Top things to consider to ensure the right Cloud Project Management Solution

With the constant hum of technology advancing and every piece of information moving to ‘the cloud’, the choice for online software can be a bit overwhelming. Finding a good cloud Project Management software solution to do budgeting, project tracking, time sheets, estimating, scheduling, invoicing and business analysis can start to seem like an unimaginable task, and if not done properly the first time you will find yourself doing it again.

Fear not! There are lots of project management systems out there to choose from and they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to find the right ‘fit’ for you, be it a creative agency, a freelancer or consulting firm to name a few, and what better way to find the answer than asking the right questions. Time and time again I have seen that if you do not ask the right questions then the rest falls by the wayside and no one wants that. So where do you start?

Before you choose a Cloud Solution:

What are you currently using and why?

It may be that up until now there hasn’t really been any structured project management as such or Excel spreadsheets don’t quite cut the mustard anymore. It might even be that you’re currently using a solution that doesn’t ‘fit’ quite right or have outgrown.

Do you have a budget?

Check what your financial limitations are before you even start looking. It is not just the monthly or annual subscription fee that needs to be considered but also do you need to pay an external consultant to implement it, is there a staff member or members that will need to put time aside to contribute to the implementation? Think hard about your budget and what it will cover. Watch out for costly on-going support packages.

What is the size of your business?

Size is important because it will determine how you use the system. Larger companies tend to have departments and strict processes while smaller companies can be more flexible in their approach to incoming jobs. Ideally the solution you choose should be able to handle both situations well. Many clients mention to me that they are moving from a large ERP system of which they are lucky if they use 50% of the features.

What are your requirements?

What do you actually want the product to do? You may think you know what you want but have you asked the people who will be using the product? Make sure you properly understand your processes and discuss with key users any features that are a must have for them. Put together a list of what you would consider are your key requirements and reports.Think about how much time is spent in the different areas of your business. Is it easy to track each job and does time easily get assigned against the job? Once the job is complete is it being billed on time or quote. How do you manage new leads and prospects? Do you want a system that integrates with your Accounting Solution?

Often in an ideal world you will not find a system that meets every requirement. Sometimes there may be a work around or compromise you need to make when there is a limited budget.

Accounting?

It is common now for cloud solutions to connect to the accounting solution. Customer and Supplier invoices can be raised in the Project Management solution and then ‘pushed’ automatically across to the Accounting solution. This adds to further the streamlining process, right from that prospective client through to invoicing once the job is complete. Think about what advantages there could be if you integrate with a solution such as Xero.

Once you have chosen a Cloud Solution:

How do you choose a supplier or consultant?

The next step is choosing someone to implement it. A great place to start is the software provider as they may recommend trusted partners that they have had positive feedback about. Also ask potential advisers – How many previous implementations have they done? Do they have any references? Are they aware of your industry? What ongoing support can they provide and how is this charged? Do they provide training to staff?  You are likely to get a feel quite quickly of whether the supplier is asking the right questions and understands your business and its requirements.

Implementation

Once you have chosen who you are going to use, carrying out a scoping day or exercise is very important to ensure that your key requirements will be met. Key points your consultant should cover for implementation: Setup – How will the system be structured to meet your business requirements. Data conversion – Will there be historical data to be converted? Are there existing projects to be setup? This is a great time to have a tidy-up of old data; Users – Which staff will be using the solution? Do they need different levels of access? Are there foreign currency requirements? Documents – Will new documents need to be developed eg Purchase Orders, Invoices. Training – It is no good putting in a system if staff do not know how to use it. This can cause unnecessary stress in the workplace and lead to a wasted, unused investment. If some staff are going to have more access than others think about splitting the training into advanced and non-advanced.

When do you go live?

Deciding on a realistic, achievable Go-Live date is a common challenge for businesses. The final Go-Live date should ideally be planned to coincide with a slower period if possible. Try to avoid holidays as well as upcoming busy periods. Don’t try to skip necessary stages in the implementation as this could cause headaches for you once you go live. Holding a brief “all staff” meeting just before the Go-Live date to run through final checklists and respond to last minute questions is recommended. Your project manager will want to walk through this list with the vendor just prior to Go-Live.

Support?

The day has arrived! All that hard work and planning is about to Go Live! Take a deep breath, log onto the system and begin your work day. But despite the best planning, some challenges will crop up. Make sure you have the support you need to work through these. Ensure that the cloud solution you chose has its own support team and work with the consultant who assisted with the implementation. A good consultant should offer support not only during the implementation but also afterwards as this is a pivotal point. Don’t worry when there are challenges that arise, stay positive and work through them.

Implementing cloud project 2

Remember to admire your hard work once you Go Live!

Implementing a new cloud solution takes a lot of hard work and don’t forget to acknowledge all that you have learned along the way. And for those of you out there that are just beginning your hunt to implement the right cloud solution, I hope these top things to consider ensure you find the right ‘fit’ for your business.