Liberty Advisor Group, like many professional services companies, has seen the majority of its work move to remote engagements while we wait for safer conditions to travel and be on-site with clients. This work-from-home (WFH) mentality is not new for us – it is something we do well. However, not all clients have a full WFH setup as this is a new norm for many. Additionally, before 2020, many companies were already looking at WFH or work from anywhere (WFA) models. An article in the Harvard Business Review accounts for this by stating that “before 2020 a movement was brewing within knowledge-work organizations” and that after experiencing 2020, “we learned that a great many of us don’t in fact need to be co-located with colleagues on-site to do our jobs. Individuals, teams, entire workforces, can perform well while being entirely distributed – and they have.”
Professional services companies need to be prepared to teach clients how to adapt to the new norms of WFH and WFA, demonstrating how we can still work together successfully with our clients. Liberty recentlyled a large and complex manufacturer through the selection of a critical enterprise software solution with enterprise implication. With our client already embracing a WFA model where possible, this project, like many these days, was to be completed 100% remotely. As Liberty has demonstrated to its clients throughout this unique year, we have the resolve and capability to adapt to client needs while continuing to deliver value.
Requirements: Discovery and Information Analysis
We adapted our software selection methodology to meet these remote requirements, while ensuring we could still provide a valuable outcome for the client. Because our project launch was limited to client-provided documents, internet research, and preliminary discussions with various client stakeholders, we placed a particular emphasis on the requirements and information discovery phase of the project. Being especially inquisitive helped replicate client-guided tours of manufacturing environments and allowed us to learn first-hand that our client was more complex than initially perceived. For example, we knew the company spanned multiple countries and locations and had a disjointed enterprise IT landscape; however, we did not realize the multi-process nature of its environment until this phase. It would have been better to have understood this initially based on an in-person, on-site tour.
Throughout this discovery process, another key challenge was securing participation and insights from all stakeholders, due to the inability to collaborate in-person with our client or accurately read body language through virtual webcams. In this case, our client was doing a great job embracing a WFA norm, lessening normal virtual pain points. Nonetheless, we carefully documented the outputs of every virtual meeting, recorded client demonstrations of their current state software systems, and thoroughly detailed our information requests to the client. By conducting an extensive virtual discovery session, we were able to understand the existing software landscape and capture current and future business requirements. Not only did this inform the key documentation that would be sent to the software vendors, but it also gave our client polished materials for future reference.
Our unique project team model allowed for multiple work tracks within the project to occur simultaneously, minimizing the overall length and cost of the project. Concurrently, we were engaging the software vendors on our client’s behalf, ensuring legal agreements were in place, and providing communication and updates on the progress towards software selection milestones. Furthermore, by being remote, we were able to flex functional subject matter experts (SMEs) and technical SMEs as needed to aid in the detailed gathering of the software requirements and business benefits case. This flexibility was also instrumental in the digestion and analysis of our client’s important information and business processes.
Client/Vendor Management and Software Selection
In addition to documenting our client’s existing technical landscape and business requirements, great value was provided to the client by managing all aspects of its internal selection committee, from creation to communications and activity guidance, such as what documents to review, how to score the vendors, and where to provide feedback. Also, on behalf of our client, we managed all vendor-related project activities, communications, and demonstrations. As a result, we were able to guide the client through all key evaluation milestones (evaluating proposals, down-selecting vendors for demos, scheduling vendor preparation calls, and coordinating vendor demo schedules and agendas), helping ensure that the decision-making process was properly informed. Our ability to manage both the vendors and our client’s internal evaluation committees protected valuable client time, allowing a focus on in-flight initiatives and day-to-day jobs throughout the duration of our software selection engagement.
As the selection process neared its conclusion, we used our experience and expertise to facilitate the client’s internal selection committee deliberation and recommendation for the new enterprise software. Simultaneously, we independently digested the vendor proposals, commercials, and demonstrations to deliver our objective, evidence-based, and candid recommendation to our client’s executive team. This concluded a two-month remote engagement leading our client from project idea through to a successful project launch and completion.
Remote Advantages and Recommendations
Running a remote, completely digital software selection has become the reality in today’s WFH workforce. As we demonstrated with this client, Liberty has embraced the digital transformation of business-driven projects and continues to deliver value. As with an in-person engagement, there are clear advantages and challenges to consider for remote software selection. Advantages to Liberty’s remote operating model and recommendations on how to mitigate challenges are considered below:
Advantages of the remote model:
- Allows us to provide flexible, on-demand access to our SMEs as needed throughout the selection process. This gives clients better value without the added on-site expenses.
- Provides better access to clients with operations in multiple countries, locations, and divisions. Similar to our internal collaboration, this allows the client to easily collaborate with us, preventing unnecessary travel and simplifying logistical considerations.
- Enables remote restarting of projects, which is a cost-effective method for companies looking to reinvigorate previously delayed initiatives and emerge stronger from the pandemic, providing forward momentum and meaningful value.
- Eliminates unnecessary client time and project management commitments, based on Liberty’s expertise in managing business and project complexity remotely.
- Prevents unnecessary risk and exposure for both parties due to disparities and variations in local, state, federal, and other countries’ workplace guidelines involved in executing a software selection – or indeed any initiative – in-person.
Recommendations to mitigate challenges:
- “A picture paints a thousand words,” and nothing can quite replicate seeing in person the client’s business complexity, unique processes, current software, and challenges in real-time through a facility tour or demonstration. We recommend recording as many discovery sessions as possible, to include any client software demonstrations and business process discussions. This ensures no critical detail is lost during the discovery phase of the software selection, which aims to fully capture the business complexities that inform the software requirements.
- In the new workplace with calendars full of virtual meetings, it is important to take the initiative early on in the project life cycle to reserve calendar blocks for meetings, status updates, and demonstrations. Clearly communicating early and often with clients on key, milestone or meeting-heavy weeks sets the participation and time expectation upfront and helps eliminate potential conflict with other in-flight initiatives. However, it is just as important to place a large emphasis on the tactical, meeting to meeting, communication and material refinement. Because each communication is formalized with a set audience and time commitment, it is essential to revisit the length of the meeting and have a clear agenda and defined materials for each meeting. People’s time has arguably become even more valuable in a virtual work environment.
- We believe it is equally important to physically immerse ourselves in the culture of the client company, particularly those that have grown via acquisition. It can be hard to recognize a company’s non-tangible challenges when interacting solely over webcams. We recommend personalizing conversations by having webcams turned on when possible, to help build a better connection with clients. We have seen this garner better candid discussions and encourage lively question and answer conversations. This builds trust with clients and helps alleviate our inability to physically be together to “walk the halls.” The lack of in-person presence with clients currently faces all professional services organizations. We look forward to the day when we will once again be rolling up our sleeves with clients to solve their greatest business and IT challenges.
Faced with the new realities of a predominantly WFH/WFA work environment, we at Liberty are excited to partner with our clients to reimagine and discover more innovative ways of doing business and delivering results. As this complex, enterprise-wide software selection highlighted, there are inherent challenges with all virtual projects but these did not prevent us from delivering high value to our clients. Liberty works tirelessly, hand-in-hand with our clients, to address business needs and find solutions of value. The advantages of remote engagement far outweigh the challenges and provide flexibility to our clients in an unprecedented time of uncertainty. Liberty will continue to help our clients emerge stronger from the pandemic, remotely or in-person.
ABOUT LIBERTY ADVISOR GROUP
Liberty Advisor Group is a goal-oriented, client-focused, and results-driven consulting firm. We are a lean, handpicked team of strategists, technologists, and entrepreneurs – battle-tested experts with a steadfast, start-up attitude. We collaborate, integrate, and ideate in real-time with our clients to deliver situation-specific solutions that work. Liberty Advisor Group has the experience to realize our clients’ highest ambitions. Liberty has been named as Great Place to Work, to the Best Places to Work in Chicago,and to FORTUNE’s list of Best Workplaces in Consulting and Professional Services.