Why Every New AMS Software Project Needs a Change Management Team

Selecting a new membership management system isn’t a membership department project, it’s an association project.

Colleagues from across the organization must be involved in the project from the start so they can help you select the best AMS software for your association. They each have valuable contributions to make during the requirements gathering process. Plus, by encouraging them to feel a sense of ownership in the project, you’ll minimize the influence of project naysayers and create project champions who will help you persuade staff to adopt the new system and any related new processes. Want to read more about the art of persuasion during the software selection process? Check out our new eBook: How to Subtly Push for Change When It’s Obviously Time for an Upgrade Here are four ways to involve staff in the selection of a new membership management system.

1. Participate in an Internal User Survey

The membership department is an AMS super user. You know its strengths and weaknesses. But you’re only one user with one perspective. Other departments use the AMS in different ways and, therefore, have different perspectives. They have their own reasons for loving it, tolerating it, or hating it. They have their own frustrations with the existing system. And, they have their own concerns about getting a new system. These departments must be involved from the very beginning of an AMS selection process. Some will champion the new system and some will resist it with everything they’ve got. But, because the champions and the resisters are system users, data users, or technology experts, you need their participation and subject matter expertise. An internal user survey will help you get a broad understanding of user and data issues. Ask users about the system’s strengths and weaknesses, including upgrade challenges, integration problems, process workarounds, reporting needs, and functionality issues. Find out how they use the system. For example, what processes do they use it for and what type of reports or data do they pull? Ask questions that give you a better understanding of the system’s role in their work and the system’s inefficiencies, for example:

  • What redundancies are caused by system inadequacy? Do any tasks have to be done twice? Are there duplicate records? Why are these things happening?
  • Are system limitations causing workarounds?
  • Do any awkward or time-consuming processes need improvement?
  • What processes should be streamlined or automated?
  • What do you wish the system could do for you?

You will have unique questions for colleagues in some departments, for example, IT, accounting, education, conference/trade show, and component (chapter) relations. For example, ask for the IT department’s perspective on the system’s technical shortcomings, perhaps integration, upgrade, or security issues.

2. Conduct User Interviews

The user survey will give you an overview of the existing system’s strengths and weaknesses. However, arrange interviews with system users so you can follow up on what you learn in the survey, dig deeper, and uncover the real issues. Sometimes, it’s not the system itself that’s causing problems, instead, it’s the processes, related technology, people, or office culture that’s to blame. You’ll still have these underlying problems after a new system is implemented unless you find them and fix them. In the user interviews, discuss how the current system comes up short in helping them do their job and helping their department reach its goals. You can also take this opportunity to watch them work with the system so you better understand what existing processes actually look like. You’ll start figuring out which users could be new system champions and which could be new system resisters. Listen carefully and objectively to the potential resisters’ concerns. You may hear things you don’t agree with or don’t like, but you need to know these things if your team is to make the best selection decision and successfully implement change. Successful change management begins in these conversations. Throughout the project, you have to convince potential resisters by your actions, not only your words, that their advice and opinions are valued. You also have to convince them (or their supervisor) that they need to be involved in the project from the start. Otherwise, they will never buy-in to “your” project.

3. Create System Requirements Together

Now that you have a better understanding of how everyone is using the existing system and what they need in a new system, it’s time to gather representatives from each department to put together a list of system requirements. This cross-functional team must agree, eventually, on how requirements are prioritized into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Don’t expect agreement at first. Every person will have their own agenda and believe their department’s requirements are obvious “must-haves.” Whoever is leading these discussions—an internal or external project manager or business analyst—must help everyone see the bigger picture beyond their own departmental perspective. That bigger picture also includes the budget. Depending on the systems you consider, some of the requirements people describe as “must-haves” may require customization. But, beware, customization can inflate your timeline and budget because programmers will have to rewrite code. Plus, you’ll have additional programming expenses in the future if system upgrades are not compatible with your customized code. Customization becomes the only option in people’s minds because they want the new system to adapt to an existing, familiar process. Instead, focus on the outcome you desire, not the workflow—the “what,” not the “how.” Talk to AMS providers and association technology consultants about what you’re trying to accomplish. They’ve seen how hundreds of associations use their AMS and other technology, and will have alternatives for you to consider. Change is difficult, and the person who was once a new system champion could turn into a resister if you start messing with their processes. On the other hand, the nay-sayer may come over to your side because you’ve given them the opportunity to contribute their expertise. As a project leader, you have to understand the psychology of change and get everyone on the team aligned with what’s best for the organization. Paint a picture of how work will look with the new system so they don’t obsess over what they see as an uncomfortable transition.

4. Participate in Demonstrations

Just like the requirements meetings, ask a cross-functional team to participate in system demos. This participation, even if it’s just watching, will deepen their investment in the project. The unknown starts to take shape, and hopefully won’t seem as scary as it once was. When they see how smoothly everything works and how much more they can do with the new system, they will start to get excited about the change. You want that buzz to spread. Plan ahead for your demonstrations. Settle on the same agenda for all demos so you can compare apples to apples. Your requirements will drive that agenda. Insist that vendors only demonstrate the functionality you’ll use so your time is well spent. Make sure you see all your processes in action—only believe what you see. Everyone loves being part of a great success. A successful AMS selection depends on having the right people involved from the start. Besides helping you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your existing system and processes, prioritize requirements, and participate in demonstrations, your AMS project team members are your champions of change. They will help you convince colleagues and leadership that an AMS change is necessary. But if you need more help, download our guide, How to Subtly Push for Change When It’s Obviously Time for an Upgrade.

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