Implementation Advice from Recent ERP Projects
We asked a group of ERP implementation leaders what single piece of advice they would provide to a project team on the verge of beginning an ERP implementation. Here’s what we heard, as well as our input on how to think about these points of advice:
1. Understand the scope and goals of your ERP implementation initiative
Not all ERP implementation projects are the same. In our experience rarely has one implementation landscape evolved the same as another. Consider the characteristics of your project. For example, if you’re performing a rip and replace approach your focus is not the same as a transformative initiative that changes processes in addition to the technology. Likewise, the extent and way you use an ERP system integrator (SI) will differ. While this may seem like basic advice, understanding it is the basis for your project and you want to get it right.
2. If you’re attempting full-blown organization change, don’t make this investment without planning and focus (resources, time and funding)
It’s difficult, if not impossible to accurately estimate project budgets for resources, time and funding given the number of variables and unknowns. However, by considering each individual phase in detail and then aggregating the sum of the parts, you may arrive at a more accurate overall project plan. Your internal implementation team must feel they understand and agree with how the budget was defined to feel accountable for it. Likewise, you want them to feel empowered (not punished) by “raising their hands” when the projected budget or timeline isn’t mirroring the plan.
If you are embarking upon a transformative initiative, the people change components of your project will likely require significant time and effort and will certainly impact the project timeline. If this portion of the project is not scoped and accounted for, your project will potentially suffer as a result. This point was frequently mentioned as “not having enough attention paid to it.” You will often hear this referred to as organizational change management (OCM). OCM will transcend business processes and helps manage the psychological elements of change. Management needs to demonstrate its leadership by recognizing that the thoughts, feelings and fears of those going through change are real and tied to the project’s success.
3. Select the right individuals to compose your SI team.
SI partners or integrators offer resources who have different capabilities, experiences and personalities. You are paying for these new resources to assist with your ERP implementation and help deliver a successful outcome.
Along with technical expertise, you should be evaluating their cultural fit with your organization and internal project team, selecting individuals who will work best. Plan to participate in interviews. Skipping this step could lead to issues later. Implementation projects can take from months to years, so you will want to be comfortable with these individuals and their skills sets. Consider the selection of SI resources as if you were hiring them as your own internal employees.
When finalizing your contract with your system integrator, check for clarity on what happens if there is resource turnover and any resulting time or financial impacts.
Sidebar: When choosing/interviewing system integrators recognize they typically will be engaged with multiple clients at the same time. Their best resources may already be deployed elsewhere, or they could “pull” resources committed to your implementation should the need arise. Not only is screening of resources important but seek to understand their other commitments. Longer implementations have a higher risk of resource turnover both from an external and internal perspective.
4. Implementation engagements need to start with a partnership agreement
Who makes decisions?
How do we define success?
How do we deal with issues?
Who is leading the project?
The more partners in a project the more complex the management of the project becomes. Project management can be aided by a well-defined project governance plan. Plan to overcommunicate to everyone who touches the project. Help everyone understand who they report to and who they are to interact with on each team. Also verify each player understands who has ultimate control and responsibility for the project. You may use a strict or modified approach to define roles and responsibilities, like a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted and informed) matrix to help build clarity into each project role.
5. Clients need to own the project while leading the partnership(s)
Best results occur when the overall responsibility belongs to the organization. They have the most to gain with a successful outcome. Should an organization lose control of a project it becomes very difficult to move back into a position of ownership. Think of the organization as a general contractor. When outside resources are hired, the general contactor is responsible for the results. This can be challenging as the organization is typically running a core business while heading the ERP implementation. A best practice for organizations is to “backfill” so key internal players can be dedicated to focusing on and leading the implementation.
6. Clear alignment between leaders and project teams help erase ambiguity
One of our favorite sayings is “if you don’t know where you are going, anywhere will do.” Clear objectives at the start of a project will allow you to align those objectives and project goals to encourage ongoing understanding and buy-in. Periodically reiterate key project objectives and goals while discussing how they are measured. Simplify decision making by asking whether the decision aligns with project objectives? This can assist in reducing ambiguity and can help make decisions quicker. There was a reason you embarked on this project to begin with. You want to ensure the benefits you hope to achieve from modern ERP software don’t get lost in the shuffle of a complicated ERP implementation.
7. Knowledge transfer. You need to be prepared for your SI to leave
Throughout the project, monitor the team and organization’s comfort level with the new system. Ensure there are go/no-go decisions, not only prior to go-live but also prior to the start of each new phase or key event (such as training). A center of excellence should be operating, and internal power users should be knowledgeable and comfortable with the system. If you elect to employ external assistance for training, ensure you have your internal team validate the material and participate in the training sessions to answer business specific questions. The more comfort your internal team has the better. They should be reasonably comfortable with the new system and its functionality which will signal the ability to part with your external SI partners.
8. Own the project budget responsibility
People look at implementation delays or failures from a timeline and budget perspective. Was the original budget and timeline realistic? Was it ongoingly monitored and adjusted as needed?
In many cases an organization will hand over budget control to their SI partner. The danger with this is potentially ignoring internal costs or losing detailed visibility and an appreciation of how the project is executing from a cost perspective.
Make sure you are including in your project budget all your internal costs associated or allocated to the project. Examples could include backfilling, overtime or hardware costs. Additionally, you should be monitoring the billings of your SI to ensure that they are reasonable and correct.
A best practice is to tie budgets to key milestones to ensure you are on track.
9. Testing must be done by the business
A common misconception about implementation initiatives is your SI partner will be able to ensure that the system works for your business. While your SI should perform adequate unit testing to ensure obvious bugs and issues are ferreted out, they are not able to fully appreciate how your business needs to operate. Business process owners or subject matter experts should be involved in functional and end-to-end system testing. Your internal team will intuitively sense if data is accurate or logical. Testing is like communication … you can’t do it too much. A best practice is to involve employees in testing that were not part of the original project team. While they may have additional questions, they will also contribute additional perspective.
Should you want to discuss any of these subjects, please contact us via our website (smberpconsulting.com) or call (720) 883-8441. We are also very knowledgeable about the world of system integrators. Whether it’s finding the right one, evaluating your choices or just discussing the possibilities with an independent ear, we are here to help.