Client onboarding is a critical piece of the puzzle for any software vendor or service provider seeking to successfully transition onto its offering for new clients.
Unfortunately, onboarding projects often end up being most vulnerable to scope creep, leading to a domino effect of other troubles.
Why do onboarding projects cause so many headaches for companies? Critical reasons for scope creep include poor scope definition and multi-point misalignment from the get-go, inconsistent project management practices, and ineffective communications.
How can a client onboarding team manage scope creep and keep their project on track? Here are a few ideas.
Frontload on the communications
When two parties start working together, there are multiple points to consider beyond dealing with the underlying challenge of change management. There is also a matter of fighting out working dynamics and communication protocol, identifying responsible stakeholders on both sides, handling a potential disconnect in the terminology expectations (“we always did it this way”), and getting awareness and appreciation for the mutual expectations and goals.
There is a mutual learning curve to align the starting point and the expected outcome of using the actual product or service. The analysis level at this point is much deeper than during the sales process.
Take the time upfront to ensure complete alignment on these topics. Working through a few what-if scenarios is particularly valuable. Some adjustments will (very) likely occur throughout the process and potentially impact the deliverables. Be prepared to communicate how these changes can affect the timeline and the required effort. Putting in critical path markers along the way will help steer clear of potential disappointments later. It’s important to be receptive to the client's feedback and evolve as needed, but both parties must be on the same page to help avoid the project becoming a neverending journey.
Modern onboarding software plays a vital role in ensuring onboarding success: it can provide an immediate point of reference on where the process is, offer an easy way to connect to all the stakeholders, and allow the clients to provide the information necessary to keep moving the process forward, as well as document some of the decisions made along the way, allowing to keep both sides accountable and on the same page.
Maintain consistent process
An essential must-do of a successful onboarding process is not taking shortcuts. Setting up and adhering to the regular checkpoints attended by both parties is vital. “We had nothing to discuss, so we skipped the meeting” feels benign at first but can be a recipe for disaster. Use the “no-news” meeting to continue working on the goals -reconfirm the progress to date, realign the future milestones, and review any potential risks and holdups such as planned vacations, company events, etc. Keep the client engaged, and don’t give them the “excuse” to “unplug.”
Continue to get to know the client’s stakeholders and familiarize the client with your company -to build trust and goodwill across multiple levels of the organization. It’s never too early to start introducing onboarding clients to the account management team and support the organization on your side.
Start discussing the rollout as quickly as possible. How does the client anticipate the rollout to go? What are the best practices the vendor can suggest? Who are the early adopters? Who will create training and informational materials for the client?
Creating a consistent, repeatable implementation process will ensure each client engagement starts and proceeds predictably. The project team should also document the process thoroughly to ensure all stakeholders know of updates, risks, and decisions that impact the project. Doing so eliminates ambiguity and puts everyone on the same page, which makes it much harder for scope creep to sneak in.
Managing the ongoing onboarding process is another area where professional onboarding software makes the job easy. Onboarding software can help by documenting the meetings and any action actions, ensuring that no balls get dropped on the follow-ups while taking the hassle of tracking the day-to-day minutia away from already overworked onboarding teams.
With some onboarding projects taking several months, the software makes it easy to assign a few tasks or the entire project to other onboarding team members and have them in the loop and on top of the onboarding process without missing a beat.
Wrap up the onboarding project gracefully
Once at the finish line, it’s a great practice to revisit the journey together - the initial points and objectives, re-capping critical decisions and time milestones along the way. Is there acceptance review testing? What does the client training process look like? If the rollout has not started yet - reconfirm the process and timelines. De-brief on the onboarding process with the client and within the software vendor's team internally. Are any adjustments needed in the sales process, onboarding, and beyond to help ensure a better experience and potentially lower operating footprint for the vendor with the next client?
This final bit is also where intelligent insights from onboarding software will help pinpoint the bottlenecks in the onboarding process, drive better scheduling decisions, and help ensure that onboarding teams have the tools and training to succeed at scale.
Nailing down your client onboarding process, including scope analysis, aligning on the mutual expectations, managing change, and creating milestones and metrics to track success, can significantly improve your project implementation experience.
According to 3,000+ project managers interviewed in 2017, nearly 50 percent of projects experience scope creep, and only 57 percent were finished within budget, while only 51 percent were completed on schedule. Think about these failures' frustration, loss of funds, resources, and goodwill. Don’t contribute to the statistics by failing to invest in your onboarding process.