“A failure to plan is to plan to fail”
The decision to purchase a new ERP system has been made, but do you really know why? There are many reasons that companies choose to invest in transformational projects and it is important to understand that simply installing a new system is not necessarily going to mean the end of all your organisational issues. It is a tool and, like all tools, it must be implemented properly in order to reap the benefits. Whether you are implementing a global ERP or a small solution, cloud or on-premise you must start with some robust plans and strategies. These form the foundations of the project.
The ERP implementation process starts before you invite suppliers to fill invitations to tender. It begins when you define the goals you want your new system to achieve. These goals will remain critical throughout the entire process and will remain long after the ERP system has been fully integrated.
ERP systems are, by their nature, large and all-inclusive. You will not be able to implement every function or module. The goals and objectives you set will define the scope of the solution ultimately implemented.
Without a clear goal the process of selecting a product and vendor will be a futile process. Whilst the overall situation may have improved this will bear no resemblance to the investment of time and money made and in many cases, the business would have been better off not changing in the first place.
It is easy to get lost in the idea that if you have invested in an all-singing, all-dancing ERP you have to use every aspect of it. Just as our mobile phones offer all sorts of wonderful apps and features that we rarely use, the same is true of an ERP. Instead of looking at every piece of functionality individually and fitting your business around it, concentrate on the parts that are truly relevant to your individual business needs. Focusing on the real profit drivers and understanding your core customer requirements will help you avoid getting lost in the sea of new technology.
How you set and define the goals and requirements for a new system can be led by the system you are using now. Perhaps your business has grown and your existing system is not scalable enough, or perhaps it is old, sluggish and outdated. Whatever the reason, if you are looking at a new way of doing things it is usually because the current processes are not working. Focus on the areas that are causing you problems. It will help you form a much clearer picture of your requirements.
Consider your incumbent system and learn from it; bring the things that are working well into consideration and find a new way of looking at those that are not. It is essential for the success of the project, the overall health of your organisation and your sanity(!) to be clear from the outset about what you really need.
Most of us have heard of SMART objectives. First coined in the early 80’s it is a phrase that has been used on many management training programmes. Despite the eye rolling it may prompt, the whole specific/measurable/achievable/realistic/timely idea is a valuable tool today – especially when it comes to the implementation of a new ERP project.
Be clear about what you can and cannot do within the boundaries of your specific organisation. One element of a new system might sound fantastic, but if it is not going to fit with where your organisation is heading then leave it behind.
The only sensible way to understand whether something has been a success or not is by setting clear milestones and targets and putting some robust measurement tools in place. Customer and staff satisfaction surveys are a great way to find out if things are going as well as expected, and any good systems manager will do thorough tests throughout the entire process.
Achievable and realistic go hand in hand. – it is all very nice to dream about going for lunch on the moon, but is it ever going to happen in your lifetime? Probably not. Big ideas can only come to fruition if they are possible, so be clear about what you can and cannot do within your specific organisation and do not set yourself up to fail.
Once you have decided on the above, give yourself clear timescales. It is easy for projects to just drift along aimlessly without a clear endpoint in sight, so set regular milestones to check you are on track. A little bit of leeway is always a good idea and it is much less stressful for everyone if you under promise and over deliver rather than the other way around. Set cautious deadlines and you are far more likely to have everything done on time if it is not a rush job.
If you want to be sure that your new ERP system will bring real value to your organisation you must involve key stakeholders in its development. Assembling a core governance team (ideally with some service users) will give you a different perspective you will need to identify and deliver key goals. Needless to say, the governing board will also help you manage timescales, cost and ensure accountability.
If your organisation is very new or small, it will not hurt to seek guidance outside of your organisation. Local business groups often have mentors who are willing to work with fledgeling companies to provide guidance and support, so make good use of your networks and do not be afraid to ask. You may even find one willing to help you on a pro bono basis. These business experts are worth their weight in gold so if you find one, treat them well!
It is often a challenge to identify exactly how a programme will be delivered, and without clear roles and responsibilities, it can be close to impossible to have everything finished on time. Make sure you spend sufficient time on setting clear expectations and standards and identify who is going to be responsible for each task. If you do not spend time in these areas before you start the programme you run the risk of chaos further into the programme. The boy scouts motto is key here “Be Prepared”! Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and arrange regular progress reviews.
Humans are creatures of habit and change is something that is often resisted. This is even truer when people have been in a role for a long time and find a new way of doing things intimidating. Before you start any ERP project it is absolutely essential that you get your team, and stakeholders, on-board. The entire organisation will need to understand the rationale behind the programme and why it is going to be positive for everyone involved. If your key stakeholders, staff and board members do not recognise the need for change you will find it a struggle to get them to work hard and support any new requests.
Spend time communicating with everyone, asking questions and actively listening to any problems or concerns. Articulate your vision, explain why the change is necessary and ensure this message is communicated effectively to everyone.
“Understand established business culture and historical response to change.”
Strong business leaders have made mistakes and plenty of them. The key to their success is that they learn from mistakes and use this knowledge to shape what they do in the future. Knowing the history of your organisation and the things that have and have not worked will be of huge benefit when it comes to implementing a fruitful ERP project.
For ERP implementations, you should consider how resulting changes fit in with or need to be adapted to, the culture of your organisation, as well as what success the organisation has had with previous change-based projects.
Depending on the size of your ERP implementation, you may want to choose a vendor to take care of it on your behalf. If you are going to work with a third-party it is important to understand there will be a considerable cost involved. Do your homework and choose someone who can help you meet your objectives. The choice to use an external consultancy or resource a project internally will depend on your existing resources and their skill levels. It is often easy to try to manage these projects internally for the sake of cost, but without sufficient knowledge of ERP, and/or project management those cost savings will almost certainly be lost along the life of the programme.
If you do decide to work with an ERP consultancy, your choice of vendor is critical to the success of your project. Someone who is a good fit for your organisation and understands all the common pain points is really important, so it makes sense to invite a few to tender and then interview before making your decision.
In terms of how to select a vendor there are two key factors to consider. The first is how capable they are in delivering to your market and ERP solution. This can be evaluated objectively through the requirements process. The second is more difficult, but equally as key. You need to select a vendor that matches your culture and the ‘type’ of programme you wish to run. Bear in mind that there are going to be two very distinct phases to your relationship with your ERP software vendor. During the sales cycle, you will be the most important people in the world. After the sale, though, the actual business relationship begins and that is the relationship that you must do your best to gauge. You should feel positive about your vendors; that they are ethical, honest, and would never intentionally mislead you. You should feel they consider your well-being important and that you will be able to work together through unexpected problems. Don’t over think this one, and trust your instincts. Consider what sort of consultants you are looking for. If you are looking for consultants as teachers, you may choose a different vendor than if you are looking for consultants as technicians.
Once the partnership has been established, you will quickly need to build a strong working relationship. Most ERP vendors have at least one project that did not quite run to plan. The only way to prevent this happening to you is to adopt a robust partnership strategy where rewards and risks are shared. When this partnership works well and everyone knows what is expected of them, you are well on your way to success.
Neil ran his first SAP transformation programme in his early twenties. He spent the next 18 years working both client side and for various consultancies running numerous SAP programmes. After successfully completing over 15 full lifecycles he took a senior leadership/board position and his work moved onto creating the same success for others.