Why Do PSA Implementations Fail?

PSA software is still struggling to catch up with ever-changing business needs.

July 13, 2018

7 Min Read

By Harmony PSA's Steve Duckworth

In one of the most famous opening lines of literature, Leo Tolstoy writes in “Anna Karenina”: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In other words, happy families have “ticked the boxes” of many factors, any one of which could derail the happiness of the family. Unhappy families, on the other hand, can fail on any one or more of those factors.

PSA implementations are surprisingly analogous in that there are several factors which, if not taken into account and overcome, can doom an integration to failure. And they can cost companies tens of thousands of dollars.

Following is the first half of a two-part examination of the most common factors that can lead to integration failure, as well as tips to make sure that your organization does not fall prey to these unfortunately common stumbling blocks.

Reason 1: Software Is Still Catching Up with Changing Business Needs

Having PSA implementation fail is frustrating and continues to be an issue for professionals, and one of the top reasons is that, simply, the software is still struggling to catch up with ever-changing business needs.

The problems became endemic in the 1990s as business software moved from products that were custom-written to meet specific client requirements to configuration-based, off-the-shelf software.

Remember how effective customer-specific software in the 1980s was? Yes, the products were expensive, but you were able to choose the features you needed for your business.

Once off-the-shelf software became the norm, we lost the ability to pick and choose features specific to our needs, and we haven’t learned our lesson on this issue since then.

In fact, ERP systems learned this lesson the hard way, with the first-generation tools not being sufficiently configurable to really work in every case. This is a key reason for failed implementations.

Current generation ERP PaaS (Platform as a Service) offerings have now emerged to address this issue.

Like ERP, you purchase a PSA tool to operate your business, from sales through operations to finance, and all functions should have a stake in the success of the tool. The early generation of PSA tools aimed at MSPs were designed for specific business-operating models.

Far from selling configurability, part of their attraction was that they included business training to help you run an MSP in the optimum manner, using their software, as designed. So, they were selling a full business environment (even including telling you how much to charge!), not just software. And that’s great if everyone is the same, which in the early years of MSPs, they were.

But what happens when the MSP decides to change their offering under competitive pressures of the cloud?

The software that worked so well in the early-day model is suddenly not flexible enough for today’s product practices and services. Customers end up writing additional systems to compensate, which often broke the core benefit of the PSA tool.

But the industry is slowly catching on. Newer PSA systems are being offered with enough PaaS thinking built in to deal with the problem. When customers ask, “Does this tool do XYZ?” the answer will be, “Yes, but you need to configure it yourself with our rules engine/workflow engine/custom fields, etc.”

This situation will inevitably require more training and some degree of compromise on the part of the user. That mindset of compromise is not only important when looking at the market, but is also important during implementation and preventing failures.

To avoid the pitfall of focusing on one single, noncritical feature out of the thousands available, set your goals to a reasonable level and look at the benefits of adopting the overall solution.

Don’t allow your team to moan about one or two nice-to-have features that may be missing, but focus instead on the overall benefit of the package to your business.

Reason 2:  Insufficient Engagement

A PSA system changes people’s lives — hopefully for the better. Whichever PSA system you choose will certainly change your employees’ working practices, and to succeed, they all need to be engaged to varying degrees.

Selecting a PSA system is a serious commitment and must be chosen with a clear vision of the end game in mind. So, while it’s easy to see that engagement is critical, here are five key areas where engagement makes the difference between success and failure:

1. Get and maintain employee buy-in.

Getting your employees to buy into the system is always essential, and we find that a lack of employee buy-in really comes when the size of the company is between 10 and around 30. Fewer than 10 employees means generally that the company is owner-managed and what the owner says, goes.

Companies with more than 30 employees are likely to have established functions with clear(ish) segregation of duties and that buy-in should have been covered in a well-run selection process.

In between these two groups are the challenging companies that are struggling to get to the size where segregation is essential and where conflicts are not easily resolved. Often in businesses of this size, differing pressures and positional jockeying can drive opposition to the choice of PSA, which in turn means stagnating the process of adoption. If you’re in this bracket, make sure the entire management team sits together on the demos and engages in the trial.

These are the companies that need a good PSA the most to help underpin further growth, so setting clear objectives, overall scope and functional red lines is vital. Be clear on what success looks like and get everyone to agree before talking to your first vendor.

2. Clarify responsibilities.

Someone must be in charge implementing the new platform. This is easy to say, but once again, in our midsize (and difficult) range, the culture of these growing business does not even support “in charge” as a concept.

Decisions that impact other people’s jobs are being made by the person in the lead, so those decisions and responsibilities must be communicated, discussed and nurtured, not just imposed. Just one person, team or area refusing to use the platform (or wishing to use it in a totally different way) can wreck the whole venture.

You’ll need to communicate decisions and deal with outliers early to avoid future surprises or pushback.

3. Avoid distractions.

Small businesses do not run with any slack, they don’t have people on the bench, and each new hire is a key decision that can directly affect the success of the company. When you implement a new PSA system, you’ll be asking people already juggling a full workload to help you do so.

The challenge is having enough time to make the implementation work. The first step in countering a problem is to recognize that it exists and that it will impact you. Run this like any other project, with time allowances, updates and daily communication.

You need to keep the pressure on yourself and the whole team to make this happen — or it won’t. And don’t get distracted. I don’t know what the cost of a failed implementation is, but let’s say, fees plus staff time, maybe its $10,000 — at least.

If you get distracted, that amounts to taking $10,000 out to the parking lot and burning it. Staying focused and sticking to the plan and timeline is incredibly vital to success.

4. Make decisions at the time.

Implementing a new system requires tons of decisions and even decisions you haven’t even thought of yet. When decisions need to be made, don’t delay. Act immediately.

The good thing about decisions is that they can be altered later, but waffling and procrastinating on making these important choices will destroy momentum and lead to distractions. The implementation will falter and might even fail.

Lack of decision, at the least, could increase costs, so be unusually decisive and get to implementation immediately.

5. Lead from the front.

A right-sized, correctly configured, smooth-running and accurately implemented PSA tool should be the responsibility of the management team. Implementing a new PSA tool successfully will scale the business quickly with reduced cost drag, unparalleled visibility around clients, improved contract and employee performance, and improvement to all the smaller details surrounding running a business.

Your employees’ jobs should improve as well, but you and your customers get the real benefits. So, while this goes on, stay on top of it, attend training and daily communications, engage the vendor for advice, get involved in the configuration and don’t over-delegate. Be decisive and a passionate champion for change.

Follow these five engagement rules and your business will transform. Turn your back on the project and you’ll be back to burning profits in the parking lot.

In a career that began in offshore engineering, migrated into investment banking and ended up with the co-founding of a software company 10 years ago, Steve Duckworth, CEO of Harmony PSA, has devoted his career to developing solutions solving project, accounting and business process problems.

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