Any leader considering implementing an ERP solution is likely very familiar with the benefits, and possibly heard the success stories shared by those from other companies:
Automated Tasks and Increased Productivity
Streamlined Processes and Efficiency
Created more Accurate Forecasts
Fostered Interdepartmental Collaboration
and the list goes on.
Identical to implementing any new software, one of the biggest hesitations for those considering an ERP solution is the disruption caused during the planning and implementation stage. The reality is, like almost any business improvement, it’s impossible to make a change without investing some time and effort into its success.
Implementing an ERP solution is like remodeling your home while you’re still living in it. If you don’t tell the designer what you want, don’t work with the contractor throughout the process to provide input and address small changes along the way, and don’t test the new appliances or smart devices until long after everyone has packed up and left, the end result is likely to be a disappointment.
Although ERP solutions can produce some of the largest benefits, they can also be more painful than other software projects. With many moving pieces and the risk of impacting current and future operations, ERP implementations are often complex and robustly managed.
If not managed correctly, parts or all of the implementation can fail. According to a recent study by analytics firm Gartner, almost 75% of all ERP projects will fail in some way. There are several reasons why:
Often, my team and I are invited in by companies going through a failing ERP implementation. One or more factors mentioned above are often the reason for that. Strong project management and sound functional and technical expertise are critical, but above all having the right mindset is the key. There are two important mindsets to achieve success.
Mindset 1: The Journey is as Important as the Goal
Let’s say you are planning to take a vacation to an amazing destination like Hawaii. You most likely will pack for the nice warm weather, bring sunscreen, a bathing suit, etc. If you are a diligent planner, you will also plan for the journey and include snacks or something to occupy your time in the transit lounge.
What if the flight is significantly delayed due to bad weather? If you packed an extra pair of clothes in the carry-on, or included battery backups, you’d be much better off than most of the other passengers. If you thought even further ahead and secured travel insurance, that would put you in an even better position.
An ERP implementation is obviously much more complex than planning a vacation. Moreover, the stakes are much higher. Given this, why do we focus almost exclusively on the destination (the end goal) and not prepare for the journey itself? With so many variables and even the most well-thought-out procedures, we know that things will not go exactly as we planned and, like bad weather or mechanical issues impacting a flight, we should be prepared to address any issues that arise.
Recognizing this, we can choose to have a mindset to focus more and enjoy the journey.
In over 20 years of experience, I have seen that ERP implementation teams (including ERP partners) focus too much on the end goal and not enough on the journey. With some success criteria such as a budget, defined timeline, KPI’s, specifics of what needs to be built or implemented, etc., the journey begins and project plans and milestones are laid down. How many times does the original goal – due to situation, budget, timeline, scope, resources, or something else, change during a project execution?
In my experience the goal invariably changes. Due to various reasons, we deviate from the original goal. And that is where things start going south. Out of necessity, you must communicate the change and re-plan the project. Then the project change/risk-related problems start. This is an issue only because everyone was focused on the goal and not the journey.
How do we become better prepared?
This mindset keeps you in the present and empowers you to look into or handle the situation much better than chasing an arbitrary deadline. You start to LIVE in the present and help create a business tool that’s a true powerhouse, versus just implementing some software.
A few years ago, I was involved in a large ERP implementation using Microsoft Dynamics AX, now Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations, for a leading Ohio-based manufacturer. We started with clearly defined goals and a thorough plan. In the middle of the project, the company acquired 2 additional production units. Due to that and other situations, we had to delay the manufacturing module implementation. The plan had to be changed, which frustrated a lot of people. End users were understandably not happy and both company leadership and the implementation team had to have several hard conversations. Motivation as a whole was down.
Fast forward a short time later, and the entire implementation was successfully completed. Users were trained and stakeholders throughout the company were happy with the tremendous results. Along with the regular implementation, the latest technology (IoT/RFID, cloud) was also included to further improve operations. We didn’t initially plan for the technology upgrade, but the delay in manufacturing and timeline allowed the additional add-on, which was not mature enough to include initially. The delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Incidences like this can happen occasionally, and it is critical to set that expectation upfront with your ERP team.
Mind Set 2: Always think ways to empower your users
ERP systems are designed as bottom - up system, thereby bringing transparency to the organization. That means if all the transactions, such as purchase orders, sales orders, production orders, invoices, etc. are entered correctly, then your top numbers will match, and every report will be accurate. ERP systems will not work properly, nor bring the greatest benefit and improvements, if employees are not motivated to use the new system or, sometimes worse, not trained appropriately to use it. This is why it’s critical that your ERP implementation team go above and beyond to ensure all users are empowered not only once the implementation is complete, but also during the implementation journey.
During a recent Microsoft Dynamics NAV implementation that was completed for a leading supply chain and manufacturing company, it became apparent that the sales team – a key component of the system working – was not engaged. After getting commitment from sales leadership, the key users were still not attending meetings and training sessions. By digging in further, we found that the sales department was somewhat short-staffed and, as the department had a high turnover rate and difficulty retaining the sales team members, most employees of the department were relatively new, already overwhelmed, and on the road quite frequently (therefore not even in the office to take training).
The first thought of the implementation team wasn’t how it could get the sales staff to take training, but how the ERP could be adjusted to make the sales job easier and more efficient. Building per requirements is straight-forward, but building for true user experience – without significantly increasing budget or timeline – is an artform. After a few brainstorming sessions, the implementation team was able to develop a mobile application that integrated with the Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP system. The application could create sales quotes, orders, memos, confirm orders, check order status and customer balances, and was extremely user friendly - and required almost no training! In addition, the application was built so that it could work without an internet connection, since the sales team often traveled within their territory and often had poor internet coverage, or sometimes none at all. The sales team was thrilled, as was the sales and company leadership.
It is critical for the ERP implementation team to assess how they can make their users’ lives easier not just as a part of the implementation, but also during the journey itself.
Pain is Temporary, Profits are Permanent
Remember when considering an ERP solution, or starting an implementation, that adopting these 2 mindsets will help you, your company, and your users as well. The more deliberate the journey, the more exciting the destination is.
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