In the Human Capital Management industry, when a customer buys a new software package, they’re assigned a team of Implementation Consultants from the software vendor. It is the Implementation Consultant’s job to set up the system with the company’s policies and assist them in using the many features of the software. Although this term “Implementation Consultant” is widely used (we use it, too), in this article I want to challenge its accuracy because there’s a big difference between an Implementer and a Consultant. Unfortunately, due to this blended term, clients don’t know exactly what they’re going to get and that ambiguity is almost always to their detriment.


Custom Meal or Meat Lovers with Extra Cheese?

To me the difference between an Implementer and a Consultant is like the difference between ordering a pizza versus having a chef prepare a custom meal.  The Implementer can ask you which toppings you want (requirements gathering), assemble your pizza (configuration) and pop it in the oven (go-live).  Voila! Done! Enjoy! Unfortunately, though, when deploying a new HCM system, most companies can’t simply order the Meat Lovers with Extra Cheese.  They have complex needs and may want to change or improve their business processes as part of the system deployment.  That’s where a chef/consultant comes in. To start, a chef will ask a client:

  • What event are they cooking for? Is it date night or a family dinner? (Consultants call this Goal Alignment.)
  • Are there any picky eaters who need to be sold on the menu? (Change Management).
  • Can I create a few dishes for you to sample?  (Iterative Prototyping)
  • Did you know that salmon goes great with pineapple, which is currently in-season (Applying Best Practices).

Ok, the analogy breaks down after a while, but you get the point…


Know What You Are Getting.

Some vendors give you Implementers and some give you Consultants.  Some expect you to tell them how the system should work and then their only job is to check the boxes and load your data.  Others will send you Consultants who will ask about your project goals, ask you which business processes are most important to you, and provide you with options and recommendations for optimal design.  With an Implementer, you are also on your own to communicate with and train your employees, while Consultants help you think through your options and develop a plan for the whole project, not just the software setup.


Reduce Your Risks.

So, what can a company do to reduce these risks, know what they are getting, and increase their chances of a successful project?

1. Be sure you know which project tasks are the responsibility of your team vs. the vendor’s team.
The most common, underestimated client-side  tasks are Project Management, Change Management, User Acceptance Testing and End-user Training. 
2. Determine whether you have the people on your team with the skills and available time to do these tasks.
It’s not a good idea to assign the Project Management and Change Management duties to someone who’s never led a software implementation and already has a busy 45+ hour set of job duties.
3. Consider hiring outside help to fill any resource gaps.
Like Sability (shameless plug!)

Over my career, I’ve been a HCM customer, vendor and independent Consultant, and I know that no one has the perfect deployment formula.  Every project is different, but the most important thing is to know what you’re getting into up front.  Ask questions, do some project planning and make your team assignments carefully before the kickoff meeting to increase your chances of success.    

Rob Leonard, Chief Operating Officer Rob Leonard initially joined Sability in November 2009 as the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development and since that time has helped develop new vendor partnerships and refine Sability’s corporate strategies. As COO, Rob is responsible for managing Sability’s daily operations including consulting practices, staff, customer engagements and quality of delivery; with a focus on creating scalable processes in line with Sability’s growth.