A few years ago I read an article entitled “No Crystal Ball for I.T.” in CIO magazine. Since then, I frequently refer to this article when talking to potential customers, because it holds great truths related to the difficulties and inconsistencies found in ERP implementation projects. These conversations usually help create the right expectations about the project these customers are about to invest in.
The most successful Microsoft Dynamics partners utilize implementation methodologies that they have spent years developing, in search of a “formula” that allows them to execute projects in a more predictable and consistent manner. Microsoft has been developing and training partners in its own Sure Step methodology which is now standard curricula for partner certification.
The reality is that ERP systems implementation projects are a lot less predictable and consistent than customers would like them to be. A good methodology is a necessary—certainly indispensable—element for a successful project, but it is not sufficient on its own. Partner experience, creativity, flexibility of the systems involved, and customer expectations are as important and essential as a good implementation methodology.
In the article mentioned, the author describes the rants of a CEO that questioned why ERP implementations couldn’t be more like a production-plant building project, for which he is told how much it is going to cost, how long it is going to take, and exactly how it is going to work once it is finished. Implementing an ERP system is not that simple, and there are many reasons why. The important thing is to know what to expect from these projects, and how to manage them more efficiently, in order to achieve success.
The abstract nature of business processes and the benefits offered by an ERP system makes an implementation project an ever-changing proposition throughout its lifecycle. In contrast with other types of projects, consultants implementing an ERP system are often confronted with key requirements that cannot be clearly defined up front. Important decisions shape the system during the implementation process.
So, what do you need to achieve consistency and guarantee a successful ERP implementation project? You need to manage these projects differently than other—more “concrete”—types of projects. Among other things, the following are key points to consider before you start your ERP project:
Resist the temptation to approach this project as if you were building a house. You need to know that this is more a learning process geared towards achieving common goals, than it is a simple “recipe”. For sure you need to demand a proper project plan, but you need to accept that this should be a plan with a good dose of flexibility and change management built into it.
Try to set several “small” goals for the project, as opposed to one “big” goal. Start with those aspects of your business that are easier to define. As these smaller goals are reached, you will start seeing results, the partner will earn your trust, and you will feel increasingly certain of where you are going and the investment required to get there.
Your business partner should bring experiences from implementations in other businesses and industries. Even if you know your business and you have specific perceptions of how it should be run, be open to new ideas. You may be surprised of how powerful some of these ideas could turn out to be for your business.
As much as possible, try to adapt to the built-in processes of the product being implemented. Modern ERP systems such as Microsoft Dynamics GP are built on top of process flows that reflect best business practices for most critical business tasks. Exploit these built-in processes to your advantage. The more you can adapt your business model to the product, the easier, faster and more economical the implementation process will be. Avoid caving into the idea that your business and its processes are unique, even if there are peculiarities of the industry in them.
The truth is that there is no crystal ball that allows you or your consultants to pre-define all your processes and requirements in an ERP implementation. Look for a good business partner and work with them to define your goals and build your project in stages that allows you to develop the solution in small but sure steps with increasing—but realistic—expectations of success.
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