The decision to invest in an accreditation management software or quality management software solution is one that involves both technology and people. While you definitely want innovative tools that will make your team more efficient and effective, you also want to work with a company that truly cares about supporting your mission and serving you well every step of the way. Meron Makonnen, nine year ARMATURE veteran and stellar project manager, is a shining example of our hands-on way of working with clients to bring their visions to life in our system. We grabbed some time with Meron to find out more about her approach to managing projects and supporting clients—and we’re excited to share her perspective with you here.
So Meron, you’ve been with ARMATURE for over nine years. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in that time?
I’ve taken different paths over the nine years. I started as a developer and did that for five years before switching over to project management. A lot has changed over the past nine years, as you’d expect to see in any software company that’s as technically innovative as we are, but the biggest change is that we’re more focused now as a company on exactly what we want to achieve. When I started, the projects that came to us were complete customizations. But throughout the years, we have focused on specific markets—accreditation and quality management in particular. In accreditation, for example, we identified the common elements across the different accreditation bodies, and developed a product that was able to meet those common needs. We shifted from being a custom solutions developer to a product-driven software company. That’s the biggest change.
That’s a huge shift, I agree. And you’ve worked closely with our clients all along. Why should buyers choose a product-driven company like ARMATURE over one of the many custom providers on the market?
I’d start by pointing out that whoever they choose, they would be explaining their process. And with our experience, it’s very easy for us to grasp what they’re saying and map it out on the product quickly. So if they talk to us today, tomorrow we’ll configure something and show it to them in the system. We don’t have to develop something fresh—clients can leverage a lot from what’s available out-of-the-box.
Some prospective buyers will still want and need a certain amount of customization in order to make the solution a perfect fit for their needs. What would you say to those folks?
Certainly, customization has its place, but it’s important not to have too much of it. Our rule of thumb is 80 percent out-of-the-box and 20 percent customization as needed, in order for them to benefit from our frequent product upgrades and be eligible to take advantage of the latest features as often as they want.
That’s an important point. The last thing you want is to invest in a software solution that feels outdated almost immediately, and that’s what can happen with custom solutions.
Yes. Another advantage is that the turnaround is much quicker with us, and we’ve proven that a couple of times now where we have people up and running in 6 weeks. When I say “up and running,” I mean they can capture their contacts’ information in the system, they can create instruments in the system (or there’s already an instrument created for them), and they can configure processes. In these 6 weeks, we train them, we configure some things for them to get them started, and then we work with them to put in additional customizations where they’re needed. If you go with a pure custom solution, everything needs to be built from scratch, and it’s a trial and error path that you’ll go down. With us it’s a tested product, so that risk is not there.
You mentioned that you started out as a developer. What do you like about being a project manager vs. being a developer?
They’re completely different worlds. I really enjoy being a project manager, because I feel like I’m good at organizing things, defining the step-by-step process to get to a goal. When you’re a project manager, you’re in control of how the project path goes, whereas if you’re a developer, you’re more focused on the technical piece, and you don’t always have the same visibility into where the project is going.
Our system is powerful, and it can do so much. How do you train our clients to ensure they get the most out of our accreditation and quality management software?
My approach is to ask questions and learn how our clients do things from the beginning, and then I reflect their data and workflows back to them in the system. This is the best way to train users on the system, because they can relate to it when they see their processes. This hands-on and personalized approach to training eases our clients into the system and makes them feel comfortable with it early on in the process.
When you’re configuring the system to reflect our clients’ processes and workflows, is the goal to teach them how to configure the system themselves?
Our goal is to configure the system for (or with) our clients initially, but in the long run, we want to empower them to take on the configuration piece themselves while we focus on building new features and keeping the system in top shape. This helps them keep costs down, and it also allows them to experience how user-friendly our system really is. I understand that it’s daunting to just dive into a software and take over as an administrator, so typically on the first round, we configure it for them, or we sit with them and configure it together to give them a hands-on training, but the hope is that our clients will be able to take over and make it their own.
That speaks to our partnership approach. Side-by-side, hand-in-hand. Let me teach you so that you feel empowered to do it in the future, and save money while you’re at it. That’s an advantage we have over our competitors.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
The challenge is always: there’s budget, there’s time, and there’s quality. Keeping these three things balanced is a huge challenge. Your promise is against each one of them, and balancing them effectively is the core of project management.
How do you tackle that challenge in order to make our clients successful? I know everyone adores you, so you must do a great job!
Thank you for saying that! I always strive to keep my clients informed as much as possible. When you keep clients in the loop, and maintain an open dialogue, nothing comes as a surprise. Transparency and communication throughout the process are most important.
When every task is urgent, how do you figure out what to prioritize?
It depends. In terms of urgency, there’s a level of priority, and then based on the top priority tasks, there’s a timeline we always keep in mind. We balance all of the details to make sure that all of our client and project needs are being addressed in a timely manner.
If you were to pick one skill for a project manager to have, what would it be and why?
Patience. You have to be very patient. A lot of times, conversations don’t go the way you expected. Getting through something, whether it’s a product feature or a requirement, getting through to the client and having them see eye-to-eye on what you’re trying to say, can be challenging. It can take a few tries to make sure we’re all on the same page, and patience helps.
What outside of ARMATURE drives you to be successful here?
I’d say my daughters. I want them to look up to me. I know they don’t understand now, since they’re young, but later on, I want them to know that their mother worked hard to give them whatever I gave them. I want to be an inspiration for them.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I’ve been happy here. It’s like a second home. I’m glad to be part of ARMATURE’s family!
Thanks for your time, Meron!
You’re quite welcome.