Cornerstone Implementation Red Flags — an Insider’s View

October 20, 2015 Appirio

By Dan Lyons

cornerstone implementation

When you’ve participated in as many Cornerstone implementations as I have over the years, you tend to pick up on cues from clients that indicate trouble ahead. These “red flags” are warning signs to your Appirio team of likely issues that could negatively impact the project and schedule. If these cues sound familiar to your organization, then you should seek out help in addressing the underlying issues ahead of or as part of your implementation.

“A word of caution: Language is very important to us.”

  • What we hear: There is likely some prior history between internal departments or resources, so you don’t want to create additional drama by discussing topics deemed “off limits.” If this is the case, it can be a challenge to gain consensus or make decisions quickly, as there may be anxiety around ownership of resources, processes, or strategy.
  • Why it’s a red flag: Almost all organizations have disagreements on systems, processes, and/or strategy from time to time. However, clients who feel obligated to warn us tend to have more pronounced disagreements, leading to an escalated sense of anxiety amongst stakeholders. If that sounds familiar, then you should know that this will undoubtedly bleed into your Cornerstone implementation because it impacts decision-making and stakeholders across the organization.
  • What you can do: Enlist an outside expert to clearly define a governance model; including who will be involved in decisions and which decisions require shared ownership. Cornerstone can be configured to give each stakeholder group the rights and abilities to manage their users, content, and day-to-day activities while leaving core configuration to a centralized governance team. It’s important to define this up front in order to help address and lower anxiety about ownership. Most groups come out of a governance workshop feeling much better and knowing that they aren’t losing autonomy over their daily routine. This will help the implementation move much quicker and result in a more emotionally stable project.

“We’re still looking for a System Admin.”

  • What we hear: You didn’t fully understand how different the implementation methodology for Cloud-based applications is from traditional on-premise systems. You may be used to and expecting a small army of consultants (at a not-so-small price) to make all the decisions and spend lots of time customizing the system.
  • Why it’s a red flag: Cornerstone, like many Cloud-based applications, allows clients to skip past the often exhaustive initial phases common with on-premise installs (procurement, hardware, custom code, etc.) that can take months to complete. You will dive right into the business decisions and user experience with Cornerstone. It’s likely you underestimated how quickly you would need a skilled resource to lead design and configuration efforts internally. That leaves the project team unable to keep pace with project tasks.
  • What you can do: Ideally, secure a resource ahead of the project initiation. If that’s not possible, solicit the help of the project’s Executive Sponsor to clear roadblocks in the hiring process. Alternatively, you can consider outsourcing this function to the implementation service provider until you are able to hire. This will give you the expertise you need to configure the system to your business needs while you continue your search, and will not push the project schedule out by months. But keep in mind it’s likely a short-term solution and not a substitute for an enabled internal resource.

“Do we really have to take all of this online training?”

  • What we hear: The project was not defined as a priority, you are too busy to invest the time to be successful, or there is an assumption that you won’t be asked to actively participate. Worst case scenario — all 3 of these!
  • Why it’s a red flag: An enabled, properly trained, and available project team is key to any successful project. Neglecting to plan for and take the online training that Cornerstone provides makes it difficult for clients to actively participate in project decisions and tasks. This will likely cause the project schedule to slip, contribute to a frustrating testing phase, and eventually lead to difficulty supporting end users post go-live.
  • What you can do:
    • First, secure internal sponsorship well in advance and communicate early and often to internal teams/resources. Make absolutely sure that the Executive Sponsor starts the project Kick Off Meeting with the “why” and reaffirms the project team’s role. This provides a reason why resources should care and transfers de facto authority to the project team.
    • Next, make it easy for the project team to take training by scheduling sessions together and reviewing progress on a weekly basis.
    • And finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Executive Sponsor if resources are not taking their training seriously or have other priorities, making it difficult to put the necessary time into training. It’s the Executive Sponsor’s name on the project, and that person will want the project to be a success. They can do this by reaffirming the project’s priority through the applicable management chains and clearing obstacles, giving the team time for their training.

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