By Glenn Hofmann, KES Managing Director
Quite simply put, implementing a new ERP system can be a scary prospect. You know you want the new features, controls, and insights that come with a new system. But the process of getting from “here” to “there” can be daunting…various studies show that over 60% of ERP implementations fail and over 75% are significantly delayed. However, there are ways to significantly increase the odds that your ERP implementation will be a success. With this in mind, the following 7 tricks are a good starting point to help make your ERP implementation much more of a treat.
- Start With A Strong Team & Plan
Planning for an ERP implementation is much more than bringing together a group of people and coming up with an agreed upon project task list & timeline. That is the easy part. The more challenging parts of a successful project plan are things such as the following:
- Do you have clearly stated executive leadership backing? Staff can quickly sense if executive leadership is not really on board with the project. If leadership does not really believe in the project, how can the team?
- Do you have clear goals & objectives? These should be more than just general “improved performance”, “efficiencies”, etc. What large challenges/issues are you trying to solve, especially on day one? How will you measure the success of the project? These should be the guiding principals throughout the project.
- Is the right combination of company leadership and front line staff involved? Make sure to include staff that can view the big picture as well as staff that are actually doing the day to day hands–on work. Having only one perspective or the other will not give a comprehensive view and can result in either missing important details or getting too bogged down in the minutia.
- Do you have a small project leadership/steering team that can quickly make decisions? There will be constant issues and decisions that need to be made, and you need a leadership/steering team that is nimble and decisive. It is not feasible to have a leadership team of 20 people and expect that the project will move forward efficiently.
- Have you considered PTO and other events in your timeline? Having a key player out on PTO for two weeks or a month long audit happening during a key portion of the project can quickly make the project timeline unrealistic.
- Make Sure The Team Is Made Available
Too many organizations look at an ERP project and think staff will complete the project in their “spare” time. This has never been realistic, and is much less so now in the world of doing “more with less”. For an ERP implementation to be successful, it requires focus from the team, and this can only be done if the team has time to focus. But don’t take my word for it: a recent survey stated that not having enough time to spend on the project was the #1 reason for ERP implementation failure. So before embarking on your ERP implementation, figure out a way to remove at least some current responsibilities from key project players so that they can focus on the project. This is also where a strong ERP implementation partner can help, as they can partner with your organization to make it a “shared” implementation and take on chunks of project tasks.
- Keep It Simple
Too often, organizations have a tendency to get sidetracked focusing on handling a complex scenario that happens occasionally or trying to add sophistication to something that is easily 80% automated in an attempt to make it 100% automated on day one. While it is important to discuss and spend time on these large challenges, it is more important to spend your time focusing on the typical scenarios and the simplest processes that impact everyday processing. Yes, I realize this is hard to do. You are paying for a new fancy ERP system and it should handle your more complex scenarios with full automation, right? Here’s the reality: Moving to a new ERP system means the entire team must learn all sorts of new terminology and processes. Allowing the team to focus on the typical day to day activities that are simple to do makes it much more likely that they will learn the new system and be successful with their day to day activity at go live. Now, this isn’t to say that that you should ignore your complex scenarios or that last 20% of automation. It just means putting them on the back burner for a post go-live project. Document how you will handle them in the meantime and move on. Taking this approach will keep the team focused, let them learn the new system more easily, and let you move more quickly toward a successful go live.
- Embrace Leading Practices
The term “leading” or “best” practices can sometimes seem like an overused buzzword with little meaning, but it is actually quite a powerful concept. Leading practices are tried and true approaches that organizations in your same industry/vertical have proven to be successful. While organizations want to think of themselves as unique, the reality is that what organizations offer or do makes them unique, not the various process flows within the ERP…these are actually fairly consistent across organizations. So take this opportunity to step back from some poor habits or workarounds that your organization is doing today (often due to system limitations in legacy ERP systems) and take advantage of the work and learnings already done by others to align your business with these leading practices. Here again, this is where a strong implementation partner can help. They should be well versed in leading practices for your industry and be able to help guide in moving to these.
- Test, Test, Test
From our experience doing many ERP implementations over many years, I am confident in saying that the pain at go-live has an exact correlation with how much testing was completed prior to go-live. My team hears me tell clients the following all the time: “There is no such thing as not testing. You will either test before go-live or after go-live, but either way it will happen. One is just a whole lot more pleasant than the other.” We say this because testing is more than just making sure the system records transactions correctly. For any modern ERP, this should not be a question. In reality, the primary benefit of testing is getting hands-on experience with the system to understand navigation, process flows, reporting, etc. If the team really focuses during the time set aside for testing, we find go-live to be a much less painful process, as the team truly does already know the new system.
- Don’t Overly Rely On Consultants
As a consulting firm, this one hurts a little to say, but it is an important area to plan for as you look to a successful go-live. While we believe bringing in a strong ERP implementation partner makes it more likely your implementation will be a success, it is also important to keep in mind that in the end this is your company, your system, and your people. Use the implementation partner as a partner, but don’t use them as a substitute for key roles within your organization. Here are the primary roles we recommend ensuring you keep in house:
- Project Management: While an implementation partner will likely assign a project manager, this project manager will not be in your office every day and have the relationships and nuances that an employee would have. As such, we consider it critical to have an internal project manager. This person can be tied to the hip with the implementation partner, but they will be able to drive activity and get feedback that a partner project manager will never be able to do.
- Subject Matter Experts: Too often we see organizations rely on outside consultants as the subject matter experts (SMEs) for their new ERP. While this makes complete sense as requirements and design is discussed, from that point forward, it is important that internal staff take over as the SMEs. Yes the partner may know the system better, but the SMEs need to be able to apply this to real life in the company and most importantly, be able to explain this to others on the team. It will mean a whole lot more coming from an employee that knows the company than it will from a consultant.
- Ongoing Support: Here again implementation partners can be great resources for support, and for our company we believe this is a key differentiator for us. However, we find the most successful organizations have people and processes in place to provide their own front-line support and only escalate to the partner as needed. This not only further builds out expertise within the organization, but also helps to solidify processes and documentation more quickly.
- Don’t Skimp On Change Management
This is the last, and most often overlooked, area to keep in mind. When implementing a new ERP, you are directly impacting everyone in the organization that is even tangentially associated with the ERP system. People that are experts on the current system now will be newbies. A job that was once comfortable now is disturbed with new terminology and processes. Job responsibilities may change based on new process flows. Uncertainly may also exist around job status as certain process flows are automated. With all of this in mind, it is extremely important to keep the entire organization informed and to help alleviate these types of concerns. This includes:
- Leadership Support: A message should be sent from a senior executive at the start of the project talking about why it is being done, the expected goals, the support of all of leadership, etc. Make sure the entire leadership team understands this and have them discuss it regularly with each of their teams. Everyone should understand the benefits that will result from the new system.
- Provide Ongoing Updates: Nothing feeds rumors and uncertainty more than a multi-month, company-wide project when people are left in the dark and not informed of project updates for extended periods. If you have any type of monthly meetings, make this an important topic. If you do not, send out a monthly update instead, ideally from a senior executive. Reiterate the importance of the project and the support of the leadership team, along with any successes that have been completed.
- Share The Plan: People want to know how this new ERP will impact them. Make sure they understand the timeline of the project, especially for things that impact them: when they will be trained, if they will be able to do some hands on learning before go-live, when the go-live will occur, how they will get support, etc. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about what you would want to know.
- Follow Through: Once you share the plan, do what you say you are going to do. Have detailed training and test plans, have a well thought out cutover plan, and provide support resources at cutover. A new ERP is an opportunity to show the strength and caring of your leadership team, so take advantage of it.
So those are our 7 tricks to help make your ERP implementation a treat. While there are many other areas that could be discussed, this is a good starting point to begin your planning. As mentioned several times throughout this, we believe having a strong ERP implementation partner can help with every item above, as they have the experience and resources to help guide this process and be a valuable resource every step along the way.