By: Glenn Hofmann
Implementing a new ERP system can be a scary process — I know because I've been through many of them. You know you want features, controls, and insights included in a new system, but getting from "here-to-there" can be daunting. Various studies show that over 60% of ERP implementations fail, and over 75% get considerably delayed. Don't get too spooked; there are ways you can significantly increase the odds that your ERP implementation will be successful. With this in mind, I put together the following seven tricks as a good starting point to help make your ERP implementation more of a treat.
1) Start With A Strong Team & Plan
Planning for an ERP implementation involves more than simply gathering people and creating a project task list and timeline. That part is easy. The real challenge lies in creating clear goals and objectives and convincing leadership and front-line staff to support those. I've always found it helpful if teams work together to address the following questions in detail on the front end.
Do you have clearly stated company leadership team backing?
Your project team members will quickly sense if the leadership team is not on board with a new ERP system. If they don't really believe in the project, how can the ERP team?
Do you have clear goals and objectives?
Your goals and objectives should be specific and clear. Avoid using vague expressions such as "improved performance" or "increased efficiencies." Instead, you should be able to answer questions like:
- Which major challenges or issues do you aim to address, particularly at the beginning of the ERP project?
- How you will measure the project's success?
The answers to these questions should be the guiding principals throughout the project.
Is the right combination of company leadership and front line staff involved?
Make sure to include team members who can view the big picture as well as those who are responsible for the day-to-day tasks. Relying only on one perspective will not give you a comprehensive view, which can lead to missing important details or getting too bogged down in the minutia.
Do you have a small project steering team that can quickly make decisions?
In any implementation project, there will always be challenges, unexpected problems, and critical decisions to be made. It is crucial to have a steering team that is capable of making firm and swift decisions. It is not feasible to have a large leadership team of 20 or more making daily decisions and expect the ERP implementation project to move forward efficiently.
Have you considered team member events or other projects in your timeline?
Having a key player out on PTO for two weeks or undergoing a month-long audit during a key portion of the ERP implementation project can quickly make the project timeline unrealistic.
"Your goals and objectives should be specific and clear. Avoid using vague expressions such as 'improved performance' or 'increased efficiencies.'"
2) Ensure Your Team Has Time
Too many organizations underestimate the time and effort required for an ERP implementation and expect team members to complete the project in their "spare time." This idea is unrealistic and can lead to failure, especially in today's environment of doing "more with less." For an ERP implementation to be successful, it requires focus from the team, and this can only be accomplished if the team has time to focus. I see this issue all the time, and a recent survey confirms my observations by stating that lack of time was the number one reason for ERP implementation failure. So, before starting your ERP project, it is crucial to find a way to reduce some of the current responsibilities of key players so they can devote their time to the project. A reliable ERP implementation partner can also be helpful because they can assist your organization with a shared implementation approach and take on some of the project tasks.
"For an ERP implementation to be successful, it requires focus from the team, and this can only be accomplished if the team has time to focus."
3) Keep It Simple
Too often, organizations tend to get sidetracked by focusing on complex scenarios that happen occasionally. Or, they may try to fully automate a process on day one that would be fine at 80% automation for the time being. Though it is crucial to discuss and dedicate time to these significant challenges, it is more important to focus your attention on the typical situations and the simplest procedures that affect daily 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 requires your entire team to learn alot of new terminology and processes. Making sure the team can devote their attention to the regular day-to-day tasks that are easy to handle will increase the likelihood of them mastering the new system and being successful in their daily work once it goes live.
Now, this isn’t to say 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 help the team stay focused, learn the new system more easily, and move quickly toward a successful go-live.
"Making sure the team can devote their attention to the regular day-to-day tasks that are easy to handle will increase the likelihood of them mastering the new system and being successful in their daily work once it goes live."
4) Embrace Leading Practices
The term “leading” or “best” practices can sometimes seem like an overused buzzword with little meaning, but it's actually a powerful concept. Leading practices are tried and true approaches that organizations in your same industry or vertical have proven to be successful. While each organization may offer unique products or services, the process flows within ERPs are typically consistent across organizations.
Implementing an ERP system provides an excellent opportunity to reevaluate and address any inefficient practices or workarounds that your organization may be resorting to because of the limitations of outdated financial software or ERP. This is the time to leverage the experience and knowledge of industry leaders to align your business with best practices. If you need help, a strong ERP implementation partner, who is well versed in your industry's leading practices, can help you implement these within your new ERP system.
“Implementing an ERP system provides an excellent opportunity to reevaluate and address any inefficient practices or workarounds that your organization may be resorting to because of the limitations of outdated financial software or ERP.”
5) Test, Test, Test
From my extensive experience conducting ERP implementations over the last 30 years, I can confidently say that your go-live experience is directly proportional to the amount of testing done prior to it.
My team constantly hears me tell clients: “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 lot more pleasant than the other.”
We preach significant testing to clients because it involves more than ensuring the system records transactions correctly. The primary benefit of testing is to help the team get hands-on experience with the system and understand its navigation, process flows, reporting, etc. When the team focuses on testing during the allocated time, it helps to make the go-live process much smoother since they already have a good understanding of the new system.
“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 lot more pleasant than the other.”
6) Don’t Overly Rely On Consultants
As a managing director of consulting firm, it's hard for me to say that you shouldn't rely too heavily on an implementation partner, but I firmly believe this is true. In my experience, organizations that rely too much on a partner often fail to learn the system themselves and miss opportunities to personalize it to their specific needs.
While I believe bringing in a strong ERP implementation partner makes it more likely your implementation will be a success, it's important to remember 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 you keep in-house:
While an implementation partner will likely assign a project manager, this project manager will not be in your office every day and does not have the relationships or understand the nuances that an employee would. Therefore, I believe it's crucial to appoint an internal project manager who can work closely with the implementation partner. When utilized effectively, this internal project manager can drive activity and obtain feedback that a partner project manager probably could not.
Subject Matter Experts
Too often, I see organizations rely on outside consultants as the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) for their new ERP system. While this makes sense during the requirements and design discussions, internal team members should take over as the SMEs after that.
The ERP implementation partner may know the system better, but the SMEs need to be able to apply the practices to real life and, most importantly, explain them to others on the team. Internal SMEs, who know the company and its employees, will carry more weight than a consultant when explaining these practices to the team.
Implementation partners can be great resources for support, which is why we created our KES Customer Care Plans. However, in my experience, I 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 approach enhances the organization's expertise and accelerates the development of processes and documentation.
“Organizations that rely too much on a partner often fail to learn the system themselves and miss opportunities to personalize it to their specific needs.”
7) Don’t Skimp On Change Management
This is the last and most often overlooked area to keep in mind. When implementing a new ERP system, it directly impacts the entire organization, including those who are even slightly associated with it. For example:
- Team members who 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.
- Uncertainty may exist around job status because certain process flows are now 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:
A leadership team member should send an announcement to the entire organization at the beginning of the project discussing why it's being done, the anticipated goals, and the support expected from all. Make sure the entire leadership team understands these points and have them discuss it regularly with their teams. Everyone in the organization 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. The most successful implementations I've seen include clear, continuous communication. If you have weekly or monthly meetings, make this an important topic. If you don't, send out a monthly update instead, ideally from a leadership team member. 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. Be proactive by answering questions like:
- When will I be trained?
- Will there be hands-on learning opportunities before go-live?
- When will the go-live occur?
- How will I get support?
Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about what questions they might have.
Once you share the plan, walk your walk. 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.
"The most successful implementations I've seen include clear, continuous communication."
Although there are many other areas to consider when selecting a new ERP, I hope my seven ERP implementation tips provide you with a good starting point to begin your research and planning.
With over 450+ deployments under our belt since 1996, we can help you evaluate whether NetSuite is the right ERP system for your organization. Contact us to discuss NetSuite or learn more about our implementation approach.
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