Article by Joan Walker, Managing Director at UNAPEN, Inc.
See Part 1 here: What Can RIAs Expect from a System Conversion – Part 1
See Part 2 here: What Can RIAs Expect from a System Conversion – Part 2
When last we left off, I had posed the question “What is the top priority of any relationship?” Have you ever been to a company workshop? Have you ever been to a team building exercise? Have you ever watched Dr. Phil? The answer is COMMUNICATION! Without it your company will be dead in the water.
When I started in my first job that dealt with technology, I was an EDP Liaison. For those of you who were born after the first woman ran for Vice President (and no it was not Sarah Palin) EDP means Electronic Data Processing. The job entailed determining how our clients were going to post data to the system we used to process mutual funds. Our clients were broker dealers and each had their way of extracting data out of their system for my company to use.
I was also in charge of dealing with the vendor who supplied our system. At the time I thought it would be easy since I was hired from that vendor, but it proved to be more difficult that I had anticipated. It was during that job that I first came upon the original iteration of the comic below.
This pretty much sums up what can go wrong on a system conversion or for that matter any customization to a vendor’s software. Remember those empowered employees from Part 2 of this blog? If those folks are not communicating effectively then your company may be paying for something they don’t need or want.
But What is Effective Communication?
The dictionary defines communication as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior; exchange of information. The key phrase in this definition is “common system”.
Both parties need to be able to speak, ask questions, listen and understand. These are the critical components of communication. If the people on the teams are not speaking the same language then problems occur.
- At least one person on your vendor team needs to understand the language of your industry and company.
- At least one person on your vendor team or your team needs to be able to translate geek-speak, the language of the programmers actually doing your conversion.
- But the biggest empowerment that you can give both teams is the responsibility to ask questions when they don’t understand. This is the most critical factor in effective communication.
I am sure that you are thinking “How do I monitor whether the communication between the two project teams is effective?” Good question, I am glad that you asked. There are many approaches to explore:
- The first is – Meetings.
Get everyone in a room or on a conference call and review where the project stands: who has accomplished what in the deliverables and what are the next steps. This is probably a good way to start any project. You want to know who the players are. You want to monitor and determine which people are the real project leads of each team – who has the knowledge and the power. These are times for meetings and conference calls. It may happen daily at the beginning to ensure everyone is on the same page. But to continue this pace or even on a weekly basis can get expensive and counterproductive. There will be crunch times where it is better for people to be working rather than updating everyone else.
- The second is – Documentation.
You should demand status updates on a regular basis. This should be agreed upon at the beginning of the project. Everything should be put in writing. If you have a conversation with a vendor over the phone, make sure they follow up in an email outlining the discussion and any decisions that have been made. They should offer this but if they don’t, then your team needs to ask them to do it.
- The third is – a Combination of Both.
Even if you are having meetings, those discussion points, deliverables and accomplishments need to be documented. On the opposite side of the coin, we have all had those email chains where some people are just not getting it so you need that phone call. I couldn’t agree more, but after the phone call another email needs to happen to ensure that everyone is on the same page – communicating effectively.
Now that you have both teams communicating effectively, it is smooth sailing from here – right? Stay tuned for the answer in Part 4.
Joan Walker is a Managing Director at UNAPEN, Inc, a nationally recognized consulting and software development firm that provides software and technical consulting to the financial services industry. Follow on twitter @UNAPEN.
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