The Project Manager

Accounting resellers are realizing the benefits of having project managers.

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For Tectura, there is a direct relationship between happy clients and its project managers. "The client is investing money into a system and they want a return on investment. PMs increase the level on how this is going to happen. It adds value to the customer because their risk is minimized, and expectation such as budget and time are met," says Chuck Famula, vice president of operations of North America for the Belmont, Calif.-based VAR.

Project management has a strong bottom-line impact. The work gets done quicker, clients are happier, and risks and issues are dealt with.

Many accounting resellers are realizing that it's essential to have project managers on staff, because they're the ones creating the bottom-line results.

Partner Insights

"It's time to consider hiring project managers when resellers have three to five consultants who are so busy that they can't keep track of what's going on. What all resellers want is a reference book client, and in order to get this, a project must come in on time and within costs," says Taylor Macdonald, executive vice president of channel and sales operations at Irvine, Calif.-based Sage Software.

However, it's not just giant operations like Tectura that are seeing the need.

Stan Kania expects to spend approximately 15 percent less time on engagements, and increase customer satisfaction with the addition of a project manager to his 20-person team.

Kania, president of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Software Link, was having trouble with fixed-fee engagements. "Consultants as a rule don't do well with project management. They do all they can to make the customer happy, and lots of the time it means going outside the scope of work. Now, our profitability should improve because we'll be able to keep things in scope. Our fixed-fee engagements will no longer have consultants doing additional work that wasn't accounted for in the original fee," adds Kania.

Kania's firm handles Sage Software's products, including BusinessWorks, MAS 90/200, and MAS 500. The newly hired PM will work on all MAS and networking projects, which can amount to as many as eight projects at the same time.

"I hired a PM to set timelines, and to go through expectations with the customers. When hiring, I looked for good communication skills, interpersonal skills, and the skills needed to work well with our consultants and clients, not to mention great attention to detail. Basically, the PM will act as a customer liaison, and our customers will know where we are on all engagements," says Kania.

The Project Management Vocabulary: Scope and Risk

"True project management involves scope and risk. Most partners experience 'scope creep,' which is when tasks are added to the project once it has begun, and not enough partners develop scope documents," says Ed Kless, director of partner development and recruitment for Sage Software.

Sage offers resellers a two-day Project Management Boot Camp, which will be offered six times in the next six months. It first debuted at the Insights Partner Conference in May and attracted 80 people. Sage estimates that future seminars will attract approximately 20 people per boot camp.

Kless explains the benefit of defining scope as a triangle. The top of the triangle is viewed as what the company wants to accomplish. The bottom left corner is the resources and includes customer personnel, partner personnel, and money. The bottom right corner is the time of project completion. "Scope of the project is like the angles in a triangle. They have to add up to 180 degrees. With equilateral triangles, all angles need to be 60 degrees. With scope creep, if the top angle grows to 70 degrees, in order for the project to maintain balance, you have to add resources and time for everything to even out," says Kless.

The second piece of successful project management is risk analysis. "Many partners don't want to talk about risk during the sales process, but people are hiring them to address risk," says Kless.

Risk plans identify the risk of a project such as the system going down, but it doesn't always have to be a negative risk. It can be positive risk, such as sales increasing due to the implementation of a new CRM system. Kless says, "The key is to go through and evaluate each risk by impact of dollars, the probability in which it will occur, and take the two numbers and multiply them. If it's $30,000 risk with a 90 percent chance of occurrence, it's worth $27,000."

After this is completed, Kless suggests going back and deciding how to handle each risk. Firms can accept it, avoid it, transfer the risk to a third party, or mitigate the risk. "Scope and risk equals a project plan, and project managers must manage these processes from beginning to end. Every organization, no matter what size, needs people who have these skills. All steps in an implementation are the same whether implementing Peachtree or Accpac; some projects just take more or less decisions and time," adds Kless.

Kevin Cumley, managing partner of the Seattle office of Forepoint, has invested more time and energy in project management in the last year. Forepoint focuses on Sage Software's Accpac product line, and each office has one part-time PM.

"In the last few years, Accpac has moved up the food chain and is being implemented in larger companies and projects are becoming more complex. We need project management to transfer value to our customers," says Cumley.

He also feels the scope of work is an important aspect of project management. "The triangle approach is key to keeping a project balanced," adds Cumley. In addition to incorporating the triangle, Forepoint project managers are responsible for tracking seven aspects of a project.

Forepoint defines the points as follows:

Budget. Discuss the billings to date and make sure the project is on budget.

Schedule. Ensure the project is on schedule. PM also discuss any items affecting schedule, such as staff illness or system problems.

Change orders. Items requested during the project, such as custom reports, that fall outside the original scope of work.

Deliverables. Items to be delivered by the firm, such as process documentation.

Milestones. Key points in the project that must be completed by a certain date for the project to progress.

Open issues. The status of various issues that arise during the course of the project.

Other. Miscellaneous items such as the overall project mood, and company politics affecting the project.

As software implementations become more complex, the need for project managers is growing.

Don Nelson, general manager of Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Team, has seen an up-tick in the number of resellers' hiring and using project managers.

"Project management goes on in every instance whether a reseller calls it project management or not. It all depends on the number of consultants in a firm and the size of the deal," says Nelson. "Some resellers just have consultants on staff doing project management, while others have full-time project managers. When they do have full-time PMs, more time is spent on documentation and there is an increased efficiency and return."

Tectura looks for a certain skill set when hiring project managers. The reseller works with multiple Microsoft platforms, including Navision, Great Plains, and Solomon. The firm has 35 project managers on staff in its North American operations. Salaries range from $80,000 to $120,000, including incentives and benefits.

"We don't do a project without a PM. Projects range from small upgrades to large projects that could last for years. And PMs can work on as many as five projects at a time," says Famula.

Tectura, which plans to add five more project managers in the next 12 months, wants people who are responsible for managing the delivery of a billable consulting team, managing the life cycle of client projects from the design phase through execution to customer support, and for the development of implementation plans.

Skills should include being able to talk to multiple groups and knowing technology language; the ability to communicate on all levels; and proper certification. Certification can be obtained through the Newton Square, Pa., based-Project Management Institute, which provides over 200,000 worldwide members the opportunity to become certified as Project Management Professionals, or PMPs.

The Team Approach

Consistency is the key to greatness, according to James Gibson, executive vice president of operations for Fontana, Calif.-based IncorTech.

"We have invested heavily in project management to help our firm achieve consistency across all of our projects, regardless of size and scope," says Gibson.

IncorTech, which focuses on MAS 90/200 and 500, takes the team approach to project management. The firm's project management team consists of two executive project managers, a senior project manager, a project coordinator, and the project consultant.

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