Project Management: Lessons Learned (Part 1: Bringing in a Professional Project Manager Before Signing Agreements)

During a webinar today, I talked about planning and project and beginning with the end in mind. One of the attendees (thanks Jillian) suggested that I share some of the lessons learned for my readers.

Project Management Begins Before Selection: Don’t Wait

I have been brought into projects after the system and implementation partners have been selected and after the agreements have been signed. On two of these projects, the vendors (contractually) required that the customer provide an internal project manager to manage on the customer side.

Bringing a project manager in after the agreements are signed is akin to bringing in a general contractor after the agreements with the subcontractors have already been signed. The general contractor, or project manager in my case, has expertise in negotiating those contracts and has experience around the best practices around the work. After the agreements are signed, not only have we lost all leverage but it leaves me as the project manager somewhat handicapped in doing my job and creates additional and unnecessary work (that the customer ends up paying me to do to clean up).

Avoid Renegotiating During a Project

With one client, I had to renegotiate the agreement with the software vendor to narrow the scope of the functionality in the first phase and expand the scope of work for their deliverables based on best practices. I also negotiated to remove something that the customer didn’t really need. In this case, the vendor was initially able to take advantage of the customer’s lack of experience and get them to purchase something they didn’t really need.

In another case, while we were in the middle of the project, we encountered significant issues with the vendor resources allocated to the project which meant that we had to step up our efforts (to the tune of working 14–15 hours per day/7 days a week for the last 5 weeks of the project) to go live by January 1 (typical cut over date for financial systems). We also encountered discrepancies between what the customer was promised regarding functionality and what the system could actually do. Fortunately they had some documented requirements that we could reference (with responses from the vendor) so I was able to push back on the vendor and get financial concessions once we went live.

In both situations, I was put in an awkward position from the start. I had to walk a very tight line between making the client feel stupid and incompetent and making sure they were set up for a successful project (within budget). And at the same time, I had to walk another tight line between being seen as a partner with the vendor and also pushing back on what was, in both cases, some unethical behavior.

Shift in Project Management: Solutions2Projects as an Advisor

With SaaS solutions and the shift in the way that companies are selecting and implementing systems, the work I used to do with clients to plan and manage projects has changed as well. This has worked out well for me in that I am now brought in as an advisor early in the project, thereby reducing the risks associated with situations outlined above.

Most of my clients want to have internal staff (typically from a functional area) manage the projects with the aid of a professional like me. I love this shift because I get to provide guidance and templates, recommend best practices, and be a part of the Steering Committee (and be a resource for the internal project manager) without having to do the day to day project management work. This has turned into a win-win. And if they don’t have an internal PM, I can recommend some of my favorite consultants.

If your company is budgeting a new system and/or beginning the selection process, feel free to reach out to me and we can discuss the best way to avoid additional costs, mitigate risks and increase the rate of success for your company’s system project. To learn more, visit my website or email me at