a hands-on role in the implementation itself.
You can’t choose your chief executives (unfortunately) but you can choose core project team. Here’s what each role entails:
Implementations are complex projects that’re likely to impact every area of your business. The more involved the people at the top—the people who’ve made the plan and laid out the vision—are with the hands-on execution of the project, the more successful the implementation is likely to be. However, this isn’t always practical, especially for larger businesses where the C-Level execs just don’t have enough time in the day to oversee a major undertaking like a new software roll-out.
Nevertheless, it’s crucial to have someone with some business clout at the head of the project; someone to connect the thinkers and the doers. This is where an executive sponsor comes in.
An executive sponsor sits at the top of your project org chart. They serve as a liaison between the steering committee and the core project team; it’s their job to keep the implementation on track, and ensure the steering committee’s vision comes to life.
Executive sponsors provide oversight, leadership, and guidance throughout the deployment. Although they don’t need to have a full appreciation of the technical nitty-gritty of the implementation, they should have a good understanding of what’s required from the new solution, and how it will impact the business.
As they need to be in constant communication with both the steering committee and the core team, and have authority to sign off on things like spending, most of those filling the executive sponsor role tend to be from upper management. That’s not to say they need to be C-Level, necessarily, but they should have an in-depth understanding of how the business works, experience overseeing large projects, and be adept at keeping their fingers in a lot of pies at once.
Though the project manager will do most of the hands-on management of the implementation, an executive sponsor needs to pitch in when needed, and be able to take time away from their day job to do whatever high-level tinkering and procuring the project requires.
This might mean making sure necessary resources are made available, developing budgets and approving any changes, acting as a sounding board for the PM and relaying information to the steering committee, and helping resolve any conflicts or issues that arise.
Though the executive sponsor can be called upon to sign off on expenditure, or pass on messages to the steering committee, the bulk of the day-to-day running of the implementation will fall to the project manager. Being a PM is a full-time job, albeit a temporary one. PMs direct, delegate, and make things happen.
Project managers will need to work closely with every arm of the implementation team, including consultants, developers, and external vendors, so they’ll need to have a firm grasp of the finer details of installation and configuration. They also need to be organized, assertive, and a great communicator.
The PM role involves a little bit of everything; more technically-capable than the project steering types, but able to lead a team to implementation glory with competence, enthusiasm, and great judgment. As Canadian business whizz Henry Mintzberg put it: “Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.”
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Now you have the management element of your team in place, you need to pull together the technical heart of your implementation squad; the product experts who will translate your vision into hard plans, install your solution, configure it to your needs, and develop any aspects that might be missing.
The solution architect, sometimes known as a business analyst or product manager, takes a customer-facing, holistic approach to work out exactly what you need from your solution. Solution architects usually come in from outside the business, often from your implementation partner. They’ll go through your current processes with a fine-tooth comb, working with each department in your business to understand how they work, and what they need to work more efficiently.
It’s a solution architect’s job to examine your plans, measure your requirements, and help you work out what your new solution should look like and what it has to deliver. The solution architect is the top of the technical implementation team funnel; at this stage, you’re working out your wants, needs, and grand ideas, and tossing them in.
Sometimes referred to as an application consultant, the functional consultant picks up the baton from the solution architect, and is responsible for delivering the plans that the solution architect has laid out by setting up and configuring the solution.
The solution architect gathers the requirements, and the functional consultant works out how the solution can meet those needs. (On implementations of a smaller scale, the solution architect and functional consultant roles may be carried out by the same person.)
The functional consultant will have strong knowledge of the Dynamics platform being implemented, and how its capabilities can be configured to meet user needs. They’ll take all the prerequisites you worked out earlier, map those against the functionality of your new solution, and work out a practical plan of action.
They might also draw up documentation for the project, like solution design plans, functional requirement documents, customization specs, test plans, and user guides.
Once everything is mapped out, the functional consultant will get to work creating or customizing fields, forms, views and dashboards, and automated workflows to help meet user needs.
They’ll also make sure the solution is secure by defining roles, and assigning the necessary permissions to individual users and teams, and configure other important system settings like data management, updates, and maintenance routines.
If you plan to use your Dynamics solution alongside other apps and services, like Outlook, or Office, your functional consultant can integrate or sync those up too.
Though your functional consultant will do their best to configure your Dynamics solution to your specific needs, no software is going to be a perfect fit for every organization right out of the box.
Once your solution architect and functional consultant have mapped your requirements against the capabilities of your Dynamics solution, there may still be gaps in functionality that cannot be developed further without code. In this case, you’ll need to get a technical consultant, or developer on board.
A good Dynamics technical consultant will possess both technical and functional knowledge of the application, and know the development languages used for that specific product inside out.
They’ll collaborate with solution architects and functional consultants to work out what tinkering has to be done within your Dynamics solution, customize the system, and develop new ways of meeting these needs.
If there are any services or apps you need to connect to Dynamics that don’t integrate natively, your technical consultant can also help connect those too.
When your new Dynamics solution has been installed, configured, and any necessary development work carried out, you may feel like that light at the end of the tunnel is getting pretty bright. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself though, because there’s still a significant and super important stage to get through before you go live; testing.
Often maligned, and frequently rushed through, testing is an essential part of implementation, and a good, thorough test of your system can be the difference between a fully functional platform, and one that falls flat.
There’s no testing plan in the world exhaustive, and no software consultant omniscient, enough to catch every single bug that might arise once the system is live and bearing the weight of full use, but pushing a solution through that isn’t working properly can have a devastating effect on a business.
Every software already faces an uphill battle when it comes to user adoption, and if your new CRM or ERP doesn’t work largely as expected out of the gate, users are even more likely to reject it; and a solution that isn’t being used is no solution at all. Plus, once you’re out of the testing phase, using real data and managing real processes, the stakes are exponentially higher, and unflagged issues can cause a major headache for your business.
Testing isn’t just done to make sure there are no hiccups or dead ends in workflows, it should be used to evaluate whether or not the application is meeting the requirements laid out in the early planning stages, or whether more work or development is required.
Having a designated test lead on your team is the best way to ensure your Dynamics solution is testing rigorously, and any potential issues are flagged before the system is fully deployed.
A test lead will hash out a testing plan to make sure no corners are cut, and will provide the means for testing all aspects of the solution, both functional and technical.
Bringing in highly skilled and technically savvy professionals who know your solution inside out is essential to getting your Dynamics platform up and running. But what happens when they’re gone?
If you’re a larger company, or one who’ll be utilizing Dynamics on a deep enough level that you can justify having an administrator or developer in-house on a permanent basis, then they will, of course, be your go-to people for any Dynamics-related questions or queries.
However, if you don’t have that luxury, and are relying on partner services or Microsoft themselves for occasional support, it pays to have a designated super user who can help keep things ticking over day-to-day.
A super user could be anyone who uses Dynamics as part of their job. The only real criteria your super user needs to have is a passion for the system, an enthusiasm to learn more about it, and a willingness to pass their knowledge along to their colleagues.
Championing a resident Dynamics expert can have a hugely positive effect on user adoption. If a member of your team is willing to be the rallying point for their team once it goes live, other users will have a point of contact where they can take their questions. New users often feel more comfortable about coming to someone they already know with questions about the platform, rather than someone more technically aligned.
Being a super user doesn’t have to be a full-time job, but you should still allow your super user time to read up on the system, address the concerns of their team, and carry out basic training and upskilling to help their colleagues get the most out of the new solution.
Now that you know what skills you need in your Dynamics implementation team, you need to make sure that you have all the resources you need to launch your new platform.
Software implementation is a complex and potentially messy undertaking, one that requires extensive product knowledge and experience. The majority of businesses taking on a Dynamics implementation won’t have the kind of skills needed to roll out a new software solution in-house, even if they have a strong internal IT team.
While some of the roles within your implementation project team can be—and will benefit from being—taken on by an existing staff member, inevitably some of the more technical roles will have to be outsourced, but exactly how many, and to what extent, will vary from businesses to business.
Before you start assembling your project super-group, you should assess the talent you already have at your disposal. Once you know what you have on-hand already, you can get to work filling in the gaps.
Performing a skills gap analysis will help you measure up the resources you currently have to hand against the skills your project requires, and highlight areas where you need to bring in external resources.
Firstly, you should map out all of the skills you need to carry out your implementation project end-to-end. Remember, each organization’s implementation team will be different, depending on its size and the complexity of its project. Your team might be larger than the core crew described above.
You might have a huge number of departments to involve, and could benefit from having project team leaders for the project manager to delegate to. Maybe you’re happy to run Dynamics out of the box, and don’t need a developer. The point is, what your project team looks like should reflect the needs of your business, and roles may need to be added, subtracted, split up, or rolled together depending on your requirements.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea to first make a list of all the skills you’ll need throughout the project, before you break them down into pre-defined roles. By performing this analysis at this stage, you might highlight skills that you need, but that don’t necessarily fit into one of the aforementioned roles. You can then redefine the boundaries of your project team roles before you try and fill them, or even create additional roles if necessary.
Once you’ve got an exhaustive list of the capabilities required to successfully execute your implementation, you can break them down into individual roles. Carry out your talent gap analysis by listing the skills required to fulfill that role, and creating a hypothetical profile for each role you need to fill.
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You can then hold this “profile” up against the profiles of your internal team members, and see if any employee has a similar skill set. After you’ve assessed the current skills levels in your company, you should have a firm idea of whether any of your employees can capably perform in this project role, or whether the position should be outsourced.
If you find that your in-house resources fall short of the levels needed to ensure a successful implementation (and in the vast majority of organizations they will) then you’ll need to engage with some experienced external professionals.
How you choose to bring external resources onto your team depends on your particular business circumstances. In most cases, engaging with an implementation partner will be necessary in order to access technical, product-specific skills and experience, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on a partner exclusively.
There are many stages to an implementation project, and each state will require varying levels of involvement from different members of your team. To make your team as agile and responsive as it can be, there’s a strong argument to be made for utilizing a combination of internal, partner, and contractor resources.
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. Browse our database of qualified Dynamics professionals for free, and find the talent you need.
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