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ERP Newsletter Articles 06/08/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in ERP.
Tags: , , ,

I have now published 2 newsletter articles with Imninc.com. The first one was a good summary of my current project on topics I had already put in the blog. This second one came out pretty good, so I am putting it here as well:
A View from the Trenches – Part II
In part one of A View from the Trenches, I introduced myself as a technology consultant working with a medical manufacturer that needs an ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning). I was brought in to run the software selection project for the system, and I am the full-time driver for a large committee consisting of several representatives from several business units.

The last article ended with full buy-in from executive management as I walked through the challenges and political implications of working with a large committee. Now, we’ve reached a new phase: preparing for go-live.

Large software implementations such as ERP systems take a lot of coordination and effort to keep on track. Once the initial excitement has tapered off, people have trouble staying focused. They may feel they have plenty of time before go-live, and they aren’t too worried about project tasks, because they can make up the time later.

I’m living that reality right now. We are planning the go-live for the first of September, so that gives us all summer to be ready. We just finished four weeks of meetings to go over software settings and business processes. We had very good participation, and the results were promising. People saw the new processes, got some experience with the software and received their assignments for the next few weeks. It seems fairly cut and dry, but in most projects, managing people and behaviors is the biggest challenge of all.

I understand how my client’s employees must feel. They already have the full time job of keeping the factory going by making products and bringing in revenue, all while dealing with training, implementation and adaptation of a new system. But their business performance is important to me as well. As an outside consultant, I’m getting paid to help drive the implementation without disrupting ongoing operations. I can’t overwhelm them with project tasks, but it’s my responsibility to keep them on target with the project.

Companies bring in consultants like me to augment their staff in running large projects. This particular client runs very lean, and doesn’t have extra staff that can concentrate on special projects or drive system implementations. Motivating busy staff to stay on track with a project while balancing their daily responsibilities takes a careful balance of meetings and assignments. We meet once a week to discuss progress, but that is not enough. I try to talk to everyone in the PMO (Project Management Office) as much as possible, assigning deadlines and explaining how one person’s task relies on another person finishing their work. No one wants to be the bottleneck, so these discussions keep everyone focused on the goal.

Giving people specific tasks with a real timeline allows the project to continue at a steady pace. We avoid disrupting normal operations, and allow leeway for emergencies that tend to pop up, but the project must go on. We push forward because this new ERP system will allow the company to close the books much faster than the present system. Soon, they will have better insight into their operations, inventory and cash flow.

It’s common knowledge that the new system is a key step toward growth for the company, with numerous benefits. However, it is difficult for anyone to stay focused for numerous consecutive months. The exuberance from the beginning of the project has been drained by meetings, details and day-to-day responsibilities. We are now at a point where motivation is critical to maintain momentum.

So, what have we done to prepare for go-live? One of my first steps was to figure out individual jobs that would lead to the larger tasks on the project plan. I then described the jobs to the people who needed to pass them out to their team. We had to be ready for the first conference room pilot in a couple of weeks. Our plan was to get all the right people in the same room and simulate a manufacturing cycle with all related accounting activities.

I found that an informal description of tasks didn’t have the intended result. The information was not passed down, and people were not doing their work for the project. No one made it a priority to learn the system, get processes ready or take responsibility. There was a false perception that there was still plenty of time to get all of that done, just not today.

Around this time, I had a meeting with the right person – a staff member who could see the big picture and how it impacted the company. When I described what needed to be done, he started to get nervous. He could see how much information was needed and began to ask questions. I immediately asked him to help me get people more involved.

We gathered the troops in a large meeting where we went over the system and explained the project status. I formally asked them to send me information about their goals for the project by offering a sample list of scenarios and asking them to look at the list and follow-up by determining their area of responsibility. Creating a starting point for team members prevented them from feeling overwhelmed, while opening the door for them to add action items to the list when needed.

During the meeting I showed the group a few pictures of “broken” signs. My favorite is a large sign that says “Caution, this sign has sharp edges”. My point is that the group in the room is responsible for making sure we don’t produce a poor end product. I asked the team to speak up or yell if they think that we are about to produce something as bad as the sign that said: “This sign not in use.”

When the broken signs tactic didn’t produce immediate results, I followed up with emails asking them to reply by the end of the next day. I then followed up with phone calls to get the information I needed.

Getting the right person involved, who was nervous enough to get others to step up, was a great step forward. Now my primary task is to keep interest and participation high.

The current project plan allows us a week to complete this pilot while fully documenting the process. We’ll have another week afterward to figure out what went wrong and what to do to fix the problems that occur. Then, we’ll do a second pilot. I’ll need the full participation of team members with that one, too.

There are plenty of abysmal statistics on failure rates of software projects, but with the right management and participation, any project can succeed. As we enter the pilot phase of our project, I am optimistic that we will continue to keep the right team in place to stay concerned and alert about the project status, ensuring a successful implementation.


1. Linda - 06/09/2009

I like your positive attitude and humor technique with the signs. It is easier to get people moving when they are inspired than when they are motivated out of fear. I look forward to hearing more of the good work you are doing.

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